When the characters of Laverne and Shirley first showed up on Happy Days, few in the audience could’ve predicted that the two were going to get their own spin-off! Laverne & Shirley came on the air at a time when spin-offs were a great deal more common than they are today, but the prospect of a spin-off wasn’t always a guaranteed success. Laverne & Shirley ended up blossoming into one of the most successful spin-offs in television history. The show starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as the titular characters, and Penny has recently revealed a surprising fact about her character’s iconic blouse. Join Facts Verse as Penny Marshall revealed the obvious secret about Laverne’s outfit.
Laverne & Shirley Was a Spin-Off of Happy Days
Early on in Happy Days’ run, the sitcom introduced a pair of characters that would grow to become iconic in their own right. Happy Days premiered in 1974, and it’s third season featured an episode in which the characters of Fonzie and Richie went out on a double date with a pair of girls that were much more experienced than they were. The pair of girls came from the city, and their names were Laverne and Shirley. Of course, the characters were initially only intended to appear in a single episode of Happy Days. However, their appearance proved so popular that they soon got a spin-off.
Stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were relative unknowns at the time that they were cast on Happy Days. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have taken such minor roles! Penny and Cindy were happy for the chance to appear on Happy Days, even if it was just for an episode. When it turned out that their appearance paved the way for the two performers to get their own spin-off series, they were ecstatic! Laverne & Shirley premiered in 1976, and it became a massive hit with audiences. Though plenty of spin-offs from the time period didn’t make it past a handful of episodes, Laverne & Shirley lasted for eight seasons.
As with the majority of spin-offs from the time period, Laverne & Shirley took very little from it’s parent sitcom outside of it’s central titular characters. However, Laverne & Shirley did maintain Happy Days’ Wisconsin location. The series followed it’s titular characters as they went about their day-to-day lives. The two characters worked relatively blue-collar jobs at a location by the name of Shotz Brewery, where they could be found capping the lids onto bottles.
The Show Introduced Lots of New Characters
Besides the characters of Laverne and Shirley, Laverne & Shirley also featured a cast of memorable supporting characters. The two most popular of these supporting characters were arguably Lenny and Squiggy. Lenny and Squiggy were truck drivers that worked at Shotz Brewery, and they were also Laverne and Shirley’s neighbors. In addition, the two could also oftentimes be found performing in their rock-and-roll group, which was dubbed Lenny and the Squigtones. The characters of Lenny and Squiggy were actually conceived well before their first appearances on television. Michael McKean and David Lander played the two characters, respectively. According to legend, the two performers came up with the comedic duo while they were smoking marijuana during their years as college drama kids.
Besides Laverne, Shirley, Lenny, and Squiggy, Laverne & Shirley also made great use of performers Phil Foster and Betty Garrett. Phil played the character of Frank DeFazio, who was Laverne’s father. Meanwhile, Betty Garrett played Laverne and Shirley’s landlord, whose name was Edna Babish. The characters of Frank and Edna ended up getting together and tying the knot over the course of the series. Another recurring character on Laverne & Shirley was Carmine Ragusa, who was played by an actor by the name of Eddie Mekka. Though Carmine was introduced to audiences as a love interest for Shirley, he ended up becoming a lovable character in his own right. In the first few episodes of the final season of the show, Cindy Williams quit and Shirley was no more. However, the character of Carmine kept appearing more and more until he became another one of the show’s main characters by it’s end.
By the end of Laverne & Shirley, Laverne was the last titular character standing. Of the two performers who played the titular characters, it would also be Laverne’s actress that would go on to have the more lucrative career in the entertainment industry. The character of Laverne might not have had such longevity with audiences if it weren’t for a costume decision that Penny Marshall made early on in the show’s production.
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Penny Made a Key Creative Decision for Her Character
When it comes to introducing first-time viewers to Laverne & Shirley, there’s an easy way that you can point out which character is which. This is because the character of Laverne always had an “L” stitched onto her clothing. Laverne’s “L” became so iconic over the course of the show’s run that it became inseparable from the character herself. Some may not realize that it was actually Penny Marshall who came up with this costume decision herself. The reason that Penny was so adamant about the embroidery was because she believed that audiences might initially have a hard time telling her and Cindy Williams apart without the extra help.
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams didn’t look all that much alike, but their similar wardrobes and hairstyles made it so that Penny feared audiences might not be able to pick them apart instantly. Penny’s decision to have an “L” embroidered on her character’s clothing ended up paying off. As we’ve already established, she ended up being the last titular character standing on the series. After Laverne & Shirley came to an end, Penny Marshall would continue carving out her niche in the entertainment industry. In the 1980s, the television actress would transition into directing films.
How Penny Got Her Start in Entertainment
Penny Marshall was born in the Bronx on October 15, 1943. The future star began tap dancing at a young age, as her mother was a dance instructor. Penny graduated from high school in New York City, but she made the move out to New Mexico when it came time for her to pursue her higher education. There, Penny studied for over two years in the fields of math and psychology. During her college years, Penny became pregnant with the child of her college sweetheart. This college sweetheart was named Michael Henry, and the pair ended up getting married in 1963. The child that Penny gave birth to was given the name of Tracy Henry. However, Tracy would later have her named changed to Tracy Reiner. Penny and Michael Henry were only married for around three years. After the marriage came to an end, Penny would take herself and her daughter to Los Angeles, where her brother was working in entertainment.
At the time that Penny Marshal moved herself and her daughter to Los Angeles, Penny’s brother Garry was working as a writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show. With her brother’s connections backing her up, Peggy began appearing in some minor acting roles. Her very first gig on the screen saw her appearing in an advertisement for Head & Shoulders.
In 1971, Penny Marshal married a similarly burgeoning Rob Reiner. That same year, Rob would get his breakout role in All in the Family. This was another connection that helped Penny slowly rise up in the entertainment industry. She appeared in a few made-for-television films during the early 1970s, with one of them being produced by her aforementioned brother. It wouldn’t be long before Penny received her star-making role of Laverne DeFazio.
Peggy Became a Big-Name Film Director
Though it’s relatively common knowledge that Penny Marshall went on to become a big-name film director, some may not realize that Penny actually got her start directing during her time on Laverne & Shirley, at the behest of her brother. Over the course of Laverne & Shirley runs, Penny directed four episodes. After the show came to an end, Penny continued working behind the cameras and was given the chance to helm her own film in the late 1980s.
Penny Marshall was married to Rob Reiner from 1971 to 1981. Coincidentally, Rob Reiner was also a sitcom star that made the transition to film directing during the 1980s. In fact, Rob Reiner’s directorial debut was one of the main reasons that the aforementioned character of Lenny hardly appeared on Laverne & Shirley during it’s final season. Michael McKean played the character of Lenny, though scheduling conflicts arose when Rob cast him in his directorial debut, which was the classic mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap.
Rob Reiner’s big-screen directorial debut became an instant classic, and so did Penny Marshall’s! The first theatrical film that Penny Marshall helmed was 1988’s Big, which was also the vehicle that made a star out of Tom Hanks. Penny and Tom had a lot of fun working together on Big, so they worked together again on 1992’s A League of Their Own. Penny Marshall sadly passed away in 2018. At the time, the actress-turned-director was 75 years old. Penny is considered a hero amongst many film buffs today for being a rare female film director that found mainstream success.
Everyone knows about the iconic “L” that was stitched on Laverne’s clothes on the show Laverne & Shirley, but did you know that the embroidery was a creative decision on the part of actress Penny Marshall? Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Penny Marshal directed four episodes of Laverne & Shirley, and that the Laverne actress is also responsible for one of the most iconic aspects of her character’s wardrobe? Comment down below!