Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #36: "Laverne & Shirley" & Cindy & Penny

For fans of physical comedy and all the hilarity that it can bring, almost no series have come along to rival all-time classic I Love Lucy's domination of that category...except Laverne & Shirley.  The series debuted on ABC in 1976, a spin-off from the popular Happy Days, and in our memories the two series are forever linked in TV history.  During the years -- from around 1976 - 1979 -- when these two shows topped the ratings charts they were literally unbeatable.  Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams -- who's celebrating her 67th birthday today -- made the show a hit.

Laverne & Shirley debuted in January of 1976 and immediately settled in as a hit, nestled comfortably behind similarly top-rated Happy Days and sharing a Garry Marshall production company ethos which made the two shows into a near-seamless one hour of bright family comedy.  Because it seldom happens these days, it's almost shocking that by the time Laverne & Shirley ended its network run in 1983 it had amassed 178 episodes.  (Happy Days similarly got up to 255 episodes; it began two years earlier and went an additional year beyond.)  Both shows have enjoyed a long life in syndication and with their release on DVD it's become clear that the affection in which they are both held is justified. (Review of Season 3 release here and also here, Season 4 release here, Season 5 release here.)

Perhaps Laverne & Shirley didn't have the political punch or menopausal mirth of Maude, nor the raucous high school smart aleck sass of Welcome Back, Kotter, nor the urban comedy flavor of The Jeffersons, but what the two titular ladies did have was impeccable comic timing, the never-ending courage to get in there and try anything, and a wonderful depiction of female friendship. Unfortunately late in the run this relationship seemed to have unraveled off-screen in real-life and ultimately led to the show's end, but while it lasted it was a true partnership of equals.  I always thought they had a better friendship than Lucy and Ethel, the latter always relegated to being the frumpy sidekick to Lucy, whereas Laverne and Shirley really did it all arm-in-arm together.  For instance, this wonderful sequence -- one of their best -- from the Season 2 episode "Guinea Pigs" where sleep and food-deprived Laverne and Shirley won't miss their fancy party:

We can't ignore the terrific supporting cast of Laverne & Shirley including Michael McKean and David Lander as Lenny and Squiggy, those two offbeat and off-kilter pals and neighbors of the girls.  Before Kramer on Seinfeld made entering a room into a tour-de-force moment to savor, Lenny and Squiggy never failed to amuse with their own trademark arrivals.  Phil Foster as Laverne's father Frank, Eddie Mekka as Shirley's sometime boyfriend Carmine and show-biz veteran Betty Garrett as the girls' landlady (and later Laverne's stepmother) Edna Babish added to the goings-on which happened around Laverne and Shirley's apartment, or Frank's pizza parlor, or the Shotz Brewery where they worked.  Listen to what Garrett had to say about Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall:

Nothing says it better than watching some Laverne & Shirley!

"Laverne & Shirley Meet Fabian" -- shades of when Lucy and Ethel broke into Cornel Wilde's hotel room but very great in its own way!  From Season 3:

From Season 4, "Supermarket Sweep" (this is in 3 segments):

"Fat City Holiday" from Season 5:

"The Diner" from Season 5, one of the favorite Laverne & Shirley episodes featuring the famous "Betty, please" bit which is discussed by Penny Marshall in this 2013 interview, click here:

How about the 1995 Laverne & Shirley Reunion special which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the series:

Fans still adore Laverne & Shirley -- like these dedicated folks at the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY place and other site which are listed there -- and you can count us in their number.  Cindy Williams reminisced about the series a couple of years ago in an interview available here and a few months ago in Parade magazine here, and here's another interview with Penny Marshall about her 2012 autobiography about her life and multifaceted Hollywood career.  (Phil Foster passed away in 1985, Betty Garrett in 2011.)

In 2012 Laverne & Shirley was honored with a TV Land Fan Favorite Award -- well deserved!

(If the 3rd video doesn't work, please click here.)

 In case your funny bone hasn't been sufficiently tickled yet, here's a compilation video of sixty or so Laverne & Shirley clips to enjoy -- it's wonderful.

Happy Birthday to Cindy Williams today, and thank goodness for Laverne & Shirley!

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