The Real Reason Cindy Williams Left ‘Laverne & Shirley’


Read them any rule and they’ll break it. By its third season, Laverne & Shirley dominated the ‘70s and managed a comeback after some steep competition. It ended in ‘83 with a few big players missing but even when the dust settled, it enabled the creation of more opportunities. But just why did fans have to say a premature goodbye to one-half of the formula, in Cindy Williams –  and did our heroes ever reconcile? Were we nearly in store for a much raunchier series? Where on earth did that crazy catchphrase come from?


Today, take a look at both Laverne and Shirley’s secrets, even the unsavory litigation that a cast member leveled against the program. Get your cookbooks ready, because there’s a surprising recipe in here too. Without further ado, doing it our way, there’s no fact we won’t get clear as day!


Happy days ahead

HAPPY DAYS, from left: Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Penny Marshall, Henry Winkler, 1974-84 / Everett Collection

Our two titular go-getters have a lot to deal with, from family loss to parental disappointment. The show itself had some pretty humble beginnings too. Before there was Laverne & Shirley, there was Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers, a comedy that ran about a year in the mid-’70s. Its lead character was hopeless; one episode was supposed to show him trying to pick up chicks at the grocery store.

RELATED: ‘Laverne & Shirley’ Cast Then And Now 2022

But it made him look too pitiful, so they didn’t air it. Meanwhile, Garry Marshall had been stewing on an idea involving two women working as bottle cappers. They even made a ten-minute pilot scene, aired after an episode of Happy Days. Garry himself told the audience they were testing out a show idea and hoped they enjoyed it. It was a hit.

Some episodes later, that scrapped Paul Sand script finally saw use in the Happy Days episode “A Date with Fonzie.” That pilot was one half of the puzzle, introducing the ladies was the other half. Laverne & Shirley would get their own show.

I love ‘I Love Lucy’

I LOVE LUCY: A COLORIZED CELEBRATION, from left: Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, (episode ‘The Million-Dollar Idea’, Season 3, aired Jan. 11, 1954), 2019. © Fathom Events/CBS / courtesy Everett

Laverne & Shirley was a family project full of reunions. Penny and Garry Marshall were siblings, and Garry was encouraged to set her up whenever possible. As for Williams, she almost turned the role down to focus on a movie career but changed her mind at the last minute.

Having Garry Marshall for a relative meant having a connection to another big sitcom. You see, Garry’s previous work had been none other than The Lucy Show, Lucille Ball’s direct follow-up to I Love Lucy.

It worked once, so why not try an old formula remixed? Garry admitted he was heavily inspired by Lucy’s antics with Ethel from I Love Lucy.

Catchphrase incorporated

LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, from left: Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, 1976-1983. © ABC /Courtesy Everett Collection

You all know the catchphrase, “Schlemiel, Schlimazel.” So where did it come from? Well, Penny Marshall revealed that it’s something she and her sister chanted walking to school each day.

Cindy Williams actually had a more distinct memory. It was Garry Marshall who told his sister, “Teach Cindy that little ditty you used to do on the way to school. We’ll shoot that.”  The phrase itself is actually Yiddish. They walked to school with their arms linked counting their steps like that.

Not suitable for all ages

Michael McKean, David L. Lander / Gene Trindl / TV Guide /© ABC /Courtesy Everett Collection

Back in their Happy Days…well, days, the whole joke for Laverne & Shirley was their experience, a free-going lifestyle that pretty much meant sleeping around. That was all fine and dandy, but their solo series was airing when kids could watch, so that had to get toned down. Penny Marshall dubbed them “re-virginized.” It was a balance of rough around the edges but cleaner.

Leonard and Andrew, or as we know them best Lenny and Squiggy, also had to clean up their act. David Lander and Michael McKean were part of a comedy troupe called The Credibility Gap and played characters called – you guessed it – Lenny Kosnowski and Anthony Squiggliano.

Once Laverne & Shirley got the green light, Penny had them over to do skits and the show creators wanted to recruit them. They gave off such a sleazy feeling, they could make Laverne and Shirley look especially classy. But they were too dirty; most jokes were sexual in nature. So the writers did a bit of cleansing surgery on their humor – and Squiggy’s name, because they felt they had too many Italian names already. Leave the Squiggliano, take the Squiggman.

Got Milk and Pepsi?

The famous milk and Pepsi concoction comes from real life / YouTube

This trip down memory lane is missing something: a nice cool drink. You know the one, bubbly soda, and creamy milk. Uh… yum…?

This was another practice that had roots in reality. When Penny was little, her mom poured out a cup of milk for her before she had soda. The mad chemist Penny dared to combine these two drinks, and a new beverage was born! So, this actually wasn’t a case of an actor needing to get used to some unfamiliar flavor, or using shortcuts like Near Beer. Instead, art imitated life. That’s why reality is stranger than fiction.

Sharing spaces

The Happy Days cast could hear exactly when drama unfolded / Everett Collection

Blink and you’ll miss it, but we’ve been to Laverne and Shirley’s apartment before. The ABC comedy The Odd Couple ran from 1970 to ‘75, and of course was developed by Garry Marshall. That apartment got the ultimate makeover, someone call HGTV, just in time to serve a new show: Laverne & Shirley.

Stage 20 made them basically neighbors with the Happy Days cast over on Stage 19, which gave the latter cast a front row seat to some intense behind-the-scenes drama. They could listen in by putting glass cups up to the wall… but sometimes they could hear yelling even without trying to eavesdrop.

Trouble in paradise

LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, from left: Cindy Williams, Penny Marshall, 1976-1983. ph: Dorothy Tanous / TV Guide /© ABC /Courtesy Everett Collection

Penny and Cindy were basically in their thirties when they rocketed to national stardom thanks to Laverne & Shirley. They’d been in other projects before, but there’s no debate this was the show – for ABC and them. They struck gold at a relatively young age and they wanted to keep that spotlight shining bright.

Garry Marshall himself would say the two were still immature during filming. In his view, the attention went to their head and, consequently, they treated their colleagues poorly. Some cast members would admit they got a bit of an ego because of the show’s fame. The fighting got so bad, Garry set a strict rule for when his kids visited: only come to Stage 19, never Stage 20, the better to avoid that drama, at least.

When filming Happy Days, Ron Howard and Erin Moran could hear some outright fights going on next door, from foul language to people throwing glasses at each other. Cindy’s agent stood just off set and timed how long people laughed at each women’s joke. There was a competition over who got the best jokes. To help herself stand out and make sure viewers knew who was who, Penny sewed that famous “L” onto her shirt. Cindy had a very specific demand for billing: Penny’s name could come first, but Cindy’s would appear higher on the screen.

Why did Shirley quit?

Some fractures could not be healed immediately / © Paramount / Courtesy: Everett Collection

1982 was an eventful year for Cindy Williams. She got married to actor and musician Bill Hudson and had her first child, a daughter named Emily. Leading up to that was hell, though. We know all the tricks TV shows did to hide the dreaded baby bump. That’s exactly what Cindy expected. Looking back, she said, “I thought I was going to come back and they’d hide [my baby bump] behind benches, couches, pillows, and that wasn’t it.”

Instead of just filming around the impending bump, she worked 14-hour days. The execs put together a contract outlining basically this, and working on her due date! This wasn’t sustainable, even with a hospital bed set up for her to take breaks between takes and after some back and forth, there was no contract to sign anymore.

What do you do in this situation? These producers continued the show without Cindy, and so created… “Laverne And,” basically. Penny got Cindy’s pay added to hers in compensation for the added work she’d have carrying the show, and Cindy sued Paramount and producers for $20 million. The case was settled but no money could repair the damage done to the heart and soul of Laverne & Shirley – the show and, for a while, the women’s relationship.

Ends, beginnings, and renewals

A reunion / Everett Collection

There’s a fine line between balancing what’s familiar and keeping things fresh. Laverne & Shirley had the unique distinction of surpassing its parent show Happy Days from its Tuesday timeslot. But a move to Thursday saw them competing against The Waltons and Buck Rogers. This was a rough move, reflected in the ratings, where Laverne & Shirley plummeted, and moving to Monday didn’t fix things.

Just before the end, the show returned to Tuesdays, but it never reached its old ratings peak again, and don’t you hate it when a plan doesn’t come together, because The A-Team flew in just in time to draw viewers away again.

It didn’t help that the show shot itself in the proverbial foot twice over, once with Cindy’s departure, and by its unsuccessful reboot, moving from Milwaukee to Burbank, from bottle openers to gift wrappers. Penny listed out the issues with this change, saying, “I thought the whole thing was a mistake. They were regular folks. I thought they should go to New York, where they would face new struggles.” Season eight became its last. Its finale acted as a backdoor pilot for a Carmine show. He got to go to New York, but that’s it since the series never got picked up.

Marshall and Williams did reconnect / Lee Roth
STAR MAX, Inc. – copyright 2003 / ImageCollect

Thankfully, our two leading ladies reunited anyway thanks to Ariana Grande. Sure, why not. The Nickelodeon show Sam & Cat, starring Grande and Jennette McCurdy, had an episode in 2013 that had Penny and Cindy! Things had been tense but were like sisters to the end. In fact, Cindy would say in her memoir, “We had our differences, but not when it came to hitting that stage and doing what we loved doing. It was like [an] instinct with her, like telepathy. I don’t think I’ve had that with anyone else in my life.”

A pair of roommates figuring out this difficult life we live. It was an ideal while being relatable because we all need a friend sometimes. What was your favorite misadventure these two got caught up in?

Did you like the later seasons in a different state? Share your memories in the comments below, we read every one!

LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, (top, from left): Carole Ita White, Phil Foster, Eddie Mekka, Betty Garrett, bottom from left: Michael McKean, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, David L. Lander, (Season 2), 1976-83 / Everett Collection
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