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Henry Winkler's Fonzie

Cindy Williams as Shirley

August 1976 —Still in her mid-twenties, pretty Cindy Williams has been thrust into the kind of position in the entertainment world that many in show business have to work years to attain. Her TV series, Laverne and Shirley, has consistently scored high in the ratings—usually in that very coveted #1 spot. In addition, before Cindy assumed her "Shirley" character, she had already made a considerable name for herself in such films as American Graffiti and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.

Such staggering success at such an early age could jar the most level-headed person, but Cindy has managed to remain true to both herself and her craft—without sacrificing her humor and her compassion.

Q: Did you have any idea that Laverne and Shirley would be the success that it is today? A: No ... I thought it was going to be a 13-week job—and then it would be over. So did Penny (Marshall). Neither one of us thought it would be a hit. But the day after the show premiered, we came in and crammed around a table and they showed us the overnight ratings. I didn't understand the numbers and ratings at the time... still don't, but I couldn't believe it. I could only tell people that we were so rushed. The first show really wasn't exactly a good sample of what the series should be.

Laverne & Shirley stuff for sale

Q: Isn't that generally true of most series in their first weeks on the air? A: Unless it's been well thought out like All In The Family. But Laverne and Shirley was done in something like six days — over Christmas. We had to break for two days for the Christmas holidays. And then we came back to a 60-page script that should only have been 36 at the most... and we shot it all. It was incredible. They kept changing it-—as they still do every week ...

Q: How come? A: Because they haven't really locked into a set pattern of the characters and the premise of the show yet...

Q: I imagine that waiting for the ratings is like waiting for the reviews of a stage play to come out. . . A: Overnights? Yes, I guess so. I've done television in the past, but coming off of films, I didn't take this too seriously. It is just a ... well, like Henry Winkler sometimes says, "It's just a piece of fluff." And I just took it like that. I was pleased, I must say, about the show's success. Everybody was so happy and pleased—they said it was phenomenal.

Q: How do you feel about it, Cindy? A: I'm still trying to understand the success of the series, because we still are finding our way around in the dark. Except that I find that every week on the show, there's one good laugh. And as long as you do that, you've earned your money and you have given people something. If they can laugh once, it's worth it. I don't know what the success is—it may be because it's two girls, it may be the situation, it may be because of the time slot (it's on right after the super hit, Happy Days). I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. It may be because it's new and there isn't anything else on or it may be because of that guaranteed once-a-week laugh. I really don't know...

Q: Can it be because a lot of girls can really identify with the character? Do you get a lot of letters? A: Yeah, little girls write and say, "I like 'Shirley' a lot," or they write Penny and say, "I like 'Laverne' a lot." But I think they do identify ... the younger girls. But we, Penny and I, are really not in a situation where we're playing girls our own age, so the identification for me is difficult because of the situations I am in now in my life are so different. These things happened not only earlier on in my life—but the things "La-verne" and "Shirley" go through are parallel to what was happening in the 50's and I really wasn't that old then ... so I don't know a lot about the mores and things of that type back then, although a lot of it was shuffled down to me when I was growing up in the 60's. ..

Q: You said before that the premise of the show hasn't been locked in yet. What kind of changes would you like to see made? A: I'd like to get more into the poor aspect of it. I'd like to see more of an emphasis on the fact that we're poor and don't have money for a lot of things, because I grew up in a home like that. I knew that when it came time for the prom, I was going to get my prom dress at Zody's and not at Bullock's—and there was a lot of heartbreak there ...

Q: Do you feel that's missing in the show right now? A: Sometimes we get those things into the show ... about how we are so poor that we can't afford anything for dessert but pound cake and how between us we have 8 cents sometimes. But it needs more of that...

Q: Are there any other personal touches that you and Penny have added to the show? A: Yeah, the set—and we got in trouble for it. They dressed our set to look like Mary Tyler Moore's apartment in the beginning—and when Penny and I went on the set to look at it, we saw China lamps, wall-to-wall carpeting, beautiful drapes, paper flowers, little China ornaments all over the place, beautiful wallpaper, and a nice big, comfy sofa. Penny and I had a fit! They said they were going to take it down, but even after they were done, it still I looked better than my apartment.

Q: How did you finally get them to change the set? A: One night just the two of us, I Penny and I, were rehearsing on the set, and I started taking things off the walls. I said that girls at that time and in that situation I never had things like that... they had thumb tacks. So we took them all down and hid them in drawers and then we brought things in from home. The set designer.. everybody went crazzzy. They said that nobody lives like this and we said, you've got to be kidding... One night they cleaned the set I just before we went on. They dusted and vacuumed and arranged everything while we were in make-up ... Penny went out and saw it and said, "Go out and look at the set. They cleaned it up." We had a fit—in front of the> audience, we had a fit. They haven't touched it since... oh, maybe they'll dust it every now and then, but they won't fix anything up...

Cindy Williams' Shirley — continued

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