Exclusive Interview: Cindy Williams Reminisces about Laverne & Shirley

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams | Photo mptvimages.com

Since the 2008 release of the fourth season of Laverne & Shirley, fans have been waiting four long years for the next season’s DVDs. As of April 10, 2012, the wait is over, and the fifth season DVD set is finally on the market.

A spin-off of the sitcom, Happy Daysthe iconic Laverne & Shirley, which starred Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall as single women who worked in a Milwaukee brewery, ran for eight seasons from 1976 to 1983.

Laverne & Shirley DVD
Laverne & Shirley Fifth Season DVD

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of chatting on the phone with the very sweet Cindy Williams, who played the perky Shirley Feeney opposite Penny Marshall’s Laverne De Fazio.

You and Penny had great chemistry on the show. Was that something you had to work at, or did it just click immediately with the two of you?

It was chemistry. I couldn’t have done that show without her. I think Penny would say this, too. On certain levels, Penny and I are opposites, but on a lot of levels, we see the exact same thing at the exact same time and make the exact same comment on it. We have the same sense of humor…. During rehearsals, if it made us laugh, we knew we’d make the audience laugh. So, we were our own little testing ground. We loved to laugh.

We could have not seen each other for a hundred years, and Penny and I would pick up right in the same place. We were writing together before that, and we had met a long time before Happy Days. I’ve told this story many times, but when I first actually met Penny, we had a double date. It was Rob Reiner and my boyfriend at the time, Fred. We went to the Ambassador Hotel to see Liza Minnelli perform, and Little Richard was opening for her. And after the show, everybody wanted to go backstage and say hello to Liza. The boys did because I guess they knew her.

Laverne & Shirley
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as Laverne & Shirley | Photo mptvimages.com

So, Penny and I were walking behind them, and in order to get to Liza’s dressing room, you had to go through Little Richard’s dressing room. Little Richard was sitting in a chair, and he looked up and saw us. And he put his leg out and stopped us and said, “You! You two! I want to give a blessing to you two.” So, we bowed our heads immediately together. And he blessed us and said a prayer over us. And Penny and I often say that the success of Laverne & Shirley was due to Little Richard’s blessing.

Cindy Williams
Cindy Williams | Photo Aaron Whitmore, Stealing Roses Film LLC

Did you ever meet Little Richard again?

No, we met his nephew, though, and he knew that story.

As I’m listening to you talk, I think about what an optimist Shirley was. Is that you? Are you an optimist as well?

I’m not as much of an optimist as Shirley…. It was wonderful to play that kind of optimistic, idealistic character because in my own life, I’m much more self-critical. And I shouldn’t be, and as I get older, I try to pull that tar from the wheat and get that out of my consciousness and be more like Shirley.

Do all the seasons sort of run together for you now, or is there anything from the fifth season that sticks out? I think of the beatnik episode. That’s what comes to mind for me.

Well, I loved that beatnik episode. Garry [Penny Marshall’s brother, Garry Marshall, was the creator of Happy Days and one of the creators of Laverne & Shirley] would ask us, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I want a scarf dance!” … So, he put that in that I have this scarf that I dance with and become a beatnik.

But you’d have to remind me. Read me some episodes because we were in California then. The first few seasons that were in Milwaukee are certainly separated in my mind from when we moved to Hollywood, which is the only misstep I think Garry made.

Another one of the episodes from that season was “Not Quite South of the Border.”

That show was so much fun with the hurricane at the end. Wearing Kleenex boxes on our feet, which we decided at the last minute because our luggage gets lost. We’re wearing pillow slips…. It was everything we could do not to laugh at that one.

Did you ever get injured from all that physical comedy?

Well, she [Penny] got injured in one show. The cables broke. And I got injuries that years later came home to roost. I fell off the couch in one episode. It was the episode that Jay Leno was in. That was back in Milwaukee, and I wanted to do this fall where I had my legs crossed and my arms crossed. I’m sitting on the arm of the sofa, and she pushes me off with her elbow to get me out of the room. And in my mind, the picture was to fall straight down and not move my body at all – just stay in that pose and take the fall like that. I had them pad the rug, but I landed on that so hard that I started having sciatic problems – mild, and then worse as I got older. But it was worth it. They may have cut that little part out in syndication.

A lot of it was because we were thinking like cartoons, like we could do the same thing that cartoon characters could do. But we forgot about gravity and that we were human.

Laverne & Shirley
Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall as Laverne & Shirley | Photo mptvimages.com

I want to divert from Laverne & Shirley just long enough to ask you what you’ve got going on now, if there’s anything you can talk about.

I’m doing a lot of theater, and I’m getting ready to do just that for the next year. I never talk about things because it’s always a bloody miracle if it happens, but I do have a movie that, along with others, I’m trying to produce.

I know you did The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway not too long ago. What are your aspirations at this point in your career?

I’d like to do more theater, except that just recently, like I said, those injuries are coming home to roost. I’m not moving as fast as I used to, Melanie! … But I would love to keep doing theater until I drop.

Do you prefer it?

I do prefer it. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to do another sitcom, but it would have to be just laugh out loud funny.

Do you ever get tired of talking about Laverne & Shirley?

No! It was a happy part of my life and continues to be.


22 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Cindy Williams Reminisces about Laverne & Shirley”

  1. Living Large Avatar

    What a fun interview! I loved that show when I was a kid. I’m going to have to revisit it on DVD!

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

      I hadn’t heard the theme song for years, but I discovered that I remember all the words. It’s just imbedded in the memory bank.

  2. Jackie Dishner Avatar

    I can hardly believe the show ended my senior year in high school. Wow! And I know all the words to the theme song as well. Spent many a party night with friends singing that one. Fun interview.

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

      Thanks, Jackie. She really was a doll. Thanked me profusely at the end of the interview.

  3. Kelly James-Enger Avatar

    Loved this interview! Glad you asked about the physical comedy; I’m not surprised that she did get hurt but their very physical-ness was one of the things I loved about the show! 🙂 Great job, Melanie. 🙂

  4. Heather Avatar

    I loved Cindy Williams in everything she was in. Thanks for catching up with her.

  5. Sheryl Avatar

    Thanks for bringing back memories of what was one of my favorite shows way back when. I don’t think I ever missed an episode.

  6. Kerry Dexter Avatar

    I’d forgotten that part about them moving from Milwaukee to Hollywood, and I agree with Cindy’s thought on that. I wonder how people who didn’t grow up with the show take to it on DVD — but then, people still love I Love Lucy, so maybe whole new audiences await. Glad to hear Cindy is doing well and has projects she’s enjoying these days. Thanks for the interview, Melanie (and Jane).

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

      I had forgotten about that move to Hollywood, too, until Cindy mentioned it.

  7. Irene Avatar

    Nice interview, nice pictures—and nice memories!

  8. The Writer's [Inner] Journey Avatar

    My best friend and I loved this show growing up! Such talents.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like all the shows of my childhood were hits that went on for years. Ok, yeah, I can think of a few that didn’t. My World and Welcome To It is one. I thought that was such a cute show, and it won two Emmys. Will have to research why it didn’t get past one season.

      1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

        Well, shows certainly have more competition now. The number of channels available now is more than 100 times what it was then, right?

        1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

          Maybe part of it’s that so many of those channels offer mainly reality shows — which are often the bottom of the barrel when it comes to entertainment. Most of the shows during the Laverne & Shirley era were scripted shows with writers and good production. If we get that now, it really stands out from the crowd. Unfortunately, those cost more, which is why TV is a wasteland of reality shows.

          1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

            That’s certainly true these days. Few episodic shows with real actors, and that practice has put so many people out of work.

          2. Jane Boursaw Avatar

            I’ve been thinking about doing a piece on all the assorted reality shows out there, but it’s a little depressing to think about. Maybe I need to start thinking about reality shows in a couple of different categories, because there are some I really like. Pawn Stars and Dual Survival, to name two.

            But when you get into the gazillion Real Housewives spinoffs, singing competitions, fashion competitions, chef competitions… not to mention swamp people, moonshiners, repo people, tuna fishermen, pot growers, gold miners, stupid celebrities, sigh… there’s very little that hasn’t been mined for a reality show.

  9. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I remember watching Laverne & Shirley reruns–they always seemed to be having so much fun. Good to know that’s true

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Yeah, it’s always heartening to know that those old TV shows were as much fun for the cast as they were for us. What a great legacy.

  10. […] Williams suffered and the later rekindling of their friendship, which remains strong today. (See my interview with Cindy Williams.)After the video below are some of my favorite quotes from my time at the table with Penny […]

  11. […] Melanie Votaw’s interview with Cindy Williams last year – so much fun. Melanie also sat in on a Q&A with Penny Marshall pegged to her […]

  12. […] READ: Interview: Cindy Williams Reminisces About “Laverne & Shirley” […]

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