Cindy Williams, half of TV’s ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ dies at 75

Cindy Williams, who performed candy, wide-eyed Shirley Feeney on the “Happy Days” spinoff “Laverne & Shirley,” has died. She was 75.

Williams died in Los Angeles on Wednesday after a quick sickness, her kids, Zak and Emily Hudson, mentioned in an announcement launched Monday to the Related Press via a household spokeswoman.

“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed,” the assertion mentioned. “Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.”

Williams was the optimistic foil to Penny Marshall’s wise-cracking Laverne DeFazio on the enduring sitcom, which starred two Nineteen Fifties roommates engaged on the meeting line at Milwaukee’s Shotz Brewery.

“When you can find those characters with attitudes who are in sync, they are funny and charming to watch. You see aspects of yourself in the characters’ attitudes,” Williams instructed The Occasions in 1993. “Usually in sitcoms, the characters you play are close to you. They are beats within yourself that you really play well.”

Although she might need appeared an professional at pratfalls when the present debuted in 1976, Williams was a novice to the sitcom style. Earlier than that, she educated in theater in highschool and at Los Angeles Neighborhood Faculty, then honed her expertise when she was accepted by the Actors Studio West alongside Sally Subject and Robert De Niro.

The Golden Globe-nominated actress appeared in George Cukor’s “Travels With My Aunt” and starred in George Lucas’ 1973 nostalgic coming-of-age comedy “American Graffiti” and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 movie “The Conversation.” She additionally auditioned for Lucas’ “Star Wars” however misplaced the a part of Princess Leia to Carrie Fisher.

It was a fateful assembly with producer Garry Marshall and Fred Roos that put her on the trail to skipping down the road chanting “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated” in “Laverne & Shirley’s” opening sequence.

Penny Marshall, left, and Cindy Williams within the opening title phase of “Laverne & Shirley.”

(ABC Picture Archives by way of Getty Photographs)

Marshall, Williams recalled in her memoir, “Shirley, I Jest!,” turned to Roos and mentioned, “I like her. She’s like a pudgy Barbara Harris,” the Tony-winning Broadway comedian. They introduced her on to their newly fashioned firm, Compass Administration; then, on her first audition, she booked the a part of pupil Rhoda Zagor on James L. Brooks’ in style high-school comedy “Room 222,” one of many first exhibits that includes Black actors in lead roles.

Williams then turned pals with Garry Marshall’s youthful sister, Penny Marshall, whom she met via mutual pals. The 2 have been out-of-work actresses after they have been employed by Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope firm to put in writing a potential TV spoof for the Bicentennial.

“They got a lot of comedy writers or people who wanted to be comedy writers,” Williams instructed The Occasions in 1995. “They wanted two women. We would be assigned a certain aspect of the history of America and write a spoof on that particular aspect of American history.”

That they had been writing collectively for a couple of months when Garry Marshall known as to ask in the event that they wish to visitor on his ABC sequence “Happy Days,” reuniting Williams together with her “American Graffiti” co-star Ron Howard.

“Penny said yes and I said yes and we went and did it. The rest is kind of history,” she instructed The Occasions.

The ladies turned family names after 1975, when their characters — two women from the opposite aspect of the tracks — appeared on Marshall’s sitcom for a double date with Richie (Howard) and Fonzie (Henry Winkler).

Co-created by Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz and Mark Rothman, the spinoff adopted the escapades of the blue-collar gals. It launched on ABC in January 1976 and soared to the highest of the rankings, changing into the No. 1-rated present for the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.

Williams discovered the style on the job: The present’s broad bodily comedy was harking back to Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz’s excessive jinks on “I Love Lucy.” Though the sitcom aired till 1983, Williams, who directed one episode, stayed on it solely via 1982, when its ultimate season started.

Garry Marshall instructed The Occasions in 2012 that “it was a tough show,” the alternative of the carefree set of “Happy Days,” as a result of headstrong actresses.

Amid some stress between the celebs and her personal being pregnant, Williams left the sequence earlier than giving beginning to her daughter, Emily, with then-husband Invoice Hudson. (She married Hudson in 1982, they’d two kids and divorced in 2000.)

“When it came time for me to sign my contract for that season, they had me working on my due date to have my baby,” Williams instructed the “Today” present in 2015. “And I said, ‘You know, I can’t sign this.’ And it went back and forth and back and forth, and it just never got worked out.”

After she left, Williams sued Paramount TV and producer Garry Marshall for $20 million, claiming that they “welshed” on a promise to accommodate her being pregnant and nonetheless pay her $75,000 per episode plus a bit of the income.

“The lawsuit is settled, and everything is copacetic,” Williams instructed The Occasions in 1985.

A black-and-white photo of two young adults, a man with his arms around a girl's waist, leaning against a car.

Ron Howard and Cindy Williams performed highschool sweethearts within the 1973 movie “American Graffiti.” They reunited on “Happy Days.”

(Los Angeles County Museum of Artwork)

Williams and Penny Marshall, who died in 2018, additionally reconciled after the present went off the air. Showing in a forged reunion on “Entertainment Tonight” in 2015, Williams spoke extremely of her TV comrades.

“It’s like an Italian family at a dinner table on Sunday and somebody doesn’t pass the celery properly,” Williams mentioned. “There’s always going to be arguments.”

Happiness “was everyone’s goal” on the present, she mentioned, and such was the case for herself and her co-star: “I go to Penny’s house, I get in bed with her and we watch TV. She’s like my sister.”

The present nonetheless resonated for many years because the forged often reunited. In 2013, Williams and Marshall notably appeared on the Nickelodeon sequence “Sam and Cat,” a modern-day “Laverne & Shirley” that starred Jennette McCurdy and pop star Ariana Grande within the title roles. The appearances marked the primary time the duo had labored collectively on a scripted sequence in additional than 30 years.

“I went to see ‘Wayne’s World’ and suddenly they’re doing a parody of ‘Laverne & Shirley!’” Williams mentioned in an archival interview with the Tv Academy. “I called Penny to tell her. She asks, ‘How was it?’ And I said, ‘You will be simultaneously honored and humiliated.’ And that was the spirit that those two characters really embodied. That’s what I love about them.”

When the unpleasantness surrounding her departure had been laid to relaxation and after a 2½-year absence from prime-time tv, Williams returned to ABC for a short-lived fish-out-of-water pilot, “Joanna” — her first work for tv since she left “Laverne & Shirley.”

It was co-produced by Hudson and Gary Nardino for Paramount after the settlement, which gave the TV studio first dibs on a pilot for Williams.

She then starred in a slew of ill-fated pilots and a handful of TV films, together with the pilot for “Steel Magnolias” and the sequence “Getting By” and appeared on Broadway in “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2007. She was additionally a profitable film producer, serving as an affiliate producer of the 1991 hit comedy “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin.

Williams was born on Aug. 22, 1947, in Van Nuys, Calif., and was a self-proclaimed “Valley Girl.” Her father, Beachard “Bill” Williams, hailed from Texas and Louisiana, with Welsh, French and Cherokee origins, and was an affable man till he began ingesting. That drove Williams and her mom, Frances, an Italian American, to maneuver in together with her grandmother in Texas. Her dad and mom reconciled a yr after they moved and had two extra youngsters, Carol and Jimmy.

Whereas her dad and mom and grandmother labored, at age 4, Williams turned “an underage home health aide” to a lady who rented a bed room from her grandmother. And when her household purchased a tv set in 1951, Williams watched all the pieces — even cigarette commercials — which she would “mimic, memorize and reenact,” in response to her memoir.

The household moved again to Van Nuys when she was 10 and Williams started placing on exhibits of their storage that may appeal to the neighborhood youngsters. She then placed on an entire expertise present on the First Methodist Church in Reseda.

“I was a pretty funny kid,” she instructed The Occasions in 1993. “I could see the humor in things.”

Nonetheless, she suffered from nervousness as a bit lady, bit her nails and was “painfully shy.” Sarcastically, she was punished in class for not with the ability to hold quiet and put in a nook with a dunce cap on her head.

“As much as I wanted to socialize and be a leader, a part of me resisted. Still, there was another ever-present part of me that longed to express the fantastic things I was imagining, share the fun of my shadow world — loudly and with exuberance,” Williams wrote in “Shirley, I Jest!”

In highschool, she caught the attention of the drama trainer by performing Bob Newhart’s “The Driving Instructor” routine for the varsity expertise present. She then enrolled in a play manufacturing course, which she took alongside Sally Subject. She briefly dreamed of being an ER nurse however continued on the performing route by enrolling in L.A. Metropolis Faculty’s theater arts program, the place she befriended Lynne Stewart, who would play Miss Yvonne on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”

Williams, like Shirley, began out working-class. She held odd jobs at a regulation agency, a financial institution, IHOP and the Whisky a Go Go to pay for her school books. She was invited to affix the Actors Studio after sharing a good friend’s three-minute audition, which she considered one of many biggest honors in her life.

“I come from such a normal background,” she instructed The Occasions. “I’ve had bizarre times in my life. I was a hippie in the ’60s. But basically I’m real normal. I like to go around the house at bedtime and turn off all the lights. Sometimes I even take the hangers back to the dry cleaners so they can use them again.”