In Their Own Words: Penny Marshall & Cindy Williams on Their 'Very Close' Bond
Starring alongside each other as Laverne DeFazio (Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Williams) for nearly a decade on the iconic sitcom, the costars formed a close bond that extended beyond the cameras.
But after more than 30 years of friendship, Williams said goodbye to Marshall, who died Monday night at her Hollywood Hills home of complications from diabetes. She was 75. (Marshall had previously been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in 2009 before going into remission by 2012.)
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Wednesday, Williams, 71, remembered her dear friend and the lasting legacy she leaves behind.
“What an extraordinary loss. My good friend, Penny Marshall is gone — one in a million,” said Williams. “Utterly unique, a truly great talent. And, oh what fun we had! Can’t describe how I’ll miss her.”
Their chemistry onscreen was electric. In an interview for the Archive of American Television in August 2013, Williams said the two began writing together when Marshall’s brother, Garry, cast them as Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney in an episode of Happy Days in 1975.
“We sort of had telepathy,” Williams said of their friendship. “We [were just] always like that.”
Their characters were so popular, ABC hired the two for their own spin-off show Laverne & Shirley, which debuted on the air the following year. The show focused on Laverne and Shirley, two roommates that struggled to make ends meet while trying to find Mr. Right.
Marshall and Williams suddenly found themselves at the helm of what would cement them as sitcom stars.
“She’s very tough, she has a mind like a steel trap, she doesn’t forget anything,” Williams said of working with Marshall. “She’s a taskmistress. She’ll read the script and be smoking a cigarette and have it down in a day. I’ll hold the script right up to dress rehearsal.”
In the same interview, Marshall said she simply “didn’t care about lines.”
“[Williams] is a better actress than me. Trust me,” the Big director said. “She has a better range. She can [memorize] a paragraph. I can’t do an accent.”
Williams said Marshall could be “impatient,” but that it made her “be better.”
“The attitude of the characters were real,” she explained of the dynamic between them in the show. “When she would get upset with me it would be real. I just let it roll off my back after a while and [I] didn’t get upset by it. As far as that rhythm [between us] went, as far as that door flying open and both of us being absolutely in sync, I used to say to her, ‘If there were an Olympic event for comedy, I think we’d take the gold.’ ”
While the two had their differences, Williams said they could “always make each other laugh.”
“Some of the best laughs of my life were with that woman. If we made each other laugh, we knew we would make the audience laugh also,” she said. “We were very, very close like that. You couldn’t slip a playing card between us. We had our differences but not when it came to hitting that stage and doing what we loved doing. It was like [an] instinct with her, like telepathy. I don’t think I’ve had that with anyone else in my life.”
Marshall gave her two cents, saying their differences were what made scenes funny.
“Neat and sloppy,” Marshall explained.
Williams added, “Our personalities are so alike in so many ways, and so different in so many ways. There would be squabbles, but in the end the entire experience, the entire thing was such a blessing and so much fun. I couldn’t have done it without her, it wouldn’t have been the same and I’m sure she would say vice versa.”
“We’re great friends, she’s one of my great, great friends, one of the greatest friends of my life,” she reflected to the Archive of American Television.