Famous ‘Laverne & Shirley’ Chant Held Special Meaning for Penny Marshall
Laverne & Shirley was an iconic sitcom of the 1970s into the 80s, and likely influenced a lot of TV shows that came after.
Though it was a spinoff of the much-loved show Happy Days, it very quickly came into its own and could stand by itself as an excellent show, with its own spinoffs. Many parts of the show were iconic, from the friendship between the lead characters to, of course, the opening sequence.
One part of the opening song that fans find particularly memorable is the chant that Laverne and Shirley say together before the start of the song. But do you know the history of the chant? And how it came to be a part of the song?
What was ‘Laverne & Shirley’ about?
The sitcom Happy Days was one of the most popular shows of the 1970s. It was a nostalgic look back at the 1950s, and led to multiple spinoffs, including Mork and Mindy.
Laverne &Shirley, meanwhile, centered around two of the female characters on the show: the eponymous Laverne DeFazio, a tomboyish daughter of Italian immigrants, and Shirley Feeney, her girlier and more sensitive friend.
On Laverne & Shirley, the duo live together in an apartment and work together at a brewery — but only for the first few seasons. In season 5, they join the Army Reserves, and after that, move to Burbank, California. The show received multiple award nominations, and for multiple seasons was the most-watched show on American TV.
Its focus on female friendship and use of physical comedy made it much loved while it ran and in the years that followed.
Who was Penny Marshall?
Penny Marshall played the lead role of Laverne DeFazio on Laverne & Shirley for the entire seven-year run of the series, as well as for four years on Happy Days. But she had many other roles beyond this. In her first years of acting she had a few minor roles; her big break came in 1972 when she started playing Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple. This sitcom role solidified her status as an expert comic actress, and would lead to further roles.
Over the years, Marshall also worked as a director and a producer. She directed and produced several movies and TV shows, including four episodes of Laverne & Shirley. Sadly, she died at 75 in 2018, but we’re lucky to have decades of her charm and talent on film.
What was the opening chant?
In the opening of the show, you can hear the actresses chant:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated
While they chant this, they’re hopping together, arm in arm. This line is actually a Yiddish-American hopscotch chant. Neither actress is Jewish, but like her character Laverne, Marshall was an Italian immigrant who grew up in New York.
She heard, and likely recited this chant many times as a kid, and decided that it would be a good addition to the opening. It adds a sense of nostalgia and happiness to the opening theme, “Making Our Dreams Come True.”
According to Mental Floss, Marshall herself was unaware of the origins of this chant. She would sing it with her sister on the way to school, and the last season without Cindy Williams, the actress who played Shirley, have a group of schoolchildren reciting it. It really encapsulates the cheerful nostalgia of the show.