The opening credits kicked off with the chant, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, schlemiel! schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer incorporated!” is one of the most memorable of any sitcom. It seems like a made-up cryptic message, but, actually, it has a background story.
The way it made it to the credits was because Garry, who was writing the opening, thought it would be perfect. He asked Penny to teach Cindy the song and dance she did as a girl. After two takes, the opening segment was taped, preserved to this day on celluloid.
The Inspiration Behind Laverne & Shirley
The original idea for the show evolved out of a script from "Friends and Lovers," a sitcom with Paul Sand that Penny appeared on as the sister-in-law. At the same time, Garry had been mulling over the idea of writing the "Happy Days" date episode.
In an interview, Penny described the show’s beginning saying that Freddie Silverman, head of ABC at the time, came to Garry looking for new spin-offs. He told him he had one idea, loosely based on "I Love Lucy’s" Lucy and Ethel, about a couple of girls working as bottle cappers in a Milwaukee factory. Silverman said that sounded great. Voila.
What’s the ‘L’ For? The “L”
We see embroidered on all of Laverne’s shirts was Penny’s idea from the start. She explained in interviews that in any series, you have to say your name and where you’re from over and over until the audience remembers, so she thought she’d make it easy for them and sewed on the letter.
She got the idea from costuming from another show. Ironically, she said one of the most common questions audience members asked was, ‘What is the “L” for?”
But What Does It All Mean?
When Penny was a child skipping around the Bronx, belting out the chant on the way to school, it was just one of those playful things they did as kids; it was nonsense. Whether she knew it or not, however, both schlemiel and schlimazel have a meaning.
The first word refers to a clumsy person, and the second is a name for an unlucky person. There’s a Yiddish saying that keeps it straight. “A schlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup, and a schlimazel is a person it lands on.”
Hit TV series always feature big names, and "Laverne & Shirley" is no different. Back in the late ‘70s, the show attracted cameos from Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia). Comedy legends Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner made an appearance. Radner, incidentally, was nearly cast as Shirley.
Comedian Jay Leno joined the cast for an episode, as well as Harry Shearer, who went on to do "SNL." Eric Idle from "Monty Python" visits during the sixth season in an episode about British rockers. Real-life rock legend Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel also made an appearance. Spinal Tap appeared on “Bus Stop.”