Cindy Williams, who passed away recently, was known for her role as the innocent and wide-eyed Shirley Feeney on the “Happy Days” spinoff show “Laverne & Shirley.” Her age was 75.
Williams passed away on Wednesday in Los Angeles after a short illness, according to a statement released by her children, Zak and Emily Hudson, which was received by The Times.
According to the statement, “The departure of our loving and amusing mother, Cindy Williams, has given us immeasurable pain that could never properly be articulated.” Cindy Williams was known for her sense of humor. “Getting to know and love her has been one of the greatest blessings in our lives. She was one of a kind; she was gorgeous; she was charitable; she had a bright sense of humor; and she had a sparkling personality that everyone adored.
On the legendary comedy, which centered on two roommates living in the 1950s and working on the production line at Milwaukee’s Shotz Brewery together, Vanessa Williams played the role of the upbeat, positive counterpart to Penny Marshall’s witty Laverne DeFazio.
When you discover personalities whose attitudes are in sync with one another, it’s humorous and pleasant to see them interact with one another. “You recognize bits of yourself in the attitudes that the characters have,” Williams said in an interview with The Times in 1993. “In most sitcoms, the people you portray are friends or family members of your own. They are beats that you create inside yourself, and you play them incredibly effectively.
Williams was unfamiliar with the comedy genre when the program first aired in 1976, despite the fact that she may have given the impression of being a master in pratfalls. Prior to that, she received her training in theater while still in high school and at Los Angeles Community College. After that, she improved her talents after being admitted into the Actors Studio West with Sally Field and Robert De Niro.
The actress, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in “Travels With My Aunt” by George Cukor, also played in “American Graffiti,” a nostalgic coming-of-age comedy directed by George Lucas in 1973, and “The Conversation,” a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1974. She also tried out for the role of Princess Leia in George Lucas’s “Star Wars,” but Carrie Fisher ultimately got the position.
It was a chance encounter with producer Garry Marshall and Fred Roos that set her on the course that led to her bouncing down the street while yelling “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated” in the opening scene of “Laverne & Shirley.”
Williams said in her essay “Shirley, I Jest!” that Marshall turned to Roos and remarked, “I like her.” She reminds me of a chubbier version of the Tony Award–winning Broadway comedian Barbara Harris. They hired her for their newly established business, Compass Management, and on her very first audition, she landed the role of student Rhoda Zagor on James L. Brooks’ iconic high-school comedy “Room 222.” This was one of the first television series to use Black performers in prominent roles.
After that, Williams developed a friendship with Penny Marshall, the younger sister of Garry Marshall, whom she had first met via mutual acquaintances. When Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope business recruited the two women, they were both unemployed actresses looking for employment. Their task was to compose a potential TV satire for the Bicentennial celebration.
According to a quote that Williams gave to The Times in 1995, “They got a lot of comic writers or individuals who aspired to be comedy writers.” “They desired two different ladies. We would each be given a certain facet of American history, and then we would have to create a parody based on that particular facet of American history.
They had been working together for a few months when Garry Marshall contacted and asked if they would want to guest appear on his ABC comedy “Happy Days.” This was a chance for Williams to work with Ron Howard again, whom she had previously worked with on “American Graffiti.”
“Penny said yes and I said yes and we went and did it. “What happened after that is sort of ancient news,” she told The Times.
After their characters, two girls from the wrong side of the tracks, made an appearance on Garry Marshall’s comedy in 1975 for a double date with Richie (Howard), and Fonzie, the women’s names entered the public consciousness and they became household names (Henry Winkler).
The adventures of the working-class women were chronicled in the spinoff that Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz, and Mark Rothman collaborated on creating. It first aired on ABC in January 1976, and by the end of the 1977–1978 and 1978–1979 television seasons, it had established itself as the network’s highest-rated program ever.
Williams learned the genre on the job. The program’s wide physical humor was reminiscent of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz’s high jinks on “I Love Lucy.” Williams was a great addition to the show. Williams, who directed one episode of the comedy, remained on it just until 1982, when the sitcom’s last season started airing. Despite the fact that the sitcom ran until 1983.
Due to the independent nature of the actresses, Garry Marshall said to The Times in 2012 that “it was a challenging show,” which he contrasted to the laid-back atmosphere of the “Happy Days” set.
Williams decided to leave the series before she gave birth to her daughter Emily with her then-husband Bill Hudson because of the hostility that existed amongst the other performers as well as her own pregnancy. (She wed Hudson in 1982, and the couple was legally separated in the year 2000 after having two children together.)
“When it came time for me to sign my contract for that season, they had me working on my due day to have my kid,” Williams said on the “Today” program in 2015. “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.” I responded by stating, “You know, I can’t sign this.” And despite the fact that it was discussed over and over again, the issue was never resolved.
After she left the show, Williams filed a lawsuit against Paramount TV and the producer Garry Marshall for $20 million, alleging that they “welshed” on a promise to accommodate her pregnancy and still pay her $75,000 per episode plus a piece of the profits. Williams claimed that they “welshed” on the promise to accommodate her pregnancy and still pay her $75,000 per episode.
Williams said to The Times in 1985 that the legal dispute had been resolved and that everything was back to normal.
After the program was canceled, Williams and Penny Marshall, who passed away in 2018, were also able to make amends with one another. In 2015, when participating in a cast reunion on “Entertainment Tonight,” Williams praised the work of her fellow television cast members.
Williams compared the situation to an Italian family having dinner on a Sunday and someone failing to properly distribute the celery around the table. “It’s inevitable that there would be disagreements.”
She said that happiness “was everyone’s aim” on the program and that it was the same for both herself and her co-star, as follows: “I go to Penny’s place, I get in bed with her, and we watch TV. She’s like my sister.”
The play continued to have an impact for many years, and its ensemble regularly got together again. In 2013, Williams and Marshall made notable appearances on the Nickelodeon sitcom “Sam and Cat,” a modern-day adaptation of “Laverne & Shirley” in which pop diva Ariana Grande and Jennette McCurdy played the lead characters. It had been more than three decades since the two had last collaborated on a written television series when they made their debuts.
I went to watch “Wayne’s World,” and all of a sudden they were making fun of “Laverne & Shirley.” Williams said this in an interview that has been preserved by the Television Academy. “I spoke to Penny about it over the phone. She inquires, “How did it go?” I said, “You will be simultaneously honored and humiliated,” and I meant every word of it. And it was the ethos that these two individuals exemplified so well in their whole. That is one of the reasons why I adore them.
Williams returned to ABC for a short-lived fish-out-of-water pilot called “Joanna” after a 212-year break from prime-time television. This was her first work for television since she departed “Laverne & Shirley,” and it came after the ugliness that surrounded her departure had been put to rest.
After the settlement, Paramount TV granted Hudson and Gary Nardino the opportunity to co-produce the show for the company. This gave the TV studio first dibs on a pilot for Williams.
She subsequently debuted on Broadway in “The Drowsy Chaperone” in 2007, after starring in a spate of unsuccessful pilots and a handful of TV movies, including the pilot for “Steel Magnolias” and the series “Getting By.” She was also a successful movie producer, and she worked with Steve Martin on the production of the comedy classic “Father of the Bride,” for which she served as an associate producer.
Williams was a self-proclaimed “Valley Girl” who was born on August 22, 1947, in the city of Van Nuys in the state of California. Her father, Beachard “Bill” Williams, was an amicable guy before he took up drinking. He was originally from Texas and Louisiana, and he had Welsh, French, and Cherokee ancestry. Before he began drinking, he lived in Louisiana. Because of this, Williams and her mother Frances, who is of Italian American descent, relocated to Texas to live with Williams’ grandmother. Her parents got back together a year after they relocated, which resulted in the birth of two additional children: Carol and Jimmy.
At the age of four, Williams began working as “an underage home health assistant” for a lady who leased a bedroom from her grandmother. This allowed Williams’ parents and grandmother to continue their careers. And in the same year, 1951, Williams’ family made an investment in a television set, which she used to “copy, memorize, and recreate” according to her biography. This included watching advertising for cigarette brands.
When she was 10 years old, her family relocated back to Van Nuys, and shortly thereafter, Williams started putting on concerts in their garage that would draw children from the surrounding neighborhood. Following that, she organized an entire talent event and held it at the First Methodist Church in Reseda.
In 1993, she gave an interview to The Times in which she said, “I was a fairly amusing child.” “I was able to see the comedy in the situation.”
In spite of this, she had anxiety as a child, which caused her to bite her nails and be “painfully bashful.” She was humiliated in front of her classmates and had to stand in a corner while a dunce hat was placed on her head as a consequence of her inability to maintain silence.
A portion of me fought the want to socialize and take the role of a leader, despite the fact that I had such aspirations. Williams said in “Shirley, I Jest!” that there was another part of her that was always there and that she “longed to convey the spectacular things I was envisioning, share the joy of my shadow world – loudly and with excitement.” “Shirley, I Jest!”
She gave a rendition of Bob Newhart’s “The Driving Instructor” act for the school talent show while she was a senior in high school, and it was this performance that drew the attention of the theater instructor. After that, she signed up for a play production class, which she ended up taking with Sally Field. She had a fleeting fantasy of working as an emergency room nurse, but she ultimately decided to pursue a career in acting. She enrolled in the theatrical arts program at L.A. City College, where she became friends with Lynne Stewart, who would later star as Miss Yvonne on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.”
Williams came from a working-class background, much as Shirley did. In order to put herself through college, she worked a variety of jobs, including at a legal company, a bank, IHOP, and the Whisky a Go Go. Sharing a friend’s three-minute audition led to her receiving an invitation to attend the Actors Studio, which she viewed as one of the most prestigious accolades she could have received at that point in her life.
According to what she told The Times, “I come from such a typical household.” “Throughout my life, I’ve experienced some strange things. In the 1960s, I identified as a hippy. But in general, I’d say that I’m quite average. When it’s time for bed, one of my favorite things to do is go around the home and turn out all of the lights. I even sometimes take the hangers back to the dry cleaners so that they may reuse them.
The children of Williams continued their statement on Monday, saying: “We have always been and will continue to be SO proud of her for many things, including her lifelong mission to rescue animals, her prolific artistic ability, her faith, and most importantly, her ability to make people all over the world laugh. She would be happy to know that everyone is still laughing because she would want it to continue. We are grateful that you loved our Mom as much as she did since she also loved you.”