Lenny and Squiggy were created by Michael McKean (Lenny) and David Lander (Squiggy) as acting students at Carnegie Mellon. They took their zany act to Los Angeles, hooking up with comedy troupe “The Credibility Gap” doing radio gigs with names like future “SNL” Harry Shearer.
The boys landed film appearances as “Lenny and Squiggy.” They even recorded an album together as part of their schtick. They called themselves Lenny and the Squigtones. The eponymous album spawned “Spinal Tap.”
Michael Eisner Gets Involved
Before Michael Eisner was CEO of Disney, he served as a program development manager at ABC. He was so adamant about Cindy Williams playing Shirley instead of Liberty that he hid the pilot episode tape!
It was a mystery at the time. The tape of the episode had gone missing, but no one knew Eisner had stashed it away in a closet.
Casting Frank DeFazio
Phil Foster was Garry Marshall’s first pick to play Laverne’s father. He was a stand-up comic who, as it turned out, had given Garry his first writing job. Garry also wrote jokes for "The Tonight Show" at the time.
Foster was perfect for the role of Frank DeFazio and became one of the sitcom’s classic characters, but not everyone was happy with him on the cast. Some execs at ABC, according to writer and producer Mark Rothman, did not want Foster. They complained that his Brooklyn accent was too heavy and that he mumbled too much.
Lenny & Squiggy Clean Up Their Act
It was on "Laverne & Shirley" where this comedy duo became household names. Few knew the original Lenny and Squiggy act was so ridden with expletives that it was unfit for television. The ever-entertaining dingbat neighbors of "Laverne and Shirley" had to tone down their jokes to meet network standards.
The sitcom would have fallen flat without these obnoxious sidekicks incessantly barging into the apartment. The nutty pair were written into the show, according to sources, to give Laverne a side of classy.
Penny Marshall was well connected. Beyond her brother Garry writing and producing "Laverne & Shirley," she was also married to Rob Reiner, aka Meathead. The couple, pictured here, starred in rival sitcoms with Reiner playing Archie Bunker’s favorite whipping boy on "All in the Family." "Laverne & Shirley" soared to number one in 1976, its debut year, beating out "Archie Bunker & CO."
However, by the end of the year, "All in the Family" clinched the top spot. More comedy connections would arise later with Reiner and Spinal Tap. Additionally, Penny and Garry’s sister Ronny Hallin was casting director, and their father, Anthony Marshall, produced.