‘Laverne & Shirley’ star Cindy Williams will perform here | Opinion
Once upon a time, there were only three TV channels to watch, and in the late 1970s, no show was bigger than “Laverne and Shirley”, a sitcom starring Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall as roommates who worked at a Milwaukee beer factory. The series was a spin-off of a “Happy Days” episode in which Fonzie had arranged for Laverne (Marshall) and Shirley (Williams) to go on a double date with him and Richie (Ron Howard). In its third season, “Laverne & Shirley” was the number one show in the country, and 46 years later, Williams is still performing and popular around the world. This Sunday, Cindy will give two performances of her one woman show, “Me, myself and Shirleyat the High Point Theatre. I caught up with Cindy last week and we talked about the show and her career.
J.L.: Do you remember the first time you went on stage?
C.W.: Yeah, it was freshman year, and they had a talent show, and I sang “Hickory Dickory Dock,” and I was totally nervous, but I did it.
J.L.: Do you remember who won the talent contest?
C.W.: No, but I’m sure it was a first-grader who wasn’t well (laughs).
J.L.: When did you first realize that you wanted to act professionally?
C.W.: It was in high school. I had wanted to be a nurse, but I had no academic brain, so I entered a talent show at school, and the drama teacher, Mr. Kulp, said to me, “ If you have an elective, I’d love to offer you a spot this upcoming semester to be in ‘Play Production’ and skip Drama I and II’, so I did. That’s when I thought I would love to be able to make a living as an actor. I liked it so much.
J.L.: Over the years, various cast and crew members of “Laverne and Shirleysaying they had to work long hours because you and Penny were often doing rewrites on the script. What made you work so hard on this series?
C.W.: We had a litmus test, which was whether the script made Penny and me laugh out loud. That’s what we were looking for, is to make the studio audience laugh, and then we thought that would translate to the home audience. So if it made us laugh out loud on rehearsal, then we knew it was good to go. When it wasn’t, we rewrote it or tried to put things in it that made it funny. Once we got the show together and started moving around, we were adding things, adding lines and ad lib. The whole cast would.
J.L.: Even in the late 1970s, there were certain things you couldn’t do or say on TV, hence why you and Penny used the phrase “Vody-O-Doe-Doe”, instead of saying the word sex. Yes “Laverne and Shirley” were on the air today, would using more graphic language make the show better or funnier?
C.W.: No, it wouldn’t. When today’s audience makes fun of graphic language, they usually laugh out of nervousness, not joy.
Also, we had a censor at the time. He was a born-again Christian and the nicest guy, and he wouldn’t let us do anything. That’s how we came up with “Vody-O-Doe-Doe”, which had the audience laughing out loud, because they know what Shirley did. It’s a lot more fun when everyone is thinking about the same thing at the same time. Instead of saying someone is showing pornography, we’d say, “They’re showing dirty pictures,” and the audience will laugh because it’s a lot more fun. We used innuendo and a funny attitude.
J.L.: Going from comedy to drama, I went back there recently and watched the episode you did on “SVU Law and Orderin which you played an evil woman who tried to kill her granddaughter. You also played serious roles in films such as “The conversationwith Gene Hackman. Do you prefer to do drama rather than comedy, or would you like to have done more?
C.W.: I would have liked to play more intermediate roles, but I was unlucky because no one was going to cast me afterwards”Laverne and Shirley.” I remember coming up for this big role, and I walked in, and the producer said, “I would love to cast you, but I can’t. You are just too recognizable as Shirley Feeney. And that’s the truth, and I understand that. Look, it’s a blessing to have been able to play this character and he’s become so popular with people, so I never regret it.
J.L.: Do you remember the first time you realized you were famous?
C.W.: I guess it was in the second season, we were in New York and they had asked us to be in the Thanksgiving parade, and we were on this float, and we saw all these people come through this barrier and they were running towards us. So we looked behind us to see who they were running towards, and we were going to join them (laughs). It must be someone big. Then all this security popped up and we realized it was for us. It was the first time that we realized the popularity of the show. Penny and I had this same problem in our personalities where we thought, “we can’t be the popular girls.” We never took show business seriously, and I think that’s part of the reason why”Laverne and Shirley” kept his feet on the ground.
J.L.: How does “Me myself and Shirley” to arrive?
C.W.: I had written a book called “Shirley I Jest” and it contains all my stories, and wonderful and funny adventures in Hollywood that I was aware of because of “Laverne and Shirley” and stuff. So I was doing a play in Kansas City, and I was supposed to go to Florida to do a production of “nonsense” just after. But COVID hit, and they shut down all the shows, and I was stuck at home during the lockdown. So Danny Goggin who wrote “nonsense” said, “Why don’t you write that one-woman show that you always talk about?” In the meantime, Danny also introduced me to a producer friend of his, Charles Duggan, so Charles and I wrote “Me myself and Shirley” during the COVID lockdown.
J.L.: Is the show only for fans of “Laverne and Shirley‘, or can anyone benefit from it?
C.W.: No, they have to write an essay on “Laverne and Shirleyor they won’t be allowed in the theater (laughs). No, anyone who wants to laugh out loud should come see the show.
J.L.: The road to success has not always been easy for you. You had to serve tables at a creperie, you had all your scenes cut from your first movie, but in the end you became one of the most famous people in the world. What can anyone from any background learn from your journey?
C.W.: Anything can be done, but you always have to be yourself. You have to keep your sense of humor. If you are knocked down, you must get up and continue. God played a big role for me. I would talk to God and be brave again. You should always stay brave and have faith in yourself and all the beautiful things around you. You won’t always get invited to the party, you won’t always get the job, and you can’t let that deter you from doing what you want. If someone else gets the job, you bless them and say “it wasn’t for me”. There was a time when I thought I’d be back to waiting tables, and I was okay with that, and that’s right before I was”Laverne and Shirley.”
J.L.: I know you get a lot of fan mail, but I wonder if you realize how much fun you’ve given people over the years. There must have been times when someone had just lost a loved one, or lost their job, and they would turn on the TV and watch “Laverne and Shirleyand you have had an impact on their lives.
C.W.: Thank you Jim. Yeah, people always come up to me and say, “You got me through a really bad time in my life and you made me laugh at a really bad time.” I like people and I wanted to comfort them.
J.L.: So in a way, I guess you became a nurse.
C.W.: Yeah, in a way, I guess I was a nurse. But doing the show has been such a blessing for me and such a privilege.
You can catch “Nurse” Cindy at the High Point Theater this Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. A few tickets are still available by calling (336) 887-3001.