Cindy Williams, 65, spent the 1970s in the thick of Hollywood creativity, acting for directors George Lucas ("American Graffiti") and Francis Ford Coppola ("The Conversation") and starring opposite Ron Howard and Penny Marshall, who would become notable directors.
Her closest link was Marshall, her co-star in "Laverne & Shirley." The sitcom paired Williams' good-girl Shirley Feeney, close to 30 but still clutching her stuffed cat, Boo Boo Kitty,with roommate and co-worker Laverne DiFazio, who was looser and more likely to vo-di-oh-doh.
The show was a ratings favorite but was considered the lower-brow companion to "Happy Days," the long-running show from which it sprang.
Subsequent runs in syndication and on TV Land have increased appreciation for the comic timing of Williams and Marshall and of Michael McKean and David L. Landers, who played Laverne and Shirley's disruptive greaser neighbors, Lenny and Squiggy.
Reports of tension on the set between Williams and Marshall surfaced occasionally during the show's run. In 1982, after 7 1/2 years on "Laverne & Shirley," Williams sued producer Garry Marshall (Penny's brother) and the studio for breach of contract regarding how Williams' real-life pregnancy would be handled by the show. The lawsuit was settled out of court, but Williams never returned to "Laverne & Shirley."
Like Laverne and Shirley in the final, lesson-learned minutes of an "L&S" episode, Williams and Marshall made things right by appearing together in a 2002 TV reunion special and at a 2004 joint ceremony for their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
After "Laverne & Shirley," Williams guested on television shows and raised two children with her husband, comedian, singer and producer Bill Hudson. (Williams divorced Hudson, ex-husband of Goldie Hawn and father to Kate, in 2000).
Williams also took to the stage, appearing in musicals on Broadway and on tour. She will appear in "Nunset Boulevard," the latest show from "Nunsense" creator Dan Goggin, when the show plays Monday through Wednesday at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College.
Williams plays Mother Superior in the show, in which the singing and dancing nuns travel to Hollywood to appear at what they believe is the Hollywood Bowl performance venue. It's actually a bowling alley.
Calling from her home in Palm Springs, Williams happily discussed her life and career and other matters, including the origin of the term "thumbnail sketch." Williams decided it came from artists' tendency to hold up their thumbs in front of them to help gain perspective.
What is "Nunset Boulevard" about?
Well, have you seen "Nunsense"?
Yes, at Music Circus in Sacramento, with Jo Anne Worley.
Oh! I have to call her (they co-starred in a production of "The Odd Couple"). Thank you for reminding me.
It's the same characters, they love show business, they put on shows and raise money. They all sing and dance and love to think of themselves as seasoned performers.
Laverne and Shirley sometimes sang and danced on the show. Is that how you got into musical theater?
I always loved musical theater. My major in college was theater. I trained for the stage.
Didn't you go to high school with Sally Field in Van Nuys? Did you do theater with her?
Yes. She was in the "A" cast, and I was in the "B" cast. You can put your thumb up and see that one. (laughs)
I watched "Laverne & Shirley" as a kid but did not appreciate how skilled you all were until seeing it as an adult. The episode where Laverne and Shirley run a diner is one of the funniest TV episodes ever. Did true appreciation not arrive until after the show's initial run?
You mean, have people stopped shunning us in show business? (laughs) Well, yes. But it has held its audience because its audience is kind of salt-of-the-earth, very loyal people.
There was a second generation that watched it on TV Land, and that generation is now showing it to their kids.
The reason that it holds up, if you think it does, is that it was played on many levels. We had very strict censors, and having to get around them made the show the double-entendres.
We just tried our darnedest, and if it didn't make us laugh out loud at rehearsal Penny and me and Michael and David we knew it wasn't going to make the audience laugh.
It was a very intelligent show, whether people think that or not.
"Laverne & Shirley" was not always a happy set, and you left on bad terms. Has that all been smoothed over?
Things are great. Well, I got married and got pregnant all at once, and they weren't ready to handle it, so I left the show. I did it for 7 1/2 years, and Penny did it for one year after I left. But all's well that ends well.
Did you ever imagine, in the '70s, you would be so inextricably linked to another performer? Or maybe you just are in my mind
No, we are totally linked. Because you can't think of one without thinking of the other, when you watch the show. I would play a certain beat, and she would play a counter beat. I knew I could count on her, count on her thinking. She is just brilliant. We thought things out well together.
There would be scuffles, because her approach is so much different from mine. Her approach is much more academic, and she likes things done right away. I was dyslexic, and it would take me forever to (get through) a script.
She was much more of a technician, and I was more loosey goosey. We respected each other's particular talent.
Will you ever retire from show business?
In this economy, I can never retire. When you are making a lot of money, and you are young, you are foolish. I drive up to the soundstages now (when guesting on TV shows), and all these kids, it's Mercedes, Mercedes, BMW. I want to tell them, save your money! I will probably work until I drop, but that's OK. I come from hardy Sicilian stock.
Not to pry too much into your finances, but "Laverne & Shirley" ran for a while and has been in syndication. That must have helped out financially.
Oh, yes. I was blessed a thousand times over.
Where is Boo Boo Kitty right now?
I can walk into the other room and see him. He is in my closet.
What: Stage musical starring Cindy Williams
When: 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Three Stages at Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, Folsom
Cost: $29-$49, premium $59; 10 percent off Wednesday afternoon performance
Information: (916) 608-6888, www.threestages.net