This story was originally published on hooch.
Laverne and Shirley are a female odd couple who made many TV fans laugh in the late 70’s and 80’s. The show was set in the 50’s and 60’s, and it took place on the same set used on “The Odd Couple!” “Laverne & Shirley” may have been one of the few successful spin-offs of all time, rivaling shows such as “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times,” which were both spun from “All in the Family.” “Laverne & Shirley’s” popularity may have even surpassed “Happy Days,” the show it was derived from. The show might never have come to be if not for Gary Marshall trying to help his little sister out.
Like any throwback TV show, a lot of things happened on set that is only just now coming to light. It’s hard to believe what people got away with back in the 60s. Times have really changed! Many of the cast and crew have come out with some shocking revelations about what really used to happen on set, and of course…. why the infamous split?
Penny Marshall was previously working on an unsuccessful show called “Friends & Lovers” which wound up being canceled. So Gary, her brother, and a successful producer worked a similar character from that show into a “Happy Days” episode and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first 5 seasons take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and are supposed to occur during the late 50’s (most likely 1958 at the same time as “Happy Days”) and ran through to 1967 (though it was actually in the ‘0s). The girls worked as bottle cappers at the Shotz brewery in Milwaukee.
The opening sequence is the girls skipping down the street chanting a Yiddish hopscotch song. Schlemiel Schlimazel Hasenpfeffer incorporated. The Yiddish is better than its translation which would go something like this: “A klutz, an idiot, rabbit stew company”
Marshall said she used to chant this as a girl, but she never knew what the words meant.
Laverne DeFazio, Brooklyn Transplant
Laverne DeFazio was played by Penny Marshall. She is regularly seen with a giant “L” hand sewed into her clothing. She is a Milwaukee transplant. Laverne grew up in Brooklyn with Italian Immigrants (her mother died before the show began). The giant “L” is there because the actress, Marshall, knew that the audience would remember her name better, and she would have to introduce herself less often. It freed up a lot of dialogue in the script.
Marshall eventually got her directorial debut on the show. Her family connections got her the part and the series, but she’s gone on to direct “A League of Their Own.” Her brother created, produced, directed, and wrote for the show. Her sister was the casting director. Her father was a producer. (Her dad actually withheld a check over a petty rudeness once.)
A lot of the crew resented how well-connected she was. They claim she got favoritism because of her family’s huge role in making the show.
Laverne isn’t Your Average Woman
Laverne is a bit of a loudmouth and looked at as a “tomboy” during the time period of the 50’s where girls were raised to be more submissive. She also had a real thing for drinking milk and Pepsi together. The whole schtick actually comes from when the real actress went to camp. It was a camp that kept kosher, which came with a lot of rules about how to consume various foods. She wasn’t supposed to drink milk with meat… So in real life, her mother would make her drink milk, then Pepsi, before having meat. But there was always a little milk in the glass with the Pepsi. Sometimes a lot of milk. Marshall used that detail in the show and people went wild for it.
Fun Fact: It’s pretty common knowledge that Penny and Cindy thought they were better than the writers of the show.
Shirley Feeney was played by Cindy Williams. Shirley is positive, perky and on the meek side. She is pretty much the opposite of Laverne. This is a great dichotomy, considering their set shared location with the show The Odd Couple.
Cindy didn’t want to get into TV. She thought her career would be bigger if she did theater and films.
“I thank God somebody hit me over the head and said you better do this…” ~Cindy Williams
Supposedly, Cindy broke down the gate at the studio one day when the guards didn’t recognize her, despite her star status. She was so mad that the backed up and floored it, breaking the gate.
Shy On Camera, Loud Behind the Scenes
The shy Shirley has a fascination with Fabian and Carmine Ragusa her high school sweetheart and sometimes her current boyfriend. She is often seen with her pal Boo Boo Kitty, who seems to comfort her when she is unwell or upset.
It’s rumored that Penny and Cindy could be heard screaming and cussing at the writers through the walls. The cast of Happy Days, who filmed nearby, could listen through the walls to their yells and cursing. Garry Marshall’s children were often on set at Happy Days but were forbidden from visiting L&S, since the language got so foul. Scripts were tossed, fights raged, filming was delayed or not done at all. Just not the greatest scene for kids.
Lenny & Squiggy
The characters of Lenny and Squiggy were created from a purple haze of Mary Jane while McKean and Lander were students at Carnegie Mellon. Their original act was much lewder, full of profanity. It was cleaned up and given a G rating for TV, but they were definitely ready to step into the role after years of forming those characters. They started out as writers and then wrote themselves parts.
The show was such a success that Michael McKean and David Lander released an album! They even got to perform on American Bandstand!
Michael McKean, Actor of Lenny
Lenny is played by Michael McKean. Lenny works as a truck driver at the brewery. Both Lenny and Squiggy are upstairs roommates to the girls.
These actors have a much better reputation than the girls. Supposedly the writers thought the starring actresses were too mean to the writers, but no such rumors exist about the boys.
Squiggy by David Lander
Squiggy is played by David Lander and is often seen entering the apartment with a loud “Hello” that has a particular cadence to it. Squiggy’s real name is Andrew Squiggman. He was originally Antny Squiggliano but the producers changed it because there were already “too many” Italians on the show.
“Yeah, I threw a script ever so often and that got sort of well known, I suppose as a real arrogant or intercostal thing. I was very young and I was very angry.” ~David Lander