Retro : Reunion of the Milwaukee Madcaps : ‘LAVERNE & SHIRLEY’ SPECIAL LOOKS BACK AT A SITCOM THAT BROUGHT NOSTALGIA TO THE LATE 70S
Before they were cast as Laverne & Shirley, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were friends and writing partners.
“We knew each other because we just had mutual friends,” recalls Williams, who reunites with Marshall for “The Laverne & Shirley Reunion,” airing Monday on ABC.
Twenty years ago, the two were out-of-work actresses when they were hired by Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope company as writers on a prospective TV spoof for the Bicentennial.
“They got a lot of comedy writers or people who wanted to be comedy writers,” Williams says. “They wanted two women. We would be assigned a certain aspect of the history of America and write a spoof on that particular aspect of American history.”
They had been writing together for a few months when Penny’s producer-director brother, Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”), called to ask if they would like to guest on his ABC series “Happy Days.” He needed two actresses to play Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney, girls from the other side of the tracks who double date the Fonz (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard).
“Penny said yes and I said yes and we went and did it. The rest is kind of history.”
Williams and Marshall were such a hit on “Happy Days” they quickly got their own series. When “Laverne & Shirley” debuted Jan. 27, 1976, it soared to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings. It was still in the Top 25 when it left the airwaves in 1983. Cyndi Grecco’s recording of the theme song, “Making Our Dreams Come True,” by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, peaked at No. 25 in the charts in 1976.
Set in the 1950s and early ‘60s, the series revolved around the friendship between naive, sweet Shirley (Williams) and fast-talking, streetwise Laverne (Marshall). The two working-class roommates worked as bottle cappers for Shotz Brewery.
Michael McKean and David L. Lander played their loony neighbors Lenny and Squiggy, who always entered the apartment chiming “Hellooo.” Eddie Mekka was Shirley’s long-suffering boyfriend Carmine. After five years in Milwaukee, the gang moved to Burbank.
“The Laverne & Shirley Reunion” features clips, outtakes and reminisces from Williams, Marshall, McKean, Lander, Mekka, Winkler and creator-producer Garry Marshall.
“It was the very first show that featured two single women who were blue-collar workers,” says Malcolm Leo, executive producer of the special. “They had adult concerns--trying to get by and improve themselves and fulfilling their dreams.”
The physical comedy between the two stars, Leo says, was “remarkable. They felt if it made them laugh, it would make the audience laugh. One of the particular joys [of the series] was this reliance on physical comedy.”
Williams was agile and quick. Marshall had been a physical education major in college. “So with that combination we could do just about anything,” Williams says. “It was like never say die. We never thought there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do.”
“The Laverne & Shirley Reunion” airs Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC; repeats of “Laverne & Shirley” air sporadically on TBS; this week , Wednesday at 1:05 a.m.
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