A Funny Habit
Known for her role as Shirley Feeney in the TV series “Laverne & Shirley” from the late ’70s and early ’80s, Cindy Williams has had quite a career.
After starring in TV and film (including “American Graffiti,” which helped launch her career), she has produced movies and acted on stage. She stars in the touring show “Nunset Boulevard,” which plays Nov. 30 at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Orange Park. Asked about her singing and dancing in the show, Williams jokes, “Yes, unfortunately for the audience, I do. The other four girls have incredible voices.”
Williams credits her sense of humor in part to her father, who struggled with alcohol abuse throughout Williams’ childhood.
In “Nunset Boulevard,” the nuns are invited to the Hollywood Bowl to perform. Williams, who plays Reverend Mother, says “when they get to Hollywood, they find there’s a Hollywood Bowl-A-Rama and a lounge at the bowling alley. But the show must go on, so they perform anyway.”
Folio Weekly: What drew you to this particular show, and how does it compare to other stage productions you’ve done (“Grease,” “Deathtrap,” etc.)?
Cindy Williams: I’ve done “Nunsense” before, and Danny calls me — Danny Goggin’s the composer — and asks if I wanted to do this tour. The whole cast is incredible: Stephanie Wahl, Bambi Jones, Christine Mild and Jeanne Tinker. Those are the four girls, and they’re just wonderful. It’s just great fun and a great privilege and such a blessing to get to do it.
F.W.: Most people know you from your role as Shirley Feeney, first in “Happy Days” and then in “Laverne & Shirley.” In what ways did you connect with your character?
C.W.: I played Shirley for almost eight years. When you do a television show, it’s almost like a personality play, so they write to your personality, and they just tighten the comedy. You know, make fun of all your little quirks.
F.W.: So the character “Shirley” is very similar to you?
C.W.: In a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways I was playing my cousin Mary, and my aunt and my mother and my dog. But she was very much like me.
F.W.: How was the transition to go from acting to co-producing both of the “Father of the Bride” movies?
C.W.: I was watching [the 1950 film] “Father of the Bride” one time. I thought, “Wow, that would be a great remake updated.” So I pitched it, and it just all fell into place perfectly. … It was just a miracle that it turned out the way it did. It was a situational comedy, and there was something for everyone in it. It didn’t matter what race, color or creed you were.
F.W.: Comedy seems to have always been your thing. Why do you think that is?
C.W.: It’s innate. It’s something I was born with. It’s a rhythm in my head. Everything has always been funny to me. I had a difficult childhood; my father was an alcoholic, but he was an extremely funny man. When he was sober, he was this incredibly intelligent, funny, wonderful, loving, caring person. He would make fun of dire situations. It bordered on being sarcastic, but it was extremely funny. He would make fun of our financial situation, of where we lived, or my mother, or me, or my sister and himself. He was very funny and bright like that. It was not the happiest of childhoods except in that way with my father because he did have the problem with alcoholism, which overshadowed those formative years of my life. Anyone who has ever lived in a situation like that knows what I’m talking about. It was a shadow world. I grew up seeing a world like that and taking a terrible situation and seeing it in a funny way. It was a childhood of extremes, but they were funny extremes. But also I think you’re born with a funny bone, and your environment colors in the rest.
F.W.: What play or part that you haven’t done would you enjoy being involved in next?
C.W.: I would love to do “Noises Off.” It was a movie with Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve, Mark Linn-Baker. They’re all wonderful in it. … It started out as a play. That’s a play I’d like to do. I would love to do more stage and certainly wouldn’t mind the fifth lead on a television series. I’d love to be the receptionist on something like “Homeland,” not that there is a receptionist, but maybe they should have one. I’ve always wanted to do a bloodless Sunday night murder mystery, like “Murder She Wrote.”
F.W.: How has your perspective changed as you’ve gotten older?
C.W.: I’ve become my mother. All that comes home to roost. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good. … It used to be [all] “Alice in Wonderland” when you’re younger, but as you get older, you want to come above ground and sit under the tree and think and enjoy the tree, instead of what’s down the rabbit hole. I say that, then I think, “I’ve done the rabbit hole.” Everybody should go down the rabbit hole and see what’s there. But I’m wiser, and I’m enjoying being wiser.