13 things you might not know about 'Laverne & Shirley'
Image: The Everett Collection
"Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" So sang Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney as they skipped along a Milkwaukee sidewalk together. Where did that silly chant come from, you ask? We'll get to that.
In 1976, Laverne & Shirley debuted in the top slot of the Nielsen ratings, pulling in some of the biggest numbers television had seen in a decade. The Happy Days spin-off was an immediate smash, spawning merchandise, cartoons and music albums. For eight seasons, the roommates and Shotz Brewery coworkers got into uproarious, I Love Lucy–like hijinks in Wisconsin (and, eventually, in California).
Much of the show's success was due to Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who brought personal touches to their title characters. As zany as the show could get, these felt like real people. They were believable.
MARSHALL AND WILLIAMS FIRST WORKED TOGETHER AS WRITERS FOR FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA.
Around the time of our nation's bicentennial, the Godfather director was producing a spoof dubbed "My Country Tis of Thee." Marshall and Williams were on the writing team, along with Steve Martin, Martin Mull and Harry Shearer. Garry Marshall, Penny's brother, would pluck the two and cast them as Laverne and Shirley.
Image: The Everett Collection
SPINAL TAP APPEARED TOGETHER IN ONE EPISODE.
Speaking of Harry Shearer, the writer/actor guest starred in season three's "Bus Stop." Also appearing in that episode was Shearer's longtime collaborator Christopher Guest. Of course, Guest, Shearer and McKean would soon go on to make the cult classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap — which was directed by Penny Marshall's ex-husband, Rob Reiner. "Lenny" does not appear much in the eighth season, as McKean was busy filming Spinal Tap.
MOST OF THE MARSHALL FAMILY WAS INVOLVED IN MAKING 'LAVERNE & SHIRLEY.'
Obviously, Penny Marshall starred — and she directed some episodes, as well. Her brother Garry created, produced, directed and scripted. Ronny Hallin, their sister, served as the show’s casting director. Oh, and Anthony Marshall, their father, produced as well.
Image: AP Photo / Nick Ut
The show recycled scripts from a 1966 Garry Marshall flop.
The forgotten 1966 sitcom Hey, Landlord! had two things going for it. Quincy Jones wrote the theme music, for starters. Secondly, its creator was TV icon Garry Marshall. However, the show was a bust. The material couldn't have been so bad, though, as some scripts were reused for Laverne & Shirley. For example, Landlord's “Testing…One, Two” was turned into “Guinea Pigs,” right down to using the same character, Dr. Sandor.
The apartment set was recycled, too.
Though it was obviously completely redecorated, the guts of The Odd Couple condo was used to craft Laverne and Shirley's garden apartment. You can spot the similarities in the entryways to the right, seen here, which feature two doors at a right angle on a raised platform.
LENNY AND SQUIGGY WERE CREATED LONG BEFORE THE SHOW — AND WERE NOT PART OF THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT.
Michael McKean and David Lander were friends going back to college in Pittsburgh. As students at Carnegie Mellon University, the two were part of a comedy troupe called the Credibility Gap and created the characters Lenny and Squiggy (original name: Anthony Squiggliano) for skits. McKean and Lander were brought on as writers for Laverne & Shirley, after which their old alter-egos were revived and injected into the sitcom.
Image: The Everett Collection
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY JOINED THE ARMY FOR A HANNA-BARBERA CARTOON
Marshall and Williams actually voiced their animated incarnations for Laverne & Shirley in the Army, which appeared on Saturday mornings in the fall of 1981. It being a cartoon, the plots got quite surreal, as the two military newbies faced off against aliens, werewolves and Bigfoot. Commanding over them was Sgt. Squealy, a talking pig, who was voiced by Ron Palillo — a.k.a. Horshack of Welcome Back, Kotter.
Image: Hanna Barbera
PEPSI MILK WAS AN ACTUAL FAVORITE OF PENNY MARSHALL.
Pepsi Milk, which is just what it sounds like, was Laverne's comfort drink of choice on the show. The treat was an old favorite of Marshall's. She got in the habit as a child, when her mother would make her drink a glass of milk before having some soda. Young Penny would top off her unfinished milk with a splash of cola and — voila! — a new treat. Here's a recipe if your tastebuds are curious. Or, you could head to Japan, where Pepsi sells a strawberry milk flavor.
"Schlemiel! Schlimazel!" also comes from Marshall's childhood.
As Cindy Williams herself explained in an interview, the duo's hopscotch mantra was from Marshall's youth. "[Garry's] the one who told Penny, 'Teach Cindy that little ditty you used to do on the way to school. We'll shoot that.'" Williams said. "Penny taught me 'Schlemiel! Schlimazel!' I had no idea what it meant and I'm still kind of shakey on it…. When Penny and her school chums would walk to school, they'd link arms and count off their steps, '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!' Then they'd run and stop and start counting again. Garry remembered that."
IT WAS MOSTLY JUST 'LAVERNE' IN THE FINAL SEASON.
After years on the air, sitcoms tend to shake up the formula. In the fall of 1980, the entire Laverne & Shirley gang moved west, from Milwaukee to Burbank, California. Laverne and Shirley went from bottle-cappers to aspiring actresses and department store employees. Two years later, early in the eighth and final season, Williams became pregnant and left the show. Originally, there were plans to have her character Shirley pop in here and there, but that did not come to fruition. Instead, her parts were rewritten for guest stars, most notably in "The Baby Show," where Vicki Lawrence played an expecting mother.
THE THEME SONG BY CYNDI GRECCO HIT THE BILLBOARD CHARTS.
In July of 1976, "Making Our Dreams Come True" hit No. 25 on the charts. The tune would make singer Cyndi Grecco a one-hit wonder. The single was co-produced by Jose Feliciano's wife, Janna Merlyn Feliciano, and released on the Private Stock label, which was known for celebrity crooners. (Private Stock put out the debut full-length of Blondie, too.) The imprint also released singles by Vicki Lawrence, including "The Other Woman" — perhaps foreshadowing her fill-in role mentioned above?
BOTH LAVERNE & SHIRLEY AND LENNY & SQUIGGY RELEASED RECORDS.
Williams and Marshall recorded a rock & roll album as Laverne & Shirley. That LP is a story unto itself, with ties to the Beach Boys, Phil Spector and Kenny Loggins. Lenny & Squiggy Present Lenny and the Squigtones was more of a success. The Squigtones even performed on an episode of American Bandstand.
Image: Atlantic Records / Discogs
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY REUNITED ON ARIANA GRANDE'S NICKELODEON SHOW.
Sam & Cat was a spin-off of the popular teen sitcom iCarly. In a 2013 episode, Marshall and Williams appeared together as the feuding co-creators of a 1970s children's show called Salmon Cat. As you can see, the two proved they still had those physical-comedy chops.