The Bootleg Files: The Laverne & Shirley Reunion

BOOTLEG FILES 841: “The Laverne & Shirley Reunion” (1995 television special celebrating the popular sitcom).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No perceived reissue value.

It should have been included in DVD releases of the series.

In 1995, ABC decided to offer a 20th anniversary tribute to “Laverne & Shirley,” one of the network’s most popular programs in the late 1970s. While audiences enjoyed the show (at least for its first four seasons before the ratings crashed), there were reports during its production about the two stars, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, not having the most harmonious working relationship. This partnership ended badly with Williams leaving the show at the start of the eighth season amid litigation – the actress was pregnant, but the network insisted she continue performing her character’s knockabout comedy despite her condition.

In watching “The Laverne & Shirley Reunion,” one gets the impression that the simmering ill-will from behind the scenes was never truly healed. Brought together so many years later, the actresses’ cordiality to each other feels forced.

Then again, who could blame them for not being enthusiastic? By 1995, Marshall had already moved away from acting and became one of the most commercially successful film directors in Hollywood. But Williams’ career faded very quickly after she left the series – she was gaining traction in films such as “Travels with My Aunt,” “American Graffiti” and “The Conversation” prior to “Laverne & Shirley,” but never enjoyed the same level of stardom after abandoning her character. (In fairness, she should have enjoyed a second wind in films through her wonderful performance in “Uforia,” but the film’s release was bungled and her work was not appreciated by critics or audiences.)

Joining Marshall and Williams in the reunion show was Michael McKean and David Lander, who played the zany neighbors Lenny and Squiggy, and Eddie Mekka, who played Shirley’s too-patient boyfriend Carmine. By this point in time, McKean had already branched out successfully into films while Lander’s was career impacted by multiple sclerosis – in this special, neither seemed particularly enthusiastic to be present. Mekka, as with Williams, saw his star wane after the show ended, and in this special he appeared to be the only one who is genuinely happy to return to this environment.

Also present was Garry Marshall, Penny Marshall’s brother and the show’s creator, and Henry Winkler – after all, the Laverne and Shirley characters were introduced on “Happy Days” as dates for Winkler’s Fonzie and Ron Howard’s Richie. Interestingly, Laverne and Shirley were a lot more sexually aggressive when first trotted out on “Happy Days,” but for their own series their personalities were significantly dialed down.

One might have imagined that Howard would have made an appearance – his character memorably turned up on “Laverne & Shirley” to continue the courtship he had with Shirley on “Happy Days.” Also absent was Betty Garrett, who played the title characters’ landlady and the girlfriend (later wife) of Laverne’s father, played by Phil Foster. While Foster passed away in 1985, Garrett was still very active in 1995 and her omission was peculiar. Even worse, the special did not identify Garrett and Foster either by their characters’ significance to the show or by their real names, and they were barely seen in the clips assembled for the reunion.

Oddly, much more attention was given to two characters from the show’s ill-advised final stretch in California, the stuntman Sonny played by Ed Marinaro and the ditzy actress Rhonda played by Leslie Easterbrook. But neither Marinaro nor Easterbrook were mentioned by their names.

Indeed, serious “Laverne & Shirley” fans watching this reunion might be wondering whether this offering was created by someone with no acquaintance to the series. While some of the clips served up provide classic comedy moments, such as Laverne and Shirley hanging from clothing hooks or winding up in airplane cockpit with an unconscious pilot, there is a wealth of wonderful segments that are not included, such Laverne hijacking Richie Cunningham into being her partner in a dance competition and Laverne and Shirley doing raucous song-and-dance version of “Da Do Ron Ron.” Perhaps the reunion’s producers did not want to pay music rights for those segments, or performance rights to include episodes featuring guest stars such as Vicki Lawrence (as a drill sergeant) or Fabian (as himself), or then-unknown actors including Ted Danson, Mark Harmon or Ed Begley Jr.

As for acknowledging Williams’ premature departure, she briefly noted that she was pregnant and had to leave as the eighth season began – in her last episode, she is wearing a loose-fitting dress to hide her pregnancy – but she made no mention of the legal tumult surrounding her stepping away.

“The Laverne & Shirley Reunion” aired on ABC on May 22, 1995. It was not included in any of the DVD reissues of the series, but a decent copy is on YouTube in an unauthorized posting. Marshall and Williams had a better reunion special in 2002, and by that time their differences were obviously patched up and they enjoyed reliving their halcyon days. But “The Laverne & Shirley Special” does accomplish one thing very well – it makes the viewer hungry to revisit the series and enjoy the comedy magic that it created.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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