Cindy Williams Reminisces About Her Days on 'Laverne and Shirley'

The DVD release of the fifth season of 'Laverne and Shirley' stirs up old memories for Cindy Williams who played Shirley

by Leslie Van Buskirk

Four long years after Season 4 was released, the season 5 DVD of “Laverne & Shirley” is finally here—and so worth the wait.  The last season, when the ladies still lived in Milwaukee, contains several classic episodes including the memorable two-parter “Murder on the Moosejaw Express,” (a man stumbles into the girls’ train compartment and announces “beware the bald man!” before dying—humorously, of course!), and “The Diner” (where they went to work for Lenny and Squiggy in a greasy spoon). Cindy Williams, aka sweet goofball Shirley Feeney, graciously agreed to a catch-up chat via phone, from her home in California. Now 64, the actress is just getting ready to begin rehearsals for the play “Sylvia” which she’ll be doing in Edmonton, Canada, this summer along with—surprise—her old pal, Eddie Mekka (“L&S”’s Carmine).

More: “Laverne & Shirley” just won the Fan Favorite award from TV Land. Why do you think the show resonates with so many people?

CW: I think it’s the energy of the show. It appeals to kids because of the fast pace and because it’s sort of loud. And for adults, there were different levels to the writing with adult themes. Basically we were young people just starting out and trying make it work—you now, just trying to get $12 together to pay the bills. And I think when you play that out in a physical way, it resonates—almost like a cartoon.

More: Do you think that it’s resonating again these days, what with the recession and people having money woes like the girls did?

CW: It certainly does! I’ll tell you why: the theme of that struggle—that’s what “Laverne & Shirley was about and it’s what we’re all living thru right now. We don’t know what’s coming next, we’re all worried. It’s a depression. Although Laverne and Shirley lived thru it in a comedic way—just trying to make ends meet—it’s the same thing people are suffering through today.

More: Have you been surprised over the years by random attention from people who just adore Shirley Feeney?

CW: Oh, yes, I’m always surprised. I remember this one time—this was years ago when my daughter was in fifth grade and I was picking her up from school—all these little girls came running over to my car saying “We love you Shirley!” and I was just shocked. The show hadn’t been on the air in a long time. At first, I didn’t even know what they were talking about!

More: That’s amazing, but it just proves that everyone loves Shirley.

CW: But it’s always a surprise to me. Like, I was having something notarized at the Fed-X office the other day, and as I was leaving, the gentleman who’d helped me said, “Miss Williams, I just want to thank you for all the entertainment you gave me and my family when I was growing up.” I was so touched. My years on “Laverne & Shirley” are a total blessing.

More: In his new book, “My Happy Days in Hollywood: A Memoir,” Garry Marshall (producer of “L&S” and Penny’s brother) doesn’t have flattering things to say about working on the show. He says it was very stressful and that you and Penny Marshall were perfectionists. Have you read the book?

CW: (Long pause) No… I haven’t and it makes me wonder why he’s dredging that up again. He wrote another book some years ago that also talked about it, and I never read that one, either. Look, I love Garry, I really do, he’s just wonderful. But why bring that stuff up? Especially when people have such wonderful feelings about the show.

More: You and Penny had your ups and downs back then. What’s your relationship like today?

CW: I go over to her house all the time! She’s someone I know so well. We had to work so closely—we actually started out writing together even before “Laverne &  Shirley.” Some of the greatest  laughs I’ve ever had in my life have been with that girl!

More: So the talk about how you didn’t get along was wrong?

CW: (Pause) We had our moments back then…I’ll put it this way: we came at things differently, but we always ended up in the same place at the same time. Always. She gets things right away and I’m the opposite—I’m a slow learner. Like all the dancing we did on the show—Penny’s a dancer, so she’d be able to do the dance immediately. But it always took me longer to learn the routine. We share the same sense of humor, though. Sometimes during the rehearsal process, we locked horns, but we always agreed on the humor of the show. We were always in sync.

More: You must have rubbed elbows with some famous faces back then. Tell us a story?

CW: I have some wonderful stories. Like meeting Cary Grant—I couldn’t even speak when I met him! I was at a function at the Hollywood Race Track and I heard my name being called—his voice was so familiar, I sort of recognized it instantly—and I turned around and all I could think was, Cary Grant said my name! He was in an all white suit and he was standing there in this beautiful light, it was just magical. And then he looked at me and said, “Well done”—he was a fan of “Laverne & Shirley”!  I couldn’t believe it. And before then, back when I was a waitress, there was the time I waited on Jim Morrison…

More: And—?!

CW: I’m saving that for the book I’m hoping to write someday!

More: I’d buy that book! Ok, last question: is it true that you screen-tested to play Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies?

CW: I did! But we don’t necessarily want to view that screen test, you know? (Laughs) I don’t really know what happened, I think George Lucas might have wanted to go younger. I was already starring in “Laverne & Shirley” by then.

More: Or maybe it was because Carrie Fisher was the only actress who could pull off the braided buns on the side of her head!

CW: Maybe! Who knows? Heck, it’s true, though: I could never have pulled it off, especially with my thin hair, but she looked good in those “cinnamon buns” as I call them!

Laverne & Shirley: The Fifth Season on DVD (paramount, 29.99)

First Published Thu, 2012-05-10 15:22

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