Laverne & Shirley was no less than a sitcom phenomenon from the time of its first airing in January of 1976. It was a slapstick spin-off from “Happy Days,” where the characters Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney had made their debut as friends of Fonzie. Laverne & Shirley joined ABC’s line up following directly after “Happy Days” on Monday nights, and went straight to the top of the ratings. In its second and third full seasons, it even surpassed the popularity of “Happy Days,” resting comfortably in the number one spot for two full years.
Part of the popularity of the show is in its broad, physical comedy. It was simple and funny, but it was easy to care for the characters. It took place in the 1950s, and Laverne and Shirley were lifetime best friends who shared an apartment in Milwaukee. They also share the same job, working at the local brewery as bottle-cappers. The typical plots involved the traumas of being a single, working girl and the extent that Laverne and Shirley would go to get a date or simply improve their standard of living, whether that be by putting on a talent show or beating their high school rival, Rosie Greenbaum at bowling.
Other colorful characters were in the world of Laverne & Shirley. Their neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy, were a couple of greasers that also worked at Shotz Brewery. Shirley had a guy-pal whom she dated, but always kept at an arm’s length (as she was a good girl – and not a bimbo) named Carmine Ragusa. Laverne’s father, Frank, a loud-mouthed Italian, turned up frequently, as he owned the gang’s favorite hang-out, the Pizza Bowl. Rounding out the cast of regulars was Edna Babish, the girls’ landlord, who was always full of good advice, and later started dating Laverne’s pop.
Laverne & Shirley was wildly popular for its first few years. Even the shows theme song was a top-25 single in the Summer of 1976. In the 1980-81 season, to give the show some fresh plot ideas, the entire cast moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, where the girls attempted to break into show biz and took on many hilarious odd-jobs. Frank and Edna, now married, opened up a restaurant called Cowboy Bobs together where Laverne and Shirley occasionally worked. Once in L.A., we also met new neighbors Rhonda, an obnoxious, aspiring actress, and stuntman Sonny St. Jacques.
Laverne & Shirley remained in prime time until the end of the 1983 season. It was also seen as a Saturday morning cartoon from 1981-1983. In the show’s final year, Cindy Williams (who played Shirley) left the show after becoming pregnant, and Penny Marshall remained, as the show was renamed simply “Laverne.”
USA / ABC / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 27 January 1976 – 10 May 1983
Theme: Making Our Dreams Come True by Cyndi Grecco
Penny Marshall as Laverne DeFazio
Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney
Michael McKean as Lenny Kosnoski
David L. Lander as Andrew “Squiggy” Squigman
Eddie Mekka as Carmine Raguso
Phil Foster as Frank DeFazio
Betty Garrett as Edna Babish
Carol Ita White as Rosie Greenbaum
Frances Peach as Mary; Pizza Bowl waitress
Bo Kaprall as Norman Hughes
Helen Page Camp as Mrs. Havenhurst
Leslie Esterbrook as Rhonda Lee
Ed Marinaro as Sonny St. James
Norman Bartold as Harvey Hilderbrand
Susan Barnes as Miss Peters; Harvey’s secretary
Vicki Lawrence as Sgt. Alvinia P. Plout
Paul Sylvan as Sal Melina
Raleigh Bond as Bill Ajax
Robert Hogan as “G Bullets” Klein