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Friday, May 11, 2012

Laverne & Shirley - Making Their Dreams Come True

Hello, everyone!  Happy Friday to everyone here!

I certainly hope you’re enjoying the end of your week, and that you have a fantastic weekend.  I’ve got some special themed weekend entries coming up this week for Mother’s Day, and I hope that you all get a chance to read them.

Before we get into that however, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about a popular show that started off as a spin-off, and ended up lasting for eight seasons.

It all began on November 11, 1975. 

That was the day that the forty-ninth episode of “Happy Days” aired for the first time.  It was an episode that was titled “A Date With Fonzie” (if you click on the episode title, you can actually watch the episode for however long it stays up on YouTube).  The episode synopsis was that Richie Cunningham was having a lot of trouble finding a girl to date.  Fonzie tries to help out by setting Richie up with a woman fails, Fonzie decides to set himself and Richie up on a double date with a couple of women.

The two women were Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams.  And their guest appearance on “Happy Days” was received so warmly that Happy Days creator Garry Marshall made the decision to create a brand new series for the guest characters who made such an impression in their short appearance in that episode.

(Though, considering that Penny Marshall and Garry Marshall were siblings, I suppose that was one main reason behind the spin-off.)

Anyway, just two months after that episode aired, in January 1976, a new series debuted on ABC.

“Laverne & Shirley” took place in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Laverne and Shirley lived together in an apartment and worked at the fictional Shotz Brewery.

Laverne was the blond-haired, tough-talking, wise-cracking tomboy of the duo.  She always wore poodle skirts and a sweater with the letter “L” stitched onto them (an idea that Penny Marshall herself came up with).  She was quite cynical and sarcastic most of the time, but she was also the type of woman whose feelings were easily hurt.

Contrast that with Shirley.  She may have dark hair, but her personality is anything but dark.  She’s almost always perky, and tries to look at things in a positive manner.  She also happens to be quite timid and quiet, which are all adjectives that Laverne is not.  She’s fully capable of standing up for herself when the need arises, but she’s not as ‘in-your-face’ about it.  Her prized possession is her beloved “Boo Boo Kitty”

But when you put Laverne and Shirley together, hilarity and slapstick comedy usually ensues.  Have a look at this clip from an early episode, and you’ll see what I mean.

Throughout the course of the series, other cast members would come and go as the need arose.  Most often than not, you would see appearances by the girls’ upstairs roommates, Lenny (Michael Keen), and Squiggy (David Lander), two obnoxious goofballs who often drop in on Laverne and Shirley unannounced.  There were also appearances by Carmine Ragusa (Eddie Mekka), Laverne’s father Frank DeFazio (Phil Foster), and landlady Edna Babish (Betty Garrett).

The first four years of the series took place in Milwaukee (which made sense, given that the show it spun off from was also set in Milwaukee).  But at the beginning of the show’s fifth season in September 1980, the show changed locations from Milwaukee to Burbank, California.  The way the show handled this was by having Laverne and Shirley lose their jobs at the Shotz Brewery, and the two of them deciding to start all over in California.  Weirdly enough, almost everyone else in the cast decided to move along with Laverne and Shirley to Burbank, so there were very little cast disruptions during the initial first season.

As a result of the move, two new cast members were added.  Ed Marinaro played the role of Sonny St. Jacques, a stuntman who acted as the girls’ new landlord, and Leslie Easterbrook played Rhonda Lee, a neighbour of Laverne and Shirley’s who wanted to make it big in Hollywood.

The show ended up running for four more seasons, ending its run on May 10, 1983.

Now, I suppose you’re interested in hearing some never before seen trivia about “Laverne & Shirley”, and well, as it so happens, I have found quite a bit of information about this program that may surprise you.  Some of it you probably know already, but other facts may blow you away.  It’s been a while since I did one of these “behind the scenes trivia” blogs, so I hope you enjoy this deeper look at “Laverne & Shirley” almost as much as I did.

So, without further hesitation, let us begin.

01  - I suppose you want to know what Laverne and Shirley are actually singing in the opening credits just before the song kicks off.  The rhyme goes “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, Schlemiel, Schlemazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”  The rhyme is a combination of English and Yiddish.

02   - In case your Yiddish is rusty, “Schlemiel” is a clumsy person, and “Schlemazel” is a chronically unlucky person.  I wonder if Laverne and Shirley were singing about themselves or someone else?

03   - When the show started airing, the original title sequence read “Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney”.  It was shortened at the beginning of season two.

04   - Laverne’s favourite drink is milk and Pepsi, which coincidentally also happens to be a favourite of Penny Marshall.  Can’t say I’ve ever tried it myself.

05   - Much like “Happy Days”, “Laverne & Shirley was set in the 1950s and 1960s.  More specifically, between 1959 and 1967.

06   - The theme song from “Laverne & Shirley was recorded by Cyndi Grecco.  It actually made the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1976, peaking within the top 30!

07   - Shirley’s father was played by actor Scott Brady.  Brady was offered a part in a show before guest starring on “Laverne & Shirley”, but he turned it down.  The part?  Archie Bunker on “All In The Family”.

08   - Ed Begley Jr played the role of Shirley’s alcoholic brother.

09   - Ted Danson had a guest role on the series, playing Laverne’s firefighter boyfriend in the memorable episode “Why Did The Fireman...?”  You can watch the episode by clicking on the show title (it's in two parts, so the link is split), but be warned.  It is a tearjerker.

10   - The set of Laverne & Shirley’s first apartment in Milwaukee was previously used in a different sitcom...”The Odd Couple”.

11   - “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley “ taped one soundstage apart from each other, making it easy for actors from both shows to cross over.

12   - Squiggy’s real name was Andrew.

13   - Despite the show’s popularity and critical acclaim, the show failed to win a single Emmy award.

14   - Cindy Williams once walked off the set in 1976 as a protest against Penny Marshall getting all the better lines.  She ended up returning two days later.

15   - In 1982, Cindy Williams ended up leaving the series for good.  In August of that year, Cindy was expecting a baby, and she felt that producers were using her pregnancy as an excuse to get her off the series.  She stormed off the set, and filed a twenty million dollar lawsuit against Paramount Pictures.  The case was settled out of court.

16   - Despite Cindy Williams leaving the program, the show managed to continue on for one more season, with Laverne going solo.  Weirdly enough, the show was STILL called “Laverne & Shirley”, even though Shirley had left the series.

17   - The reason given for Shirley’s sudden departure from the series was explained in a letter she left for Laverne, stating that she had moved away to join her Army medic husband overseas.

18   - David Lander and Michael McKean were originally hired as writers for the program, but ended up writing Lenny and Squiggy in. 

19   - Lander and McKean created Lenny and Squiggy during their college years.

20   - An animated series based off the show debuted in October 1981, which was called “Laverne & Shirley in the Army”.  Both Marshall and Williams voiced their respective characters.

21   - Products that were made to promote the series included dolls of the four main characters, a Hot Wheels version of the Shotz Brewery delivery van, Halloween costumes, board games, and colouring books.

22   - Vicki Lawrence guest starred on the program as a drill sergeant named Alvinia T. Plout.

23   - The show ran for 178 episodes.

24   - Shirley’s middle name was Wilhelmina, the name of her deceased grandmother.

That’s about all that I have to say about Laverne and Shirley.  To end this blog off, I always loved watching bloopers of television stars screwing up their lines...and well, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams did a lot of that.

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