Laverne & Shirley actress Cindy Williams discussed how the show developed as a result of her guest appearances on Happy Days. Williams made her debut as Shirley alongside Penny Marshall’s Laverne in 1975. In the episode, the girls double date Fonzie and Richie. Their characters became fan favorites almost immediately.
“Two weeks later we got a call from [show creator] Garry [Marshall’s] office and they said that ABC had seen the episode and loved it, and they wanted to ‘spin the characters off,’” Williams revealed on an episode of Allison Interviews. “At that time Penny and I had no idea what that meant and it had to be explained to us that it meant we were getting our own show.”
According to Williams, the whole experience was a whirlwind. Laverne & Shirley was on the air within a year of that first guest spot.
“Before we knew it, we were doing other episodes on Happy Days to introduce our characters and then we had the Happy Days characters have their storylines come over to Laverne & Shirley,” she said. “That is how it all came about. It happened so fast. Penny and I had no time to say, ‘Wow, this is really happening!’ We never really took it seriously.”
Additionally, Laverne & Shirley aired from 1976 to 1983. Marshall and Williams headlined the show for most of its eight-season run. Williams did, however, leave during the last season due to her real-life pregnancy. Other stars of the show include Michael McKean and David Lander.
The Popularity of Laverne & Shirley
Interestingly, Williams revealed that many people were sheepish to admit they liked the series. Whether or not it was cheesy, the ratings didn’t lie. Audiences loved the show, even if it was in private.
“We had a lot of closet viewers,” said Williams. “People did not want to admit that they loved Laverne & Shirley, and it was also a lot of people in show business. You know who loved Laverne & Shirley? A lot of rock stars! We had Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band come down one time to watch a rehearsal. There were a bunch of other rock stars who loved it, because, in its own way, it was very hip.”
While the girls may have seemed larger than life, creator Garry Marshall actually based them on real women. Their first episode was inspired by a terrible double date he went on.
“We met some girls and took them to a coffee shop at 2 a.m. Suddenly another girl said something rude to my date,” said Marshall. “My girl turned to me and said, ‘Garry, can you hold my coat?’ And then my date beat up the other girl. It fascinated me. The tough-as-nails quality of Laverne and Shirley was based on that single night fight in Brooklyn.”
Sometimes, the best stories come from real life. The success of Laverne & Shirley proves just that.