The comic sitcom “Laverne and Shirley” brought a lot of laughs to a lot of viewers during its eight-year run on ABC television.
One of its stars, Cindy Williams, who portrayed Shirley Feeney opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne DeFazio, in the long-running show, has brought a spate of memories — along with lots of clips from L&S and other films in her prolific career – to create a delightful, nostalgic and very funny one-woman performance of “Me, Myself & Shirley,” playing through June 27 at Boca Raton’s Wick Theater.
Actually, Cindy was supposed to appear at the Wick last year in Nunsense, scheduled to be the season finale. COVID messed with all those plans, so the L&S co-star postponed her appearance for a year and worked with production people to create a personal recollection of her four decades on TV and in movies.
Cindy Williams (courtesy of Wick Theatre).
Throughout the laugh-packed, 90-minute show, the TV icon – born Cynthia Jane Williams in 1947 — shares the stories, the secrets, the embarrassing moments, the high and lows and behind-the-scenes backstories from her career on the big and little screens.
She talks about starring in a “series of low-budget B-movies” during her hungry years. “In one, I was eaten by a blob.” Cindy soon got a part on a TV variety show, “The Funny Side,” hosted by dance legend Gene Kelly. She recalls dancing with the star – and mistakenly standing on his foot. Yet a clip showing them together shows nary a flinch by the terpsichorean troubadour. “I stepped on Gene Kelly’s foot twice.”
Before landing the “Laverne and Shirley” gig, Cindy says, she started to land some meatier roles, including “The Conversation,” “Travels with my Aunt” (opposite Maggie Smith) and “American Graffiti,” helmed by George Lucas.
She says the film gave her a chance to work with lots of young and soon-to-be-influential actors, including Ron Howard and Harrison Ford. “I remember Harrison asked if he could borrow my car to go do his laundry. He didn’t come back for three days,” Cindy comments.
During filming, she remembers, Lucas dropped a hint that he was about to launch filming of a story about “teens in space” – which became Star Wars. Ford and Williams went for it. And while Ford landed the role of Han Solo in the sci-fi epic, Cindy Williams unsuccessfully auditioned for the part of Princess Leia. During her show at the Wick, she presents the black-and-white audition film for the Star Wars role. Afterward, she comments: “Why didn’t someone tell me what an R2-D2 is?”
(Coincidentally, Carrie Fisher – who nailed the Leia role — appeared in an episode of “Laverne & Shirley.”)
“Laverne and Shirley” was actually a spin-off of “Happy Days” which starred Ron Howard, Tom Bosley and Henry Winkler. At the time, Cindy said, she and Penny Marshall were writing for that show. Garry Marshall, Penny’s brother, creator and eventual co-executive producer of L&S, did a “Happy Days” episode featuring two female friends of The Fonz, said to be “girls who dated the fleet.”
“They didn’t tell us how to do the roles, so we played it as hookers, coming in smoking cigarettes and chewing gum. Jerry Paris, the director, said ‘No, no no! You’re supposed to be blue collar workers.” So, they toned down the portrayals, and came up with two characters who became so popular, they earned their own show.
L&S focused on two roommates who work as bottle cappers in a Milwaukee beer factory. The opening credits, set to a spirited theme song, “Making our Dreams Come True,” sung by Cyndi Grecco, has become famous. The opening was wonderfully spoofed by Dana Carvey and Mike Myers in their Wayne’s World roles – a film clip that’s also shown during the Wick show. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Celluloid memories of the sitcom focus on other characters as well: Michael McKean as “Lenny,” David L. Lander as “Squiggy” and Phil Foster as Frank, Laverne’s restaurant-owner dad and Eddie Mekka as Carmine Ragusa. A year after L&S ended, McKean went on to star in the cult classic, This is Spinal Tap.
The film clips show the broad comedy and physical humor stressed in the show that ran from 1976 to 1983. Cindy even mentions that she “was more of a straight man during the first 13 weeks of the show.” She complained and asked for more comic work – which she got.
“Me, Myself and Shirley” concludes with a Q&A with the audience. Cindy says that despite the physical nature of the comedy, she was never hurt. Penny, however, was injured twice, she says, and in one case, required hospitalization.
In perhaps the most serious moment in the show, Cindy talks about the great relationship she had with Penny Marshall, who recently passed away. “We were like sisters,” she says. “We were always making ourselves laugh.”
Cindy wrote a book about her life, called “Shirley, I Jest,” several years ago.
Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall.