introduced as characters on Happy Days, Laverne De Fazio
(Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) "schlemiel-schlamazeled"
their way into the Tuesday night ABC prime time line up and into
the hearts of television viewers in 1976. The show, set in the late
1950s, centered on the two title characters, and was rated the number
one program in its second year of airing. In the earliest years
of the long-running sitcom, the two twenty-something women shared
an apartment in Milwaukee and worked at Shotz Brewery, the local
beer bottling plant. Many of the episodes focused on the humorous
complications involving the women or their friends. From ditching
blind dates to goofing up on the conveyor belt at the bottling plant,
Laverne and Shirley "did it their way" in Milwaukee until
1980 when ABC decided to change the setting of Laverne and Shirley
to Burbank, California for a new twist. Aside from a change of climate
and employment, now in Bradburn's Department store, the central
characters and structure of the program remained the same until
Williams left the program in 1982. Following her departure, the
program continued for one year under the original title, but with
Laverne alone as the central character.
"There is nothing we won't try, never heard the word impossible,
this time, there's no stopping us, we're gonna do it!" This line
from the theme song of the sitcom describes the state of mind of
the program's two main characters. With the advantage of two decades
of hindsight, Laverne and Shirley painted a picture of the
1950s from the single, independent woman's point of view. The plots
of the episodes reflected concerns about holding a factory job,
making it as a independent woman, and dealing with friends and relatives
in the process of developing a life of one's own. Many plots revolved
around the girls dating this man or that, or pondering the ideal
men they would liked to have met: sensitive, handsome doctors. If
on the surface the characters appeared to be longing to fulfill
the stereotypical 1950s role of woman, their true actions and attitudes
cast them as two of television's first liberated women. They thought
for themselves and made things happen in their social circles. Together
they fought for causes, from workers' rights at the bottling plant
to animal rights at the pound. They helped each other and they helped
their friends, who added much texture and comic effect to the program.
two male neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy provided much of the humor
in the program with their greasy-1950s appearance and their ironic
knack of entering at just the wrong time. If someone said "Can you
imagine anything more slimy and filthy than that?", in would charge
Lenny and Squiggy with the famous, distorted "hello!" Despite the
fun poked at the two men, they were still portrayed as friends and
thus were often caught up in the "Lucy-esque" escapades of Laverne
and Shirley. Another prominent character, Carmine Ragusa or
"The Big Ragu" was an energetic Italian singer. Friend to both women,
Carmine was after Shirley's heart. Laverne and Shirley gave its
lead characters room to explore boundaries and break some stereotypes
common in television portrayals of women prior to the 1970s. Shirley
was portrayed as interested in marriage, yet she was not sure that
Carmine was "the one"; instead of settling, she kept her independence
and her friendship with Carmine.
the loudest characters on the program was Mr. Frank De Fazio, Laverne's
widowed father who owned the local Pizza-Bowl where everyone congregated.
In his eyes Laverne was still a little girl, and he frequently checked
up on her, evaluated her dates, and attempted to invalidate her
decisions. Edna, Frank's girlfriend acted as a buffer between father
and daughter, and even more as a motherly figure to Laverne after
she married Frank midway through the program's network run. Though
Frank would express his overly protective and chauvinistic views,
Edna's buffering reason and Laverne's stubbornness always won out.
Laverne and Shirley was an early prime-time proponent of
women's rights and placed much value in the viewpoints and experiences
of 50's women, suggesting that even in that decade women could be
Laverne and Shirley was a spin-off of Happy Days,
and because the programs aired back to back, it was easy to cross
over characters from one to another. Often Laverne and Shirley were
visited by Arthur Fonzerelli (better known as The Fonz),
or ran into Richie Cunningham or Ralph Mouth (all from Happy
Days) camping in the woods. Viewers were able to carry knowledge
from one show (Happy Days) to the next (Laverne and Shirley)
as characters shared experiences with each other outside the context
of their own programs. The programs were thus able to layer meanings
or overlap realities between previously mutually exclusive television
visits to or from Happy Days characters were always extra
fun, Laverne and Shirley provided seasons of hilarious antics
and left behind many memorable pictures uniquely their own--Laverne's
clothing, always decorated with large, cursive "L's," the milk and
Pepsi concoction that was her favorite beverage, the giant posters
of Fabian, and Shirley's infamous Boo-Boo kitty, a two foot stuffed
cat that was the true ruler of her heart. Laverne and Shirley may
have been a female "odd-couple", Shirley fanatically neat and Laverne
hopelessly sloppy, but they balanced each other and provided a system
of mutual support demonstrating that women could compete in the
world of work as well as in the world of ideas. From a 1950s perspective,
for two young women, that indeed was "making our dreams come true".
Laverne and Shirley
De Fazio................................... Penny Marshall Shirley
Feeney (1976-1982)..................... Cindy Williams Carmine
Ragusa .......................................Eddie Mekka Frank
De Fazio............................................ Phil Foster
Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman................... David L. Lander
Lenny Kosnowski................................. Michael
McKean Mrs. Edna Babish De Fazio (1976-1981)...... Betty
Garrett Rosie Greenbaum (1976-1977)............... Carole
Ita White Sonny St. Jaques (1980-1981).....................
Ed Marinaro Rhonda Lee (1980-1983).................... Leslie
Garry Marshall, Thomas L. Miller, Edward K. Milkis,
Milt Josefberg, Marc Sotkin
January 1976-July 1979 Tuesday
8:30-9:00 August 1979-December 1979 Thursday
8:00-8:30 December 1979-February 1980 Monday
8:00-8:30 February 1980-May 1983 Tuesday
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