Nov 3, 2012

Laverne and Shirley

Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) first appeared on an episode of Happy Days, when Fonzie hooks himself and Richie up with two "loose women" who are sure to "put out."
In 1976 (after Cindy Williams took time off to star in The First Nudie Musical)they spun-off into their own series, Laverne and Shirley (1976-83).  Theirr characters became more stable, friends and roommates who worked as bottle-cappers at Schotz Brewery in Milwaukee while waiting to "make all their dreams come true."  Those dreams involved snaring rich husbands.

It wasn't one of my top 10 programs, but everyone else in the family watched, so I saw it relatively often.  And, in spite of the heterosexist premise and standard 1970s obsession with sex, there was quite a lot of gay content.

1. In 1950s lesbian culture, you had to decide whether you were a butch or a femme, and date only the other type.  It was scandalous for two butches or two femmes to hook up.  Laverne was strong, aggressive, a good fighter and a hard drinker, into sports and home repairs, while Shirley was soft-spoken, polite, retiring, sexually repressed, and into frilly lacy things. I didn't know anything about 1950s lesbian culture in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Laverne and Shirley out.

2. Shirley had a sort-of boyfriend, sort-of big brother in Carmine (Eddie Mekka), an aspiring actor-dancer-singer-boxer.  Carmine's main source of income was an older woman named Lucille, who giave him gifts and money in exchange for unspecified favors. Outside of work and friendship, Carmine didn't seem particularly interested in women. I didn't know much about hustlers in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Carmine out.

3. Carmine was amazingly hot, though rarely if ever shirtless on the show (the photo is from Circus of the Stars).  And lots of other hunky guys paraded through Laverne and Shirley's apartment, as boyfriends or relatives,  including Christopher Guest, Ted Danson, Ed Begley Jr.,  and Ed Marinaro.

4. The annoying upstairs neighbors, Lenny (Michael McKean, middle) and Squiggy (David L. Lander, left), made the usual hand-biting gestures and kissing noises whenever they saw an attractive women (or in this case, an attractive man), but they rarely attempted to actually date anyone. They were  devoted to each other, permanent, exclusive, passionate partners.

In a 1996 episode of The Nanny, David L. Lander, swishing it up as Fran's gay-stereotype landlord, states that he has been with his partner "Leonard" for twenty years (that is, since the show began in 1976).

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