It’s been a few decades since the legendary sitcom, Laverne and Shirley ended. And yet it’s still regarded as one of the top shows of its era, and perhaps of all time. And while it was originally a spin off of Happy Days, it quickly took on an identity of its own. And it showcased the incredible talents of its two stars, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. The two played a pair of best friends and coworkers as they chased their dreams. And for 7 seasons the duo led the show brilliantly. But in its 8th and final season, Shirley suddenly exited. Fans were left confused and disappointed that 1 one half of their favorite TV duo was suddenly gone from the show. In this video, we’re taking a look at the reasons why Cindy Williams abruptly left the show, as well as some interesting facts about her friendship with Penny Marshall, how she got the gig in the first place, and more. So stay tuned, as Facts Verse presents: Why Cindy Williams Left Laverne & Shirley So Abruptly!
Why Cindy left the show
When one of the leads of a hit show suddenly leaves, there is usually a lot of speculation and rumors as to why. Often the reasons are myriad, and despite whatever the rumor pushes forward, it’s often less scandalous than people think. Over the years, people have wondered if Cindy’s sudden departure had something to with infighting, or salary negations, or something worse. But the truth is actually much less scandalous.
In 1982, Cindy got married to Bill Hudson. Almost immediately, she got pregnant. This lined up with the beginning of filming for the 8th season of Laverne and Shirley. At first, Williams didn’t think it would be too much of an issue. In an interview in 2015, she revealed that she assumed the producers would find ways to work around her growing belly. After all, there have been many examples of pregnant actresses playing characters who aren’t pregnant. Williams assumed they’d use all the tricks of the trade to hide a baby belly, like loose fitting clothing, laundry baskets, clever framing, and the like. And perhaps that would have been the case for the later stages of the pregnancy. But it never got to that point, since when it came to schedule negotiations, things quickly soured. Williams said that when she looked at their proposed shooting schedule, they had her slated to work up until the final days of her pregnancy, and even had her on the schedule for her baby’s due date. To Williams, this was a clear sign that the team behind Laverne and Shirley was going to make things difficult for her, even as she got into her third trimester. She suddenly didn’t trust that they’d have her and her baby’s best interests in mind when they scheduled her shoot days. As such, she didn’t want to be under a contract where’d she be legally required to come to work on days when she wasn’t physically up for it. So she decided it was time to leave the show. After the second episode of that 8th season, Shirley was written out. In the show, Shirley ended ups meeting her dream man, getting married to him, and heading out of town. But before that, she finds out she’s pregnant. It was an interesting twist that they wrote into the show, but perhaps it was a dig by the writing staff to show that they were willing to write in a pregnancy for Shirley. But by then, the deal was done, and Cindy had left the show.
This did end putting Penny Marshall in a tough spot. She was eager to keep the show going as usual, and didn’t want to act without her long time costar for the rest of the season. In an interview, Marshall admitted that she told Cindy they’d accommodate her however she needed. Marshall reportedly told Cindy she could be “the biggest pain in the ass pregnant person” she needed to be, and that she could literally film from a bed. She only asked that she say her lines, and Penny would take care of the rest of the scene.
However, Cindy decided it wasn’t going to work, and left anyway. Marshall claimed that, despite wanting her to stay, she was never mad at Cindy for leaving during the 8th seasons. She did admit that the two didn’t talk for a bit. But she said it wasn’t because they were in a tiff, but rather because “they wouldn’t put me through to her.” We’re not quite sure what that means, but maybe Cindy’s husband and reps thought Penny would try to convince her to come back, so they screened all her calls from Penny.
How Penny and Cindy landed their roles
As most people know, Laverne and Shirley was a spin off of legendary sitcom, Happy Days. The characters of Laverne and Shirley appeared in a Happy Days episode called “A Date With Fonzie.” And it was a successful introduction, since audiences took to them immediately. But the origin of that particular episode, and the reason Penny and Cindy were ultimately cast is an interesting one. It starts with an unsuccessful 1974 sitcom called Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers. It was about a classical musician in Boston who was unlucky in love, and Penny Marshall played a role in it. One episode was written by Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz, who later went on to write for Happy Days. In it, the lead character was in a supermarket, trying to flirt with several women. But, since the producers felt that the script for that episode made the main character look too dorky, it wasn’t ever used.
Later, when Garry Marshall was running Happy Days, his mom was constantly pestering him about getting his sister Penny a role on the show. With that in mind, Garry approached Rothman and Ganz about using elements of their unused script from Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers, and potentially having Penny play a part in the resulting episode. The two writers came back with the script for the Happy Days episode, “A Date with Fonzie.” In it, the Fonz consults his little black book full of women, and contacts two ‘loose’ ones for a double date with Richie. His goal is to help Richie out, since he’d been having no luck with women as of late.) The two women were named “Laverne DeFazio” and “Shirley Feeney.” Now, clearly Penny Marshall was destined for one of those roles, since the episode was created specifically with her in mind. But Marshall also needed someone great to play Shirley. It just so happened that Penny had been a part of a writing staff for a spoof movie from Francis Ford Coppola called “My Country Tis of Thee.” In addition to some future legends like Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, and Martin Mull, the staff also included Cindy Williams. So when Garry talked to Penny about the Shirley role, Penny told him about the funny and talented Cindy Williams, with whom she was already working. Garry agreed to let her audition, and she nailed the part.
Though it should be noted that Cindy was, at first, hesitant to take the gig. She was more comfortable as a writer, and wasn’t sure if the show would be a good fit, or if would be any good at all. She said that Penny kept on her to give it a shot. Finally she relented. Of course, she later referred to her hesitance as really stupid. But that’s easy to say when you know what the show eventually became.
Reacting To Penny’s Death
When Penny Marshall passed away in 2018, the comedy and entertainment world mourned. And this was certainly the case for her long time costar, Cindy. She gave an interview to US Weekly at the time, where she praised Penny and her talents. She referred to her as a one in a million entertainer, an opinion likely shared by millions of Penny Marshall fans. Williams talked about how Penny was a truly great talent who epitomized the definition of unique. She also reminisced on the incredible amount of fun they had together while filming their seminal show. Williams concluded by saying that she couldn’t even put into words how much she’d miss her old friend. This relationship was certainly a more closely bonded one than many people who star in a show together, but then completely go their separate ways. Marshall and Cindy Williams may have stopped working together during the final season of Laverne and Shirley, but that didn’t mean their friendship ended. The two were close for the decades that followed the end of the show. And while they did reunite for an appearance in the show Sam & Cat in 2013, their relationship was strictly off camera. In an interview in 2015 with Entertainment Tonight, Williams noted that they hung out constantly. And sometimes those hangs would mean some TV and movie watching. Williams fondly recalled that Penny loved to keep her house very chilly. Or, as Cindy put it, “She likes to watch television in the arctic.” But according to Williams, Marshall was aware that not everyone wants to be freezing when they watch TV, so she’d keep winter jackets in the room for guests. So when Penny Marshall passed away, it wasn’t simply that Williams was reflecting back on the career of an old coworker. She had lost one of her lifelong friends.
Now its time to hear from you. Did you know about the real reason why Cindy Williams left Laverne and Shirley? Did you watch the 8th season? Do you think it suffered from not having Shirley there? Let us know in the comments section below!