The ‘Laverne & Shirley’ you never knew
Little-known facts about your favorite roommates
The show first aired in 1976 and remained in our hearts for generations to come. We laughed and cried, but also wondered about the strange women who played our beloved characters. From Pepsi milk to “Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated,” here are some fun facts you didn’t know about your favorite female duo.
‘Laverne & Shirley’ had a different name and plot
Believe it or not, Laverne & Shirley was not the original title for the show. The show dates back to a short-lived sitcom called Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers (the title alone sounds like a flop). The show ran for a year between 1974-75. Though it wasn’t about our favorite female duo, Penny Marshall did star in the series as the main character’s sister-in-law.
The show was about a timid musician who performs for the Boston Symphony. Ultimately (unless the main character was more like Frasier Crane), it didn’t take. Thankfully producers didn’t roll with the show. Looking at the title, producers thought the title made the main character look meek. Thank goodness!
The show was born from an episode of ‘Happy Days’
Funnily enough, Laverne & Shirley was meant to be a single episode on Happy Days. Producers saw the potential and the idea was pitched. The selling point was delivered and decided by the audience. Producer Garry Marshall stepped onstage in front of the audience and announced that there was a new show arriving to ABC.
With the news, Garry wanted to show a clip for the upcoming series. The audience was excited, and when they saw a clip showing Laverne & Shirley, they responded positively. Thus, producers gave the show the green light. Next thing they knew, Laverne & Shirley became a hit.
The Fonz was responsible for ‘Laverne & Shirley’
Who doesn’t love the Fonz? We’re pretty sure there’s a religious cult out there that only worships Henry Winkler’s greaser persona. Here’s another reason to love Fonzie: He was the one that was responsible for the idea for Laverne & Shirley. How, you ask?
The idea resulted in the anticipated Happy Days episode, “A Date With Fonzie,” where Marshall and Williams went on a double date with Fonzie and Richie. The moment the two went onstage, the audience was beside themselves with laughter. Executive producer Garry Marshall then came up with the idea to create a spin-off about the two women.
A majority of the Marshall family was involved with the show
When we say most of the Marshall family was involved in the making of Laverne & Shirley, we pretty much mean everyone. We know Penny Marshall, who not only starred as Laverne, but also directed a few of the show’s episodes. If that doesn’t impress you, her brother Garry Marshall created, produced, and directed the show.
Their sister Ronny Hallin was the casting director, and their father, Anthony Marshall, dealt a hand in producing. Ah, the luck of the Marshalls. For most of us, working with immediate family members is no picnic, let alone a saving grace. We’re just happy it all worked out for the best.
Marshall grew up drinking Pepsi milk
Fact: Pepsi is good. Milk is good. Pepsi with milk? We’re not so sure. For Laverne, the drink was more than just a character oddity, the infamous concoction has a backstory. Most of us loved drinking an occasional can of soda, and Penny Marshall was no different.
Fortunately, her mother was wise enough to put her daughter’s health before her sweet tooth. Marshall was allowed to have soda if and when she drank a glass of milk. Not a bad condition. Using the same glass she used to drink her milk, Marshall topped it off with a glass of Pepsi. Thus, Pepsi milk was born.
‘Laverne & Shirley’ had a record
Surprising? Not really. Considering the show had a healthy amount of musical numbers, it was only a matter of time before producers profited from Laverne & Shirley memorabilia. This included a record from the two bachelorettes. The record included covers of rock ’n’ roll hits from the ’50s and ’60s.
The record is still available to purchase, and you can listen to songs such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” There’s also a nonmusical track of the girls reading entries of old yearbooks (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Penny and Cindy were BFFs offset
There’s nothing more exciting than knowing your favorite costars are best friends on and off the screen. Classic duos? Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and (of course) Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. It was a match made in heaven. Of course, not all was perfect under the spotlight; the two had their moments.
Thankfully they kept in touch despite the show ending. Williams had this to say about her costar shortly after she died in 2018: “Utterly unique, a truly great talent. And, oh what fun we had! Can’t describe how I’ll miss her.” The two were utterly inseparable during the show’s golden age.
Where on Earth did ‘schlemiel’ and ‘schlimazel’ come from?
Who could forget the unforgettable playground mantra? It was sweet, a perfect way to invite the audience into the show. But where did it come from? The little song came from Marshall’s childhood. Marshall’s brother, Garry, prompted Marshall to teach the song to Williams for the show. “Penny taught me ‘Schlemiel! Schlimazel!’” Williams said.
“I had no idea what it meant … When Penny and her school chums would walk to school, they’d link arms and count their steps, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!’” It was a Yiddish song Marshall and her classmates would sing on their way to school.
Williams was jealous about the amount of dialogue Marshall had
Just because Marshall and Williams were good friends didn’t mean there wasn’t a fair share of drama happening behind the stage. Both actresses were known to be drama queens. The show was a hit and when their fame rose to impossible heights, their heads inflated from the air pressure.
In 1976, Williams reportedly stormed offset to protest Marshall getting all the “good lines.” The drama thankfully only lasted for two days, but still, the claws were drawn. Garry Marshall once said in an interview that Williams and his sister, Penny, were immature on set and did not handle stardom well. When there’s drama, there’s pain.
Vicious fights were heard on set
We knew Williams and Marshall had their qualms, but the qualms would easily turn into full-blown arguments. Their arguments were so explosive that cast members from Happy Days, Ron Howard and Erin Moran, could hear the two fighting from the Happy Days set. You would think Howard and Moran would step in and defuse the situation, but instead, they kept quiet, minding their own business.
And when we mean “minding their own business,” we mean the two listened in on Marshall’s and Williams’ squabbles by putting glasses to the wall. Hollywood has no shame and knows no bounds. That is the power of celebrity.
Someone else was going to play Shirley
We can’t imagine Laverne & Shirley being played by anyone other than Marshall and Williams, but there was a time when Williams almost skipped out on playing Shirley altogether. Williams had second thoughts about signing on to the show. She wasn’t all too keen to have her career become solidified on a single television show and wanted to pursue a career in film.
So, other actresses were tested for the role, one of whom was Liberty Williams (no relations to Cindy Williams, ironically). Liberty went as far as filming a short scene in the show’s pilot with Marshall, but things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Liberty was no match for Cindy
When it came down to casting, no one compared to Cindy Williams. It wasn’t just her acting, but it was the chemistry between Cindy Williams and Marshall that made producers hesitate in casting Liberty. At the end of the day, it was clear who was the right choice, and producers chose Cindy for the part.
Of course, there would be a price to pay in order to have their favorite actress play Shirley. Producers agreed to pay Williams’ high salary demand and approved staggered but equal billing, which meant Williams’ name appeared higher on-screen even though Marshall’s name came first. Williams had the last say.
Laverne’s ‘L’ monograms were Marshall’s idea
When writing new characters, there’s a rule of thumb: Write memorable and distinct characters. Not saying Laverne and Shirley weren’t distinct or memorable characters, but there were moments of considerable frustration when the characters were constantly repeating who they were and what they did.
When it becomes repetitive, there is bound to be some wear and tear. To fix the problem, Marshall came up with the idea of Laverne stitching L’s on her clothes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as well as Marshall hoped. The characters continued to explain who was who and who did what, stitched monogram or not. A weak link in the chain? We’ll let you decide.
Laverne and Shirley were ‘re-virginized’
For those who remember Laverne and Shirley through Happy Days, the girls were characterized as “loose” women (women with considerably “lower morals” when it came to dating). Sure, boisterous characters might have worked on Happy Days, but for a family TV sitcom in the ’70s? Yeah, not so much.
So, in Marshall’s own words, the girls were “re-virginized” and were portrayed as blue-collar workers, two diamonds in the rough, but were lovable and enjoyable to watch. When it comes to dating, the girls were constantly on the lookout, but they never crossed the line with anything scandalous or lewd — something for the kids to watch without mom and dad covering their eyes.
Lenny and Squiggy were not family-friendly
We remember the lovable goofs of the show, Lenny and Squiggy, who were as much a comedic relief as Laverne and Shirley were. However, it wasn’t always so. Michael McKean and David Lander created their characters through their comedy troupe, called The Credibility Gap. Their postures and gestures would lay the foundation for Lenny and Squiggy, except, the earlier renditions were not so family-friendly.
Their jokes were depressing and contained profanity and sexual references. It was Penny Marshall who invited the pair to a house party shortly after Laverne & Shirley aired, and they performed their troupe routine in front of their guests. That’s when things changed for the better.
Made for family television
McKean and Lander performed with their troupe in front of Marshall’s guests and used Marshall’s brother Garry as a part of the entertainment. Garry was impressed by their performance and thought they would make an interesting addition to the show. By adding Lenny and Squiggy in the mix, it would make Laverne and Shirley look classy.
But there was a catch: They had to clean up their routine, meaning no profanities or lewd references. Of course, the boys agreed, and their inclusion made the TV show a big hit, making the characters memorable.
Penny Marshall’s favorite episode was tragic
The show had a total of 178 episodes. Out of those 178 episodes, Marshall had a favorite, “Why Did The Fireman … ?” It was one of the few serious episodes aired during the show’s history. Not only was it serious, but it was downright depressing. In the episode, Laverne’s firefighter boyfriend Randy (played by Ted Danson) dies on the job.
Laverne becomes depressed and goes into denial, clearly lamenting one of the few good guys who came into her life. The character was so distraught that Laverne’s father had to talk her out of her downtrodden state (if only it were that easy).
Phil Foster wasn’t everyone’s favorite choice to play Laverne’s dad
Phil Foster was no stranger to the entertainment industry. He was a stand-up comedian in the ’50s and gave Garry Marshall his first job as a comedy writer. To return the favor, Garry cast Foster in the show to play Frank DeFazio. The writer and producer Mark Rothman said higher-ups at ABC were not optimistic about the choice.
Foster had a thick Brooklyn accent and feared viewers wouldn’t understand him. The second choice as dear old dad was Frankie Laine. At the end of the day, Foster was signed, but not without making fun of his thick “Italian” accent. Life’s tough for a celebrity.
Cindy Williams was in both the best movies ever made and the biggest flops
While Cindy Williams appeared on Happy Days, she also starred in critically acclaimed films like American Graffiti and The Conversation, which were arguably two of the greatest movies ever made. And although Williams played in some great roles, she also starred in some mediocre films that damaged her career — one of which was The First Nudie Musical.
Williams appeared in The First Nudie Musical in 1976, a commercial disaster (have you seen the trailer?). She tried auditioning for Star Wars around the same time she was to star in Laverne & Shirley, but, as we all know, she didn’t participate in the space odyssey franchise.
The girls were far from innocent off-screen
Although the girls looked wholesome on set, it was a whole different story when the cameras turned off. According to Mental Floss, Garry Marshall brought his children to Paramount Studios (where Laverne & Shirley was shot) to see the cast from Happy Days. Garry allowed his kids to wander the set but forbade them to go next door where Laverne & Shirley was filmed.
As stated before, not all was well behind the scenes for America’s favorite spinsters. On camera, it was all laughs, but off-camera, actors were swearing or using foul language that was deemed “too sensitive” for young children. There were even rumors of poor behavior between cast members.
Aside from foul language, it was said that the actresses acted poorly, particularly toward other cast members and writers. Temper tantrums were prominent in the house of L&S, causing production delays. Williams’ manager reportedly stood offstage timing audience laughter and protested when Marshall’s lines got bigger laughs.
Despite the series being No. 1 for nearly all four seasons, the cast members later admitted that the overnight success got to their heads and inflated their egos, causing much unnecessary tension and many petty arguments. We just hope each cast member sobered up once they realized they weren’t as popular when off the air.
Laverne and Shirley were cartoons
Cartoons were increasingly popular at the tail end of the ’70s and ’80s. With great shows like Scooby-Doo and The Jetsons, it’s no wonder that producers for Laverne & Shirley jumped on the bandwagon and made the gals into a Saturday morning cartoon in the fall of 1981.
Both Marshall and Williams voiced their animated characters in their new cartoon show, Laverne & Shirley in the Army. Since it was a cartoon, the plot tended to be wonky on the show and included aliens, werewolves, and even Bigfoot. The kicker? They took orders from a talking pig named Sgt. Squealy, voiced by Ron Palillo. Who knew?!
The show was almost renamed ‘Laverne’
Let’s be honest, looking back, that last season had Laverne’s name all over it. Williams’ absence was noted during the final season and producers struggled to come up with a way to explain her absence to a studio audience. In reality, Williams was on maternity leave, but in the world of Laverne & Shirley, Shirley moved out of their bachelorette pad and left Laverne alone.
Because of the obvious absence on Williams’ part, producers were close to naming the last season, Laverne. Because it was all Laverne. Aren’t we glad they decided against it? But let’s be honest, Marshall would have been over the moon to hog the spotlight.
Carmine was going to have a spin-off show
All good things must eventually come to an end, but that doesn’t mean something can’t grow out of it. When the last episode of Laverne & Shirley aired, producers had the idea of creating a spin-off show with Eddie Mekka as Carmine.
He was a successful Broadway performer, and in the series finale, “Here Today, Hair Tomorrow,” his appearance marked what could have been a new show. The premise revolved around Carmine moving to New York to audition for the musical Hair. Once Carmine was in New York, he’d rent an apartment with other aspiring actors and get into all sorts of trouble. Nice idea, but the show never took off.
Ariana Grande brought the duo back together
Although Ariana Grande is a pop singer, once upon a time, the artist was an actress on the Nickelodeon show, Sam & Cat, a spin-off (coincidentally) of the popular teen sitcom iCarly. It was during the show that Marshall and Williams appeared on stage once again.
Marshall and Williams appeared together and played two feuding cocreators of a ’70s TV show, Salmon Cat. The episode revived some serious nostalgia, ending with some good old-fashioned comedy. Funnily enough, Marshall and Williams were estranged before coming together on set. Once they reunited, they kept close tabs on each other, keeping the friendship alive.