I was so surprised that he hired me. It was amazing working with him and Maggie. She has always been so nice to me and has one of the greatest senses of humor. She was as beautiful a person as you can imagine.
You then did American graffiti, which was one of the hottest movies of the 1970s and for which you received a British Academy Award nomination. Did you realize you were making such a special movie?
We all thought we were doing like a Roger Corman hot rod movie. There were no changing rooms, no hair or makeup. George described it to Ron Howard and me as a musical when he met us before we made the movie. Two weeks later, George invited us all to San Francisco, where he was editing. He showed us a 20 minute assembly of the film he had edited with music. At the end, there was dead silence in the room, except for Harrison. He turned around and said, “This is really great.” He didn’t fucking say.
The film was a huge success. What has this meant for your career?
It certainly sparked some of it. It was the peak of my career. It was the big start.
George must have been impressed with you. You auditioned to play Princess Leia in Star wars.
I’m showing the audition on the show, and I’m talking about George talking to the casting while we were doing American graffiti to have that little space movie he was going to make. I don’t want to tell the story.
How did you feel about going from such a busy film career to a sitcom at that point? Few people did. Did you feel like it was jeopardizing your film career?
No, that was the end. I remember I was up for a big movie, and I was doing Laverne & Shirley, and they called me over and said, “We would hire you, but you’re too recognizable as Shirley” and I realized that was the end of it. But what a way to go. What a way to end a film career, with a fabulous TV series.
Did you enjoy performing in front of a live studio audience more?
I would much prefer to play in front of this audience. Not that I don’t like movie audiences, I’m not saying that. I should just say our audience temperament was so much fun. They weren’t trying to criticize you. They weren’t looking to do anything but have fun. Penny and I always thought that if it made us laugh in rehearsal, it would make the audience laugh. We were right. We weren’t recognized by our peers, but we didn’t care. I mean, we had a bigger goal, and that was to make everyone laugh.