‘Laverne & Shirley’ show inspires costumes

Published 5:02 pm Saturday, November 9, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

It’s simple really. They fight.

That’s how I answer anyone who asks me why I dressed my twins, Clara and Gertie, as Laverne and Shirley for Halloween.

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Clara and Gertie are high-spirited, attention-seeking, territorial, self-involved, easily riled and highly sensitive. In other words, they are toddlers. Put all those emotions in the same place all day long and, yes, they fight. So I give the funny answer, the answer that makes everyone laugh and nod knowingly, but it’s not the honest answer.

I was a diminutive, quiet, easily intimidated child in a small class that had quite a few taller, prettier, fair-haired girls. During read-aloud time I was the one the other kids interrupted with, “I can’t hear her!” I would keep reading, but no louder.

This was the 1970s, the decade where girls giggled and jiggled on television shows like “Fantasy Island,” “The Love Boat” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” There weren’t many women on programs that appealed to kids who didn’t get what they wanted simply by being beautiful.

Sure the actresses on “Charlie’s Angels” caught the bad guys, but they did so at the behest of a talking box with a man inside. “Wonder Woman” did her own bidding, but was I supposed to aspire to that? Even at the tender age of 5 I knew it was unlikely I’d ever have that body or an invisible plane. God rarely gives with both hands.

When I saw Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney for the first time on “Happy Days” I thought they were funny, but when I saw them debut in their own show a little less than a year later, I thought they were real.

Real was something new.

These girls were cute, not beautiful. They had jobs that didn’t require them to have wild manes of hair feathered to perfection or golden lassos of truth. Their truth was that they lived in a basement apartment, ate pizza, had lots of average dates with average guys, worked hard, played hard and slept with curlers in their hair.

I was hooked.

Laverne and Shirley solved their own problems. Sure they occasionally asked Laverne’s father for help or Shirley’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Carmine, would lend a hand, but just as often the girls were saving the day for these male characters. There were no heroes.

Sure The Fonz existed in their universe, but he was busy across town performing jukebox magic in the suburbs.

When Laverne and Shirley failed, and they often did, they bolstered each other’s spirits with a chorus of “High Hopes.”

“Just what makes that little old ant think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?”

Many days I felt like I was in the rubber tree jungle, so small, so scared and so unsure of myself. Laverne and Shirley showed me what my dad meant when he told me to pull myself up by my bootstraps. Those Milwaukee bottle cappers never quit. They were tough, and the more I watched them the more frustrated I was with being weak. Until one day, trudging home from the bus stop feeling like I wanted to dive into a snow bank and disappear because the boys behind me were making fun of the way I walked, I turned around and screamed, “Shut up! Shuuut UP! You shut up and YOU shut up! All of you! Shut up!”

They didn’t shut up, but I could hear the live studio audience in my head cheering for me, and I felt good. I was on the way to strong.

When I look back at pictures of this Halloween and the girls ask me why I didn’t dress them as fairy princesses or cute little bunnies, I’ll tell them I put them in cheap beads, ridiculous wigs and enormous skirts because under all that garishness are two characters who inspired me.

Under the cursive “L” on Clara’s shirt beats a heart both resilient and sensitive, and though Gertie may be small like Shirley, small like me, she can be a giant inside and people will recognize her strength and respect her for it.

Maybe I did give the honest answer after all. I did choose Laverne and Shirley because they fight, but not for the reason that brings the laughs. For as much as they fought each other, they fought for each other, and for themselves, so they could make all their dreams come true, doing it their way.


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.