For seven years, Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney “did it their way” on the hit TV sitcom, “Laverne & Shirley.” From dating to working at Shotz Brewery together, the female odd couple with a knack for physical comedy took on 1950s Milwaukee and created some of the most memorable moments in TV history – with a little help from their neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy.
“Good Morning America” reunited with the cast – Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, David Lander and Michael McKean - to talk about receiving the TV Land Fan Favorite Award this month, and the stars dished on how it all started, the story behind Laverne’s favorite oddball drink, the show’s zany theme song and more.
Check out these five facts from the cast that you may not have known before.
1. It All Started as a Spin-Off of ‘Happy Days’
“Laverne & Shirley” was so successful, becoming the most-watched show in America in its second season, that many forget it all began as a spin-off of the hit show, “Happy Days.” Laverne and Shirley, two 20-somethings, were brought on as a double date for Ritchie and Fonzie.
“Cindy and I appeared as the loose girls, the girls who put out for Richie and Henry,” Penny Marshall, who played Laverne, recalled of their “Happy Days” roles.
ABC was looking for a new show for Marshall’s brother, Garry Marshall, to produce in primetime, and approached Marshall and Williams about a spin-off series. The rest is TV history.
2. Cindy Williams Was Just Happy to Have a Paycheck to Cover Her Rent
At the start, the sitcom’s stars had no idea the show would be a hit – let alone earn a spot as a beloved classic. In fact, Cindy Williams, a.k.a. Shirley Feeney, said at the time that she was just happy to have a paycheck to cover her rent.
“I thought, great, I’m going to get to stay in town, not have to move out of town, which I was going to do, and I’ve got my rent for the next year,” Williams said. “We had no idea.”
Her fall-back career was opening a car wash, co-star Michael McKean, who played Lenny Kosnowski, joked.
“The very first show before an audience, Cindy [Williams] is saying, ‘You know, this probably won’t go but we’re really having a great time. Let’s open a car wash or something,’” Michael McKean recalled. “We were having a good time, [but] we had no idea what was happening.”
By its second season, “Laverne & Shirley” was the most-watched show in America, surpassing even “Happy Days” in the ratings.
3. Lenny and Squiggy Weren’t Originally Part of the Show
If you can believe it, Laverne and Shirley’s famously greasy and hilarious upstairs neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy, played by Michael McKean and David Lander, weren’t originally part of the show.
“I think we were probably thrown in there to make these two look a lot classier,” McKean said. “We were last-ditch dates.”
Lander and McKean first created the characters in the late 1960s, performing them with their comedy group, The Credibility Gap. The two were hired as writers for “Laverne & Shirley” until Penny Marshall suggested they perform their act for her brother, one of the show’s executive producers, at a party.
They did it, albeit reluctantly, Lander recalled.
“They didn’t need much prodding,” Penny joked.
4. The Real Story Behind Laverne’s Famous Drink – Milk and Pepsi
Besides the “Ls” on all of Laverne’s clothing, the character was famously known for her favorite oddball drink, milk and Pepsi. Marshall said the strange concoction was a real-life favorite of hers from a summer she spent at a predominantly Jewish camp, where meals were strictly kosher.
“I’m not Jewish and they didn’t drink milk with meat. When I came home I said, ‘Why can’t I have soda?’ and they said, ‘Drink your milk first.’ She didn’t wash out the glass so she then poured the soda in,” Marshall recalled. “I used to drink it a lot.”
5. The Meaning Behind That ‘Sclemeel, Schlemazel’ Theme Song
Who can forget hearing Laverne and Shirley sing: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated,” while skipping down the street at the start of ever show?
But did you ever know where that “Sclemeel, schlimazel” line in the theme song came from?
It was also from Penny Marshall’s real life. She sang the Yiddish-American hopscotch rhyme on the way to school and taught her co-star the ropes.
“When we were shooting the opening of the show … [Garry Marshall] was shooting it and he said, ‘Penny, teach Cindy, ‘Sclemeel, schlimazel,’” Cindy Williams said. ”When I was a kid, on the West Coast, we [had] ‘step on a crack, you break your mother’s back,’ so they had, ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Sclemeel, schlemazel.”