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Immediately after watching Richie Cunningham and the boys on Happy Days, young girls like me would stay tuned to watch Laverne and Shirley doing it their way.ABC

In my 1970s' adolescence, I was a Laverne. I was not the sweet, pretty, perky one, the Shirley. I was the loudmouth funny girl, the larger-than-life pessimist with the not-perfect nose. Laverne DeFazio, played by the great Penny Marshall, was the closest thing I had seen on TV to that point who could have been a grown-up me.

I haven’t seen Laverne and Shirley since it went off the air in 1983 – possibly even before that; I’m not sure I stuck with it to the bitter end. But I can still sing every word of the theme song, as I did Tuesday when I heard that Ms. Marshall had died at the age of 75, from complications of diabetes.

It’s almost impossible to explain what a big deal Tuesday nights were for young television viewers of my generation. Happy Days on ABC at 8 p.m., Laverne and Shirley, the spinoff, at 8:30 p.m.

Immediately after watching Richie Cunningham and the boys (and the Fonz, sigh) on Happy Days, young girls such as myself would stay tuned to watch Laverne and Shirley doing it their way – bottling beer at the Shotz Brewery; schlemiel-schlimazelling down their Milwaukee sidewalk; and putting up, barely, with their doofus greaser upstairs neighbours, Lenny and Squiggy, barging through their front door at all hours.


Laverne and Shirley lived in a basement apartment. They didn’t have glamorous, aspirational jobs; they wore coveralls at work. But they were always having a riot. They felt like people I could be.

Penny Marshall, left, and Cindy Williams from Laverne and Shirley, July 26, 1979.ABC

If, like Laverne, I had a job helping out at my dad’s pizza parlour/bowling alley, I knew that I, too, would mess up, dropping trays of beer and what have you. (My father, in fact, owned a beer tavern at the time, making me feel even more of an affinity to this character.)

Laverne and Shirley first appeared on a 1975 episode of Happy Days as double-dates for Richie and the Fonz. Laverne and Shirley premiered in January, 1976. (Both shows were created by Penny Marshall’s brother, Garry Marshall.)

The sitcoms, set initially in the 1950s, were ratings monsters and pop-culture behemoths. Every kid at school seemed to have a Fonzie T-shirt – or wanted one. Laverne and Shirley made me long to wear poodle skirts and cardigan sweaters. I have a vague memory of dressing as Laverne one Halloween, a wonky homemade “L” Scotch-taped to my sweater.

Growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household, I knew what a shlemiel was, and also a schlimazel, but I had no idea what Hasenpfeffer Incorporated was, and there was no way to look it up back then. On Tuesday, Google told me that hasenpfeffer is a German rabbit stew.

Nine years old when the show premiered, I would watch, imagining myself as a twentysomething living with a best friend. The best friends in this scenario changed over the years as the show stretched on, but I was always the Laverne.

In this Feb. 15, 2015, file photo, actress and director Penny Marshall attends the SNL 40th Anniversary Special in New York.Evan Agostini/Associated Press

Ms. Marshall’s career trajectory was also an inspiration, early in my pursuit of a broadcasting career. She became a film director, and a commercially successful one, when there was a dearth of women doing that.

Her second film, the first of hers that I saw, was Big – and it was gigantic. It came out around the same time I graduated from Ryerson and began working full time, and I was struggling with my plunge into adulthood. A few years later, A League of Their Own, about a team of female baseball players during the Second World War, spoke to my burgeoning feminist self.

To me, Ms. Marshall will always be Laverne. Grabbing a ride on the back of her best pal’s bike, arms outstretched and her mouth wide open in absolute glee. Or on the job, playfully setting her work glove on top of one of the beer bottles, watching it roll down the assembly line, subtly waving goodbye.