In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two quirky best friends and roommates from Milwaukee burst onto the television scene, capturing the hearts of millions with their infectious laughter and hilarious antics. The series starred two blue-collar women, Lavern DeFazia (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) working as bottle cappers for the Schotz brewery. Laverne & Shirley not only was a huge hit; but the cast and the show became a cultural phenomenon that left an indelible mark on the world of television.
The series ran for eight seasons, from 1976 to 1983 and was one of highest-rated sitcoms during that time. Here, we look back at the beloved Laverne & Shirley cast, with a few surprising facts that will take you back to those days of milk and Pepsi.
Fun fact: Penny Marshall explained in her 2012 memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, that the show’s opening catchphrase Schlemiel! Schlimazel! was a Yiddish song from her childhood that she and her friends would sing on their way to school.
Penny Marshall as Laverne DeFazio
Penny Marshall brought life to Laverne DeFazio, the tough-talking, street-smart half of the dynamic duo. With her “L” monogrammed sweaters, Laverne’s unmistakable personality made her an endearing character. The show was a spin-off from Happy Days, in which both women had recurring roles, and the chemistry between Laverne and Shirley was undeniable. In fact, the spinoff became even more popular than the original show.
After the series, Marshall continued to make her mark in Hollywood. She stepped behind the camera, becoming one of the most successful female directors in the industry. Her directorial debut, Jumpin’ Jack Flash (starring Whoopi Goldberg) was followed by iconic films like Big (starring Tom Hanks) and A League of Their Own (starring Madonna). Her contributions to film have solidified her as a Hollywood legend.
Sadly, Marshall passed away in 2018, but her work continues to inspire female filmmakers to this day.
Fun fact: Penny Marshall’s brother, Garry Marshall, who directed some of the most memorable rom-coms of all time including Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries and The Odd Couple was the creator and executive producer of Laverne & Shirley.
Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney
As Shirley Feeney, Cindy Williams played the sweet and naive counterpart to Laverne’s brash personality. The contrast between the two friends created the perfect comedic balance.
Williams starred in seven of the eight seasons. Rumors swirled about why she left before the series ended. Then 33 years later, she revealed to the Today show that she left because of her pregnancy.
“When it came time for me to sign my contract for that season, they had me working on my due date,” said Williams. “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.” She ended up suing Paramount and after a settlement, she was written out of the series. Laverne went at it alone, without her best friend, for the final 20 episodes.
Before Laverne & Shirley, Williams starred in Travels With My Aunt (1972), followed by the blockbuster hit American Graffiti (1973).
After the hit sitcom, Williams became co-producer of Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin, in 1991 and its sequel in 1995. She also wrote a memoir, Shirley, I Jest!: A Storied Life, in 2015 and later toured the country in the one-woman show Me, Myself & Shirley. Williams passed away in January 2023.
Fun fact: In 1975, Williams and Penny Marshall were writing partners working for $30 a week when Garry Marshall hired them for an episode of Happy Days.
Michael McKean as Lenny Kosnowski
Michael McKean portrayed Lenny Kosnowski, the endearing and somewhat dim-witted friend of Laverne and Shirley.
After Laverne & Shirley, one of McKean’s most memorable performances was in the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. McKean received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2019 for his performance as Chuck McGill on Better Call Saul. He is the currently the voice of Pickles in Nickelodeon’s Rugrats franchise. He also plays the president in the series The Diplomat starring Keri Russell.
Fun Fact: In addition to being an actor, McKean is also a musician and composer.
David L. Lander as Andrew “Squiggy” Squiggman
David L. Lander played the role of Andrew “Squiggy” Squiggman, Lenny’s best friend and neighbor. Squiggy was known for his unforgettable greeting, “Hello!” in his high-pitched voice. His quirky mannerisms and distinctive style added to the show’s charm.
After Laverne & Shirley, Lander continued to act in various television shows and movies. He also lent his distinctive voice to several animated series, including the voice of Judge Doom’s weasel of a henchman in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988); and the vicious grasshopper in A Bug’s Life.
In 1984, Lander was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and he later wrote the book Fall Down, Laughing: How Squiggy Caught Multiple Sclerosis and Didn’t Tell Nobody. He became a good-will ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Lander died in 2020 at the age of 73.
Fun fact: Lander invented the character Squiggy in college and performed as that character before he was on the hit show Laverne & Shirley.
Eddie Mekka as Carmine Ragusa
Eddie Mekka portrayed Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa, a charismatic and aspiring singer who often serenaded the ladies.
After the series, Mekka had roles in various TV shows and movies, including Penny Marshall’s 1992 film, A League of Their Own, and the 2006 film, Dreamgirls. Mekka died in 2021 at the age of 69.
Did you know: Mekka spent many years on stage. One of his favorite performances was in the Off Broadway comedy My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Therapy.
Phil Foster as Frank DeFazio
Phil Foster played the role of Frank DeFazio, Laverne’s overprotective and often comical father. His character added a touch of familial warmth to the Laverne and Shirley cast, and his constant concern for his daughter’s well-being was a recurring theme.
Before acting, Foster was a successful comedian. He did stand-up at clubs before getting his career-defining role in the Laverne and Shirley. Foster passed away in 1985 at the age of 72.
Fun fact: Phil Foster was his stage name; he was born Fivel Feldman.
Betty Garrett as Edna Babish-DeFazio
Betty Garrett played the role of Edna Babish-DeFazio, Frank DeFazio’s love interest and eventual wife. Edna’s character brought romance and laughs to the Laverne and Shirley cast.
Garrett started out as a dancer and had many roles on Broadway before transitioning to musicals movies like 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter with Red Skelton and On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
After Laverne and Shirley, she did a one-woman show Betty Garrett and Other Songs. She also went back to her true love, the stage, where she performed in Nunsense and Betty Garrett, Closet Songwriter. Garrett passed away in 2011, at 91 years old.
Fun Fact: Garrett was a regular on All in the Family, she was Archie Bunker’s neighbor Irene Lorenzo.
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