As we lay Penny Marshall to rest, I’d like to say thank you for you making America laugh in times when we needed more happiness and laughter. With Penny Marshall’s death, I feel a part of my youth has died with her. While I didn’t know much about her life, her character Laverne Defazio will always be sketched in my memory.
Her death brought back childhood memories. Laverne and Shirley was launched in 1976 when Gerald Ford was president. My parents weren’t wealthy, but middle class. My father worked for General Motors which had a plant in Linden, New Jersey thirty miles outside of Manhattan. My parents weren’t rich, but managed to acquire things like large, Zenith televisions.
During the mid-seventies before cable television, you had three channels: ABC, NBC and CBS. They covered everything from news to family programming. Laverne and Shirley came on Tuesday nights right after Happy Days, which was a hit show that spun it off.
I loved the show because Milwaukee was like any industrial city in the USA during that time period. When I was a child I loved driving in my fathers American made Chrysler down a highway built by Dwight Eisenhower and seeing the Manhattan skyline made with American steel and American labor. All of us, whether black, white or Native American loved this America because we didn’t have competition from massive waves of immigrants.
What I loved about Laverne and Shirley was they didn’t have to show flesh or say something raunchy to gain millions of viewers. The characters were easy to identify with, especially if you lived in New Jersey because every block had a Carmine Ragusa and a liberal like Penny Marshall. The conservatives would always fight with the bleeding heart, but their was no personal animus or acrimony. There were disagreements, but there were other issues that united the community because the economy helped maintain cohesion. However, as Democrats moved away from New Deal Politics to Identity Politics, the coalition of working Democrats came apart.
It makes me emotional because when Lavern began her show, I was definitely a Reagan Democrat. I grew up in a two parent household, and was opposed to women shirking parental responsibility for careers. I thought women were selfish for not being devoted to their kids.. I was devoutly Christian and Patriotic, hated Leftist radicals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, I didn’t want to hear the bad things America did, and adored Ronald Reagan. I detested the far left radicals that protested, looked for confrontation, and clashed with the far-left many times.
Truth was, this was the generation of Reagan, where men were supposed to be tough and show no emotion. It wasn’t that I was racist or sexist, I was raised in Lavern’s America where the thought that a woman could become your boss was unfathomable and homosexuality was forbidden and brought shame. Like many old school Democrats, abortion and gay rights pulled at the heart strings with conservative men such as myself. I wasn’t there and wasn’t interested in accepting this. Overtime I met many Republicans and Walkaways that were gay and many even follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
I attribute Penny Marshall for my evolution. She was a pioneer because many men like myself were closed minded about powerful women. Because of her I accept smart competent women leading a businesses, law firms and maybe even the White House. Penny opened doors, but rarely bragged about what she achieved, which I admire and respect about her.
Thank you for the laughs!