You don’t have to be a shlemiel or a schlemazel to love Laverne and Shirley, the classic sitcom about two working-class BFFs making their dreams come true. The show was so popular in the late 70s that on any given Tuesday night, almost half of everyone watching TV were tuned into see what Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) were up to. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show’s premiere, we grabbed our Boo Boo Kitties and Pepsi Milk and came up with seven interesting facts about the show's history.
1. Laverne and Shirley first debuted on an episode of Happy Days, which featured the girls on a double date with The Fonz (Henry Winkler) and Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard). The two were such a big hit that studio execs asked producer Garry Marshall (Penny’s brother) to cook up a show for their very own. Little did they know that the spin-off would quickly become more popular than the original show.
2. Ever wonder about the origin of the show’s opening catch phrase: “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”. In her 2012 memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, Penny Marshall explained that it was a Yiddish song from her childhood that she and her friends would sing on their way to school.
3. For a comedy, the show featured a healthy dose of musical numbers, including countless performances at the Pizza Bowl and that zany Christmas episode at a mental hospital. To cash in on the show’s success, Marshall and Williams recorded Laverne & Shirley Sing, a collection of covers of rock and roll hits from the 50s and 60s. Still widely available, fans can listen to their rendition of “Da Do Run Run,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream” or an odd two-minute track of the pair reading old yearbook entries.
4. Fact: Lenny and Squiggy were bopping around long before they started creeping out females in the Greater Milwaukee area. Actors Michael McKean and David Lander created the comedy routine while performing together in college. When the two became writers on L&S, they suggested adding the characters to the mix. Studio execs gave them the green light on one condition: The character Anthony Squiggliano had to be renamed Squiggy because execs thought there were too many Italians on the show.
5. Like most sitcoms, things went downhill in the latter seasons. In the fall of 1980, the studio tried to reboot the show by moving the story from Milwaukee to Burbank, California and fast-forwarded Lost-style by a couple of years. Laverne and Shirley got employment as gift wrappers at a department store, the Pizza Bowl was replaced with a BBQ Pit, and Carmine delivered singing telegrams. Over the last two seasons, a number of characters came and went. Lenny (Michael McKean) disappeared for the last four episodes. Although the writers tried valiantly to recapture the show’s original magic, the writing was on the wall: The proverbial shark had been jumped.
6. Of all the show’s changes, none were felt as deeply as Cindy Williams’ departure in season eight. Early in the season, the actor married and became pregnant. She thought she would return to the show with camera shots carefully designed to hide her baby bump. But when the studio wanted Williams to work on her due date, Williams left the show triggering a weird multiverse where it seemed like Shirley never existed. Without Shirley, the show literally and figuratively didn’t live up to its name and its eighth season became its last.
7. After Williams left the show, tensions between the two stars remained high for years. According to Marshall: “We were not estranged during the show but then she got married. I was very happy. She was having a baby but Bill (Hudson her then husband) was a pain in the ass. He wanted to be a producer. So that’s what happened.” But while life tore them apart, it was Ariana Grande who brought them back together. Last November, the two appeared on a Nickelodeon show called Sam & Cat, starring Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande. It was the first time in 30 years that Marshall and Williams appeared together in a scripted TV show. Reunited, the two became friends again in real life.