By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Actress Cindy Williams does not mind that fans forever link her with her late-1970s/early 1980s character Shirley Feeney from the beloved sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.”
“It’s such a blessing and a privilege that it’s played to so many people and so many generations,” she says.
“And it has stood the test of time. There’s a human commonality about it. It’s like when someone trips and falls. You kind of laugh. You’re really laughing at yourself. The cast and the writers were aware of that with ‘Laverne & Shirley.’”
Williams will take the Herberger Theater Center stage for two shows on Saturday, January 29, in a one-woman show, “Me, Myself & Shirley,” during which she will share memories of her career and backstage tales from her lifetime in entertainment.
“It’s 90 minutes of fun and laughter,” she says. “You’ll burst out laughing at least one time. There’s a question-and-answer session at the end. Basically, I share fun stories about my show, my business life and a little about my real life.
“There is a lot of ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ a lot of ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Star Wars,’ and how I auditioned for the role of Princess Leia. There’s no intermission and, boy, this is what the world needs now. Phoenix could use a dose of it, as could the rest of America.”
Born in Van Nuys, California, Williams fell in love with acting during high school. After graduation, she attended LA City College, where she majored in theater arts.
After leaving college, she landed her first TV roles on “Room 222,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “Love, American Style.” Her guest-starring roles include “Law & Order: SVU,” “7th Heaven” and “8 Simple Rules.” It’s her time during “Laverne & Shirley” that she particularly cherishes.
“Because of TV Land and reruns, new generations are watching the show,” she says about “Laverne & Shirley.”
“I had no idea it was on TV Land until I was picking up my daughter from school and all these little girls ran over to the car. They had seen it on TV Land.”
Williams was frequently surprised by that fanbase, as was the late Penny Marshall, who played Laverne DeFazio. Sometimes, it felt a little “bizarre,” she says.
During a drive in California when “Laverne & Shirley” was on reruns, Williams and Marshall could see the beloved TV show playing inside of a house in Hollywood.
“We look over and people are sitting in their living room watching ‘Laverne & Shirley,’” she says. “We could see us on television. It was bizarre — but fabulously so. It was so amazing, and it still is. I love people and people, like Anne Frank said, are really good at heart.”
Williams and Marshall, who died in 2018, had plenty of laughs themselves during the sitcom’s filming.
“Penny and I had this litmus test,” she says. “During rehearsals, if it made us laugh out loud, we knew the audience in the studio would laugh out loud and it would translate to a TV audience.
“We wanted to have fun and we wanted to take the audience along with us. It was one big audience — the whole cast was an audience, too.”
She explains, for example, she had to bite her tongue when “the boys” — David L. Lander (Squiggy) and Michael McKean (Lenny) —came in so she wouldn’t burst out laughing. The rehearsals, she says, yielded some of her biggest laughs.
“Penny said the same thing,” she says. “We would laugh until we cried. We’d make it sillier to make ourselves laugh even more.”
To keep the proper laughs on track, the “Laverne & Shirley” cast had to adhere to the rules of a Christian censor, she says.
“I’m prime time, we had family hour, which I don’t think we have anymore,” she says with a laugh. “He wouldn’t let us say diddly squat. There were innuendos sometimes, so children and adults ended up loving it.”
“Laverne & Shirley” tackled serious issues as well, but always with a comedic twist. The two working girls weren’t privileged, she says. After all, they lost their brewery jobs and moved to Burbank. However, they always carried a great enthusiasm for life, and they made it somehow.
“We kept the show on par with not knowing where the rent was going to come from, how we were going to pay our electric bill. We had the wolf nipping at our heels,” she says.
“Everyone feels that. We had fun with it, and it was for everybody.”
What: “Me, Myself & Shirley”
When: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 29
Where: The Herberger Theater
Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix
Cost: Tickets start at $30