Hulu Plus is streaming a few Laverne & Shirley shows – would be nice to see the whole series uploaded there. Right now it’s a bit of column A, some of B, but the Milwaukee set shows outnumber the Cali ones. I watch when I can and enjoy them as much as I did during the first run, when I was one of the rare kids allowed to stay up until nine on certain evenings. I’d like to think Laverne and Shirley influenced me in some way, and as I re-watch shows I realize they should be taken seriously despite their hi-jinks.
Think about it. You have a show set in the late 50s, early 60s, about two women who have their own place and earn their keep. This is set in a time where women their age would probably still live at home because they weren’t married. After my mother in law graduated high school in her coal-mining town, she and a friend got jobs at a bank an hour away. In order to keep the job, they boarded with a family, worked the week, and went home every weekend, no excuses. The bank manager was practically an uncle, making sure they got on that Friday evening bus. When my MIL’s family decided to move to South Florida, she went with them – not by choice. It didn’t matter that she had a job and a place to live, no young lady was going to stay in the eeevil city by herself. Mind you, she was of legal age at the time.
Can you imagine?
Laverne and Shirley were not rich, or highly educated, but they were happy. They had an independence I imagine most young women of the time didn’t enjoy. Some people don’t care for the shark-jumping California episodes, but I liked the transition to them. When the Shotz Brewery lays off most of its workers, the girls are offered lesser positions and – despite no future prospects – quit and move cross country. That takes balls, and they did it without vagina joke period joke anal sex joke every two minutes.
While browsing NetGalley, I saw Cindy Williams’s upcoming memoir, Shirley, I Jest (AMZ / BN) available and the email acceptance to read it thrilled me. I read Penny Marshall’s My Mother Was Nuts (AMZ / BN / KOBO) a few years ago, and hoped to read another side of the story. Shirley is much shorter in length, and of course covers other highlights in Cindy’s career. She’s an enthusiastic storyteller who, much like her TV counterpart, keeps everything upbeat.
What I Liked: Williams’s story of her early career highlights a truth applicable anywhere in entertainment: you can hit the ground running with a smash movie but it doesn’t guarantee eternal success. To read about going from roles in three Oscar-caliber films to no work at all got my sympathy, especially as she considered quitting the biz altogether before the Happy Days spinoff came along.
I liked the anecdotes about waitressing at Whiskey a Go-Go, and her exploits with Andy Kaufman, too. I had seen Williams on his TV special but didn’t know they shared a deeper friendship beyond that. I would like to have read more about that, whether the relationship lasted until his death.
What I Wished: I would have loved more detail all around. There are great stories about working in American Graffiti, but nothing about the sequel. The chapter on Laverne & Shirley the show seemed too brief. While she talks about the show’s genesis and personal touches, you’re basically reading a summary that isn’t as thorough as the Wikipedia entry. She includes a picture of her mother in a cameo, but no story to back up how her mother ended up on the show. We never get the story about the Shirley Shimmy, either:
The mention of her firing takes up a page at best, and you don’t learn anything new about that or any tension between her and Penny Marshall, or her involvement in subsequent reunions. I always thought Williams got a raw deal, as though being punished for wanting a family. How difficult is it to shoot closeups or position a pregnant actress at a desk or behind a counter? Granted, L&S relied on physical comedy, but they also embraced change. It could have ended better.
If you invest in this book for L&S memories you’ll find some interesting off-screen gems, but you may want to read Penny’s book in tandem.