Actress Cindy Williams was born August 22, 1947, in Van Nuys, California. She began her acting career in the late 1960s, but it wasn't until she was cast as Shirley in 1976, opposite Penny Marshall's Laverne, that she became a recognizable star. Of all her film work, she is perhaps best remembered as Ron Howard's bright-eyed, cherry-cheeked girlfriend in George Lucas's 1973 classic, American Graffiti. Throughout her career, she has appeared in numerous roles in film, on television and on stage.
Dreaming of Stardom
Actress Cindy Williams was born on August 22, 1947, in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Her father was an electronics technician and her mother was a waitress, but both had a knack for performance, which they passed on to their young daughter. From a young age, Williams dreamed of stardom, casting herself in plays of her own invention to entertain her family, her friends and herself.
At Birmingham High School, where she was classmates with future actress Sally Field and future pariah financier Michael Milken, Williams interest in acting deepened. She performed in several school productions over the years, and after graduation enrolled at Los Angeles City College, where she majored in theater arts.
Upon completing her studies, Williams began to pursue an acting career in earnest, making her first TV appearance in 1969 on the ABC comedy series Room 222 and her screen debut the following year in Roger Corman’s Gas-s-s-s! To make ends meet, she also acted in numerous television commercials, including for TWA and Foster Grant sunglasses. Other notable credits from early in her career include appearances on the series The Funny Side—during which she sang and danced with Gene Kelly—and roles in Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut, Drive, He Said (1971), and the 1972 comedy Travels with My Aunt, which starred Maggie Smith.
Her career gaining steam, in 1973 Williams was cast in her first prominent film role, in the George Lucas–directed American Graffiti, which starred Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard and Harrison Ford and was met with great critical acclaim, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. For her performance in the film, Williams received a Best Supporting Actress nomination from BAFTA, though the award ultimately went to acting legend Ingrid Bergman.
Continuing along on her star-studded path, the following year Williams was featured prominently in another Oscar contender—Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 classic The Conversation, which starred Gene Hackman. She made her first brush with super stardom shortly thereafter, when she auditioned for the part of Princess Leia in George Lucas’s megahit Star Wars but lost out to Carrie Fisher. Still, the highlight of Williams’s career was yet to come.
Laverne & Shirley
Wishing to focus her energies on her film career, in 1975 Williams nearly turned down the offer of a bit part on the popular ABC series Happy Days. That she eventually decided to take the job proved to be a momentous one for Williams. Appearing as the character Shirley Feeney alongside Penny Marshall’s Laverne De Fazio, the duo proved so popular with audiences that producer Garry Marshall (Penny’s brother) decided to create a spinoff series that featured them.
Following the lives of two twenty-something roommates who work at a brewery in Milwaukee during the l950s and ’60s, the first episode of Laverne & Shirley aired in January 1976. But although Williams and others had imagined the series would be a short-lived success, it proved to be wildly popular, becoming one of the most popular shows on television for much of its eight-season run. As for Williams, her role in Laverne & Shirley earned her a 1978 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and made her a bona fide star.
Despite its critical and popular success—which was significant enough to inspire an animated spinoff—as the 1980s dawned, Laverne & Shirley’s ratings began to wane, and the newly wed Williams (who had married actor/musician Bill Hudson) left the show to during its last season to give birth to her first child, daughter Emily. The final episode aired on May 10, 1983.
More Talents, More Credits
Since leaving Laverne & Shirley, both family and career have kept Williams plenty busy. She gave birth to her son Zachary in 1986 and that same year appeared with her husband in the made-for-TV film Help Wanted: Kids. Numerous roles on TV and in film followed, including the 1990 sitcom Normal Life with Dweezil and Moon Zappa and the 1997 Rodney Dangerfield comedy Meet Wally Sparks, among many others.
Williams has also spent time on the other side of the camera, with co-producer credits on the 1991 remake of Father of the Bride and its 1995 sequel, both of which starred Steve Martin. And returning to her first love, Williams has made her way back to the stage as well, appearing in Broadway productions of The Drowsy Chaperone (2007) and It Had to Be You (2008) as well as touring productions of the musicals Grease (2000) and Nunset Boulevard (2012).
In 2004 Williams was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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