Thursday, June 11, 2015

Q&A with Cindy Williams

Cindy Williams is the author of the new memoir Shirley, I Jest!: A Storied Life. An actress and comedian, she is best known for her portrayal of the character Shirley in the famed sitcom Laverne & Shirley and the character Laurie in the classic movie American Graffiti. She lives in Southern California.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

A: I was asked by [writer and publishing consultant] Dave Smitherman 12 years ago if I was interested in writing a book. I said I’m not interested in a tell-all, but I want to tell some of the fun things that happened to me in my career, and that’s how it began.

He was all for that. It just took us 12 years to get it pulled together! It’s a memoir; it goes in chronological order. I wanted to write fun stories. Being on Laverne & Shirley gave me a gateway to adventures.

Q: Why did it take 12 years?

A: I was working, and in the interim I was going through a divorce. A bunch of stuff. Life put its cloven hoof into the works. It got stalled and stalled. Everybody wanted a tell-all book, and I was not into it. I said I’ve got enough fun little stories that would garner an audience and please readers, and nobody believed me until this company [Taylor Trade Publishing] came along, and [literary agent] Diane [Nine].

Q: Of the various roles you played, do you have a favorite?

A: I’d have to say it’s Shirley. Sitcoms are like personality plays. They write a character for you, but it’s all [subject] to your own personality. They would start writing idiosyncrasies I had into the show. It became this hybrid me.

It was so much fun to play her—it was me without all the bad stuff! I loved playing it. They even picked up on a quirk I have—I can be real happy one minute, and the next minute [I’m saying] what the heck are you doing, and the next minute, Can I serve you some eggs?

Cindy Williams with Penny Marshall in Laverne & Shirley.
Q: How do you think people see Laverne & Shirley after all these years?

A: They see it with great mirth and fun and happiness. That’s how they approach me. It’s not like I played Hannibal Lecter! People come to me with memories of happiness and laughter. It’s a blessing.

Q: What about your role in American Graffiti?

A: [People] go crazy over all the characters in American Graffiti. It’s got a huge following still. Laurie in American Graffiti is a different [character] than Shirley. Fans, mostly men who have cars, would want to take me for a long drive.

Q: How did you decide which events to include in the book?

A: I only wanted the book to be upbeat. When I talk about my childhood, I go briefly on it. I take being the child of an alcoholic very seriously, but I didn’t want to linger on it, and sit on any pity pots. I could have written a whole book about my childhood…and my father. I tried to hit points so people could get the picture, and move on to happy parts. I tried to keep it buoyant….

Cindy Williams as Laurie in American Graffiti
Q: How did you come up with the book’s title?

A: The title was going to be "If You Can’t Say Anything Nice." My mother used to say that to me…I was with my friend Steve Travis and he said, What are you calling the book? I said, "If You Can’t Say Anything Nice." I said I have a great cover [photo] for the book—it’s Shirley. He said, What about, "Shirley, You Jest"? We started talking about that. I said, "Shirley, I Jest!" I’m the one writing the book!...

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m doing the book tour now. I’m making notes, and I have a couple other ideas. I would love to write a play about writing this book, [called] "The 28-Hour Day." We were up for 28 hours straight. People would say, I’m coming over! I’d say no. My dogs and cats got very needy. I threatened everyone! I said, Can’t you see all the pressure I’m under?

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m sorry it’s so short. I wish it were longer, but hindsight is 20-20. I would know better next time! I would have the same cover, but with a clown nose on me, [and call it] "The Rest of the Jest."

Q: Do you think you might write that?

A: I’ve got all these stories. It depends. I could probably knock that one off. If they would ask me, of course I would! I do have some stories that are a lot of fun, and I was so blessed…when you’re on a show like that, a gateway opens to wonderland, and you can’t believe it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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