Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The untold truth of Laverne & Shirley

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Even before Cynthia Grecco’s bombastic Laverne & Shirley theme song kicks in, the sitcom’s opening sequence gets viewers’ attention with a musically underscored, spoken word introduction. On a Milwaukee street at night, Laverne and Shirley march and recite in unison what sounds like a nonsensical, schoolyard chant: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, schlemiel, schlimazel, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” “Schlemiel,” “schlimazel,” and “Hasenpfeffer” weren’t commonly used words in the American lexicon in the 1970s (or today), so what do they mean? In the context of Laverne & Shirley, almost nothing.

In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Williams said that the rest of the credits sequence had already been shot, and creator Garry Marshall needed a bit more footage. He asked Penny Marshall, his sister, about a nonsense song-and-dance routine she used to do while walking to school as a kid decades earlier, and she went through the “schlemiel, schlimazel” spiel. “I don’t know what it means,” Penny Marshall said, but Garry Marshall told her to teach it to Williams. They had very little time to learn it and only had time to shoot it twice, which Williams said she had a hard time figuring out because of her dyslexia.

So what does it mean? “A schlemiel is someone who falls from a building,” Williams explained, “and a schlimazel is the person they land on.” Hasenpfeffer is a German stew made of rabbit.

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