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Laverne & Shirley is an Americanmarker television situation comedy that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983. It starred Penny Marshall as Laverne De Fazio and Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney, roommates who, as the series began, worked in a Milwaukeemarker brewery.

The show was a spin-off from Happy Days, as the two lead characters were originally introduced on that show as acquaintances of Fonzie. Set in roughly the same time period as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley started in approximately 1959, and when the series ended, it was 1967.

Both shows were made by Paramount Television. "Laverne & Shirley" filmed on stage 20 and "Happy Days" on stage 19.

In April 2007, it was announced that Marshall would reunite with Williams for a TV Land network reality series in which the ladies would play themselves and live in Marshall's house, where the show would be filmed. Described as a buddy comedy, Penny and Cindy, is being produced by Gay Rosenthal Prods, while Jim Vallely is the writer and executive producer.

Opening sequence

At the start of each episode, Laverne and Shirley are seen skipping down the street, arm in arm, reciting a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" This then leads into the series' theme song which is entitled "Making Our Dreams Come True" and is performed by Cyndi Grecco. In the 6th and 7th seasons (which would be the Hollywood seasons), the intro would be Laverne and Shirley coming out of an apartment, but still singing their original chant, and then a re-orchestrated version of the original theme song. During the final season after Cindy Williams left the show, the show opened with Laverne watching a group of school children perform the chant before the theme song began.

The opening sequence has been parodied in many pop culture outlets, including the movie Wayne's World, where Garth and Wayne perform the theme song while visiting Milwaukee. In an episode of The Nanny entitled "Val's Apartment," Fran and Val say the chant before entering their apartment for the first time, but they stumble over the word "Hasenpfeffer." The sequence has also been parodied in other languages, on Friends in a Spanish-language track under the title Laverne y Shirley, and on Saturday Night Live, in faux Japanese, under the name Rabun to Shuri.

In the first season, the main title showed the full names of the characters (i.e., "Laverne De Fazio & Shirley Feeney"), but in subsequent seasons this was reduced to just their first names (i.e., "Laverne and Shirley"). During its syndicated run it was retitled "Laverne & Shirley & Company" from 1981 to 1983 due to the series still airing on ABC at the time.

Full character list

  • Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) Known for being a tough-talking tomboy, Laverne grew up in Brooklynmarker, with her Italian immigrant parents and grandmother; Laverne's parents moved to Milwaukee, where her mother died and was buried. Laverne works alongside best friend and roommate Shirley and is known for being the cynic of the pair. She would consider herself a realist, and she sees her life for what it is. Laverne's motto is: "This is it, this is our life." Laverne enjoys dating tough guys of the "Purple Fiends" gang and picking up sailors at the dock with old lady neighbor Mrs. Colchek. (The show's dialogue was always clear, however, that both Laverne and Shirley were "good girls" according to the standards of the 1950s.) Laverne is also a fan of the TV show Sea Hunt and enjoys 3-D Monster Movies, such as The Bride of Bwana Devil. Milk and Pepsi was Laverne's infamous favorite drink (Penny Marshall drank milk and Pepsi in real life and added it to her character). Along with her poodle skirts, a well-known trait of Laverne's style was the letter "L" monogrammed on her shirts and sweaters (another idea introduced by Marshall).
  • Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) Shirley Wilhelmina Feeney is the perky, positive one. With apple cheeks to match her personality, Shirley never "lets her balloon land". She also tends to be a meek little "girly-girl", while Laverne is more outspoken and athletic. One of Shirley's most prized possessions is "Boo Boo Kitty", a large stuffed cat which sits next to her bed. Her favorite song is Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes" and that song is featured in several episodes, often used by one of the girls to cheer the other up. Shirley later becomes a huge fan of teen-idol Fabian. She has an overbearing mother named Lily (Pat Carroll) who had moved to California, and an alcoholic sailor brother Bobby (Ed Begley, Jr.). In episode 32, "Buddy Can You Spare a Father?" (which aired on 1977-02-15), Shirley's father Jack Feeney was played by Scott Brady (who turned down the role of Archie Bunker on All in the Family). Shirley dotes on her never-seen nieces, nephews, and cousins and adores her "Feeney Family Photo Album". Shirley is also well-known as a conservative in her personal life: for example, "I don't vodeo-doe-doe" was an early catchphrase. Despite her more blue-collar veneer, Laverne was also relatively conservative. This was made clear, for example, in an episode where Laverne nearly accepted a proposal of marriage; when Shirley asked if the marriage was being driven by necessity, Laverne reacted strongly against the insinuation. In the series' earliest episodes, Cindy Williams used a coarser accent for her character, but it was soon softened considerably. (This speech pattern had been previously used by Williams in a commercial for Foster Grant sunglasses.)
  • Lenny Kosnowski (Michael McKean), a lovable goof who pesters Laverne and Shirley along with his best friend and roommate Squiggy (who both live upstairs from Laverne and Shirley's basement apartment). Lenny works as a truck driver at the Shotz brewery. Raised by his father after his mother abandoned them, Lenny claims to be 89th in line to the Polish Throne. When Lenny attempted to have the words "Lone Wolf" embroidered on the back of his red jacket, a mistake left him with "One Wolf" instead; Laverne was kind enough to sew on one of her own fancy-script "L's" to complete the phrase. Lenny says that, while he's not completely sure, he thinks his last name (Kosnowski) is Polish for "Help, there's a hog in my kitchen".
  • Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman (David Lander) The most obnoxious of the bunch, and the greasiest. Squiggy works and lives with childhood friend Lenny. Squiggy grew up with neglectful parents, and is often scheming to get rich or succeed by somewhat devious means. For some reason, he collects moths, and prizes a stuffed Iguana named Jeffrey. Squiggy, like Lenny, loves the chocolate-flavored drink Bosco Chocolate Syrup, and makes nearly every entrance with his trademark "Hello" said in a slightly dopey voice. In the final season, we learn Squiggy has a lookalike sister named Squendoline.
  • Frank De Fazio (Phil Foster) Laverne's Italian-born father who runs the Pizza Bowl, a local hang out featuring pizza, beer, and, of course, bowling and then later Cowboy Bills in Burbank, California. A running joke involves his incomprehensibly thick Italian accent, which sounds more like mumbling than speech. Although he could be harsh and lose his temper, he did have a heart of gold. He loved Laverne very much, having been her only parent for years; his pet name for his daughter was "Muffin".
  • Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa (Eddie Mekka) Shirley's high school sweetheart and on-again, off-again romance. He originally appeared in Happy Days as one of Fonzie's friends. Carmine's occasional lady companion was wealthy divorcee Lucille Lockwash, which made Shirley jealous. "The Big Ragu" is a part-time boxer who owns a dance studio and is constantly working to make it big as a dancer and singer. In the final episode of the series, he auditions for the musical Hair, at last landing a major role on Broadway.
  • Edna Babish DeFazio (Betty Garrett) The landlady who eventually married Laverne's father, Edna occasionally sings and dances in the local Brewery talent show. Edna has had eight divorces, and eventually divorces Frank too, towards the end of the series (when Garrett opted to leave the show at the beginning of the final season). In one episode, Edna's daughter Amy is introduced. She has been away at "school" and it is implied she is handicapped or a slow learner. It appears she has led a sheltered life more due to her mother protecting her. Laverne and Shirley help her to adjust and come out of her shell.
  • Big Rosie Greenbaum (Carole Ita White) A snob, and the girls' childhood nemesis. She married a rich doctor and rubs this in the girls' faces, though they make fun of the fact that he is a proctologist. She is Laverne's rival and upsets her by calling her a "bimbo". Big Rosie and fellow Milwaukee classmate Terri Buttefuco both return in the 7th-season episode Class of '56.
  • Rhonda Lee (Leslie Easterbrook) a ditzy blonde actress / singer / dancer / model trying to make it big, she is Laverne and Shirley's neighbor and a regular character after they move to Burbank.
  • Sonny St. Jacques (Ed Marinaro) A stuntman and Laverne and Shirley's building manager in Burbank.


Timeline of show

Setting: Milwaukee

For the first 5 seasons, from 1976 to 1980, the show was set in Milwaukeemarker(executive producer Thomas L. Miller's home town), running from roughly 1959 (one early episode involves the girls' three-year high school reunion of the Fillmore High Class of 1956) through the early 1960s. Shotz Brewery (a fictitious analog of the Schlitz company) bottlecappers and best friends, Laverne and Shirley live in a basement apartment on Knapp Street (a real street near the Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee), where the feet of pedestrians are visible from their front window. The two women communicate with upstairs neighbors Lenny and Squiggy by screaming up the dumbwaiter shaft connecting their apartments instead of using the telephone. Also appearing were Laverne's father, Frank, proprietor of the Pizza Bowl, and landlady Edna Babish. Shirley maintained a stormy romance with dancer/singer Carmine Ragusa ("I can date other men and Carmine can date ugly women", she tells Laverne). During this period, characters from Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley would make occasional guest appearances on each other's shows.

Setting: Burbank

For the sixth season in 1980, the current cast moved from Milwaukeemarker to Burbank, Californiamarker, with the catalyst behind the move as the girls losing their bottlecapping jobs to new automation installed at Shotz Brewery, and want to start fresh. Their friends and family are inspired by the idea and also pack up to move out west.

Laverne and Shirley took jobs as gift-wrappers at Bardwell's Department Store, Frank and Edna managed a Texas BBQ restaurant called "Cowboy Bill's", and Carmine delivered singing telegrams and sought work as an actor. From this point until the end of the show's run, Laverne & Shirley was set in the mid-1960s. The girls are seen kissing a 1964 Beatles poster in the new opening credits. With each season, a new year passed in the timeline of the show, starting with 1965 in the 1980-81 season, and ending in 1967 with Carmine heading off for Broadway, to star in the musical Hair. The opening credits of the California seasons feature the cast toasting at New Year's, and visible on a large banner is the year depicted in that season.

When the show moved to California, two new members joined the cast: Ed Marinaro as Sonny St. Jacques, a stunt man, landlord of the Burbank apartment building, and love interest for Laverne, as well as Leslie Easterbrook as Rhonda Lee, the girls' neighbor and an aspiring actress. Marinaro had previously been cast a year earlier as Laverne's cousin Antonio from Italy (who had a talent for taming wild animals). The move en masse to Burbank is generally considered by fans to have been when the show jumped the shark (the beginning of the end). Marinaro left after one season in California, Betty Garrett left by 1981, Cindy Williams left in 1982, and Michael McKean was missing from the final episodes.

Laverne without Shirley

In August 1982, Williams reportedly felt that the shows producers were uncooperative and using her pregnancy as an excuse to ease her off the series permanently. Williams stormed off the set and filed a US$20,000,000 lawsuit against Paramount Pictures (later settled out of court). By then, the show's ratings had already declined considerably.

In the final season, Shirley fell in love with and married Army medic Walter Meany (making her Shirley Feeney-Meany), and discovered one episode later that she was pregnant (although she had actually been visibly pregnant for some time). This would be Williams' last appearance.

With Shirley gone (leaving Laverne a note and quickly leaving town to join her husband overseas), Laverne tried to go it alone and a new opening was shot with Laverne watching children singing the famous "Schlemiel! Schlemazel!" lines. The show kept the title Laverne and Shirley on-screen, although Cindy Williams was neither shown nor titled in the opening credits. Laverne began working in an aerospace testing facility and did not need another roommate. Several guest stars were featured in the final season of 1982-83, including Carrie Fisher and Louise Lasser, but faced with withering competition from NBC's The A-Team and the loss of one of its title stars, the series quietly expired in May 1983.

The final episode was a backdoor pilot for a failed spin-off, dealing with Carmine moving away to New York to star in the Broadway show Hair, and Laverne was seen simply in book-end scenes.

Animated spin-off

See also List of animated spinoffs from prime time shows
During the run of the main show, an animated spin-off called Laverne & Shirley in the Army began airing on Saturday mornings. The first program was aired on October 10, 1981. The show featured the voices of Marshall and Williams playing Laverne and Shirley in the Army (much like they had been during their 1979-1980 season) with a talking piglet Drill Sergeant named "Squealy" (voiced by Welcome Back Kotter alum Ron Palillo). The show was renamed Laverne and Shirley with the Fonz when the Fonz began working in the motorpool as the chief mechanic, and then again renamed The Mork, Fonzie, and Laverne & Shirley Hour when new segments involving a teenaged Mork & Mindy were added to the mix. The series ran until September 3, 1983.

Ratings and merchandising

Laverne and Shirley premiered in January 1976, and by its second season it had become the most-watched American television program, even surpassing the ratings for Happy Days. At the time Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were among television's best-paid actresses. Laverne and Shirley kept the top spot for two seasons but the leads' competitive rivalry and a network decision to move the show to Thursdays led the show to fall from #1 to below the top #30 during the 1979-1980 season. Producers panicked and chose a format change with a "move" to California, while some observers felt that they should have found better writers.

The theme song from the series (performed by Cyndi Grecco) was released as a single and became a top 30 hit in 1976.

The program was so successful at the time that it spawned a merchandise franchise. Mego released two models of Laverne and Shirley dolls, and one model of Lenny and Squiggy dolls. Hot Wheels created a Shotz Brewery delivery van, and several novelty toys were sold such as Halloween costumes, a board game, jigsaw puzzles, coloring books, and other toys.

The ratings for the shows seasons are:

Season Year Ranking
1 1976 #3
2 1976-1977 #2
3 1977-1978 #1
4 1978-1979 #1
5 1979-1980 #39
6 1980-1981 #21
7 1981-1982 #20
8 1982-1983 #25


The fifth season (1979-1980) didn't break the Top 30, in part because of ABC's decision to move the series from its established time slot of Tuesday night at 8:30 pm, to 8:00 pm on Thursdays. After ratings plummeted, ABC switched the show back to Tuesdays, and the ratings improved some, but the series never really recovered from a network decision that had favored the newer sitcom Angie.

Dramatic episodes

Although generally viewed as a slapstick comedy, a number of episodes included more dramatic storylines:

  • In Episode #103, "Why Did The Fireman..?", Laverne mourns her boyfriend's death. The episode guest starred Ted Danson as Randy Carpenter, a Milwaukee firefighter and Laverne's steady boyfriend, who is killed in the line of duty the night before he intended to propose to her. Laverne, completely in shock, refuses to accept his death and waits up all night for him to return home from his shift. The father-daughter scene between Penny Marshall (Laverne) and Phil Foster (Frank De Fazio) in which he gently consoles his daughter with the hard truth is an example of the dramatic acting uncharacteristic for the series. This episode was directed by Joel Zwick and was written by Roger Garrett.
  • In the Season 3 episode "The Slow Child", the girls befriend Mrs. Babish's partially-retarded daughter, Amy. Mrs. Babish does not care for how they treat her daughter as one of the girls, especially when Amy and Lenny begin to date.
  • In the Season 4 episode "The Robbery", Laverne's hood boyfriend makes her an accessory to a hold-up, and forcibly imprisons her in his apartment.
  • Another issue the show focused on was how women were treated in the pre-feminist world of the 1950s and early 1960s. Unmarried women (unlike unmarried men of the time) were often expected to be virgins, and were also unequal in the work place.
  • In Episode #21, "Look Before You Leap", Laverne is sick and thinks she might be pregnant. This occurs because of an incident the previous month where she comes home wearing men's underwear. Lenny asks her to marry him, but she kindly declines. When Frank comes to the apartment, Laverne tells him about what happened. He comforts her and takes to the hospital to see if she is pregnant. When Laverne whispers in everybody's ear, they start singing Hallelujah, implying that she's not pregnant.


Episodes

DVD releases

Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first 4 seasons of Laverne and Shirley on DVD in Region 1. Season 1 has also been released on DVD in Region 2.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 15 August 17, 2004
The Second Season 23 April 17, 2007
The Third Season 24 November 27, 2007
The Fourth Season 24 April 22, 2008


Albums

"Laverne & Shirley Sing"-1976 LP cover
"Lenny and the Squigtones"-1979 LP cover
In 1976, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams released an album entitled Laverne and Shirley Sing, which contained some original songs along with some 1950s and 1960s standards. The album was released on Atlantic Records. On November 11, 2003, Collector's Choice released it on CD.

In 1979, Michael McKean and David Lander followed suit with the album Lenny and the Squigtones, featuring mainly original songs penned by McKean. The album was released on Casablanca Records.

McKean and Lander also appeared in character on Fernwood Tonight, the satirical late night talk show hosted by Martin Mull and Fred Willard. In this appearance they claimed that their characters on Laverne and Shirley were based on their real life personas. They also performed their original song "The Creature Without a Head".

McKean and Lander also appeared on American Bandstand performing the song "King of the Cars", which was released as the only single from the LP.

Production notes

  • Carole Ita White who played the girls' ex-schoolfriend and rival Big Rosie Greenbaum first appeared in season one, episode #9 as an unnamed tough woman with whom the girls fight in a seedy pool hall.
  • "The Baby Show" was the third episode planned for season 8 filming, and was to be used later to feature the birth of Shirley's baby. After Cindy Williams' abrupt departure from the production, the role of expectant mother was re-written for Laverne's guest Sgt. Alvinia T. Plout (Vicki Lawrence).
  • The series often referenced the wealthy Milwaukee Pfister family as the owners of many Milwaukee establishments, ie: Chez Pfister, The Hotel Pfister, Pfister Fong's, Pfister Plaster Palace. The Pfister Hotel (named as a setting in 2 episodes) is an actual downtown Milwaukee hotel.


Impact on popular culture

Laverne & Shirley has been referenced or parodied by a number of shows. Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman appeared in The Simpsons episode called "Helter Shelter". The show was also mentioned in a two-part episode of South Park, called "Cartoon Wars" when Cartman tells Kyle how a canceled episode of Laverne and Shirley ultimately resulted in it being pulled off the air. In the Scrubs episode "My Fault", hypochondriac patient Harvey Korman references the show with his line "Hello Laverne, Shirley", directed to Nurse Laverne Roberts and another nurse. After Laverne Roberts died, actress Aloma Wright was recast as Nurse Shirley. This was parodied in a Japanesemarker version on the April 21, 2001 (exact?) episode of Saturday Night Live. On October 20, 1976 Charlies Angels made a reference to Laverne & Shirley in the classic episode Angels in Chains. While going undercover in a women's prison, Jaclyn Smith's character,Kelly Garrett, refers to two female prison guards as "Laverne and Shirley".

References

  1. Super Hits of the '70s, Volume 18, Rhino Records, 1993, liner notes
  2. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1970's
  3. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1970's
  4. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1970's
  5. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1970's
  6. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1980's
  7. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1980's
  8. ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1980's


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