‘Laverne & Shirley’: Why Liberty Williams Didn’t Land an Iconic Role on the Show

Originally a spin-off of the hit TV show Happy Days, the TV sitcom Laverne & Shirley aired for eight seasons on ABC during the mid-1970s to early 1980s.

The show quickly became one of the most-watched sitcoms during its run, and it made its lead actors Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams famous around the globe. Yet the show almost turned out very different, because another actress named Liberty Williams almost landed the role that Cindy Williams ended up playing .  

‘Laverne & Shirley’ first aired in 1976

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The show followed the escapades of two roommates-cum-best friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marshall’s character, Laverne DeFazio, and Williams’ character, Shirley Feeney.

And Americans couldn’t get enough of watching the two women chase their dreams and attempt to find love. “The show was so popular in the late ’70s that on any given Tuesday night, almost half of everyone watching TV were tuned in,” reports Biography.com.

Critics also praised the show.  By the time the series ended, it had been nominated for an Emmy Award and half-a-dozen Golden Globes.  But Williams almost missed out on the show’s success.

Williams originally didn’t want to be on ‘Laverne & Shirley’

Penny Marshall, Betty Garrett, Phil Foster, Cindy Williams, David L. Lander, Michael McKean
Penny Marshall, Betty Garrett, Phil Foster, Cindy Williams, David L. Lander, Michael McKean | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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When Williams was first approached to take her character from Happy Days and reprise it in her own TV show, the actress originally said no. 

“[Williams] had just starred in American Graffiti and The Conversation,” explains IMDB. The former, directed by George Lucas, was one of the most profitable films of the ’70s. And the latter, which starred Williams alongside A-list actors like Gene Hackman and Harrison Ford, also received critical acclaim.

The success of her two movies made Williams re-evaluate her TV career. “[She] was busy auditioning for movies like Star Wars and still had dreams of being a movie star,” notes IMDB. So the producers of Laverne & Shirley looked for a backup.

Williams’ role was almost taken by another actress with the same last name

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Louise Williams (often credited as “Liberty Williams,” and who is not related to Cindy Williams despite the same last names), was an actor who had previously appeared in other sitcoms in the 1970s, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

ABC reached out to Liberty Williams and asked her to audition for the role of Shirley Feeney.

“Liberty Williams and Penny Marshall filmed a couple [of] scenes together as the new Laverne and Shirley,” notes IMDB, “and this was presented to the ABC executives who gave it the go ahead, ready to film the new series with Liberty in the lead, not Cindy.” But there was just one problem, which ended up factoring in the show’s future success: The two actresses didn’t connect on screen the way that Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall did in Happy Days.

“It seemed to lack the chemistry that Cindy and Penny, who were friends in real life, had,” reports the outlet. So while the producers continued to work with Liberty, one of their executives tried one last time to convince Cindy Williams to join Laverne & Shirley.

She finally agreed, but she had a few strings attached to her acquiescence. “Producers ultimately agreed to Cindy’s high salary demand and request for equal, but staggered, billing: Penny’s name appeared first, but Cindy’s name appeared higher onscreen,” explains Mental Floss

Despite the back-and-forth, Cindy Williams didn’t make it to the end of Laverne & Shirley. She departed the show before its season eight finale due in part to being pregnant.