No, that’s not Natalie Portman, although Cindy Williams thought it was.
I met Cindy Williams at a collector show in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A two-plus hour drive from my house, this particular show offered something for both Mrs. Pincus and myself. It boasted a large variety of vendors selling antiques and assorted collectibles, something my wife loves to peruse, eventually wheeling and dealing on the final prices. For me, there was the appeal of several celebrity guests, brought in by the show’s organizer to entice folks (like me) to attend.
Set up at long tables among the vendors, celebrities would display glossy photos of scenes spanning their careers, available with a personalized inscription for a nominal fee. I collected autographed photos for years and the prices were pretty reasonable when I started. Now, things have gotten way out of hand, with different prices for each additional ala carte service. An autographed picture? Sure! Forty dollars. A color picture? Add ten to that. Oh, you brought something to be signed? That’ll be sixty dollars. Wait, that item you brought is pretty big. Make that a hundred dollars. You want to take a picture with me? That’s another twenty.
At this show, the special guests were Cindy Williams and her friend, actress Lynne Marie Stewart. Cindy, of course, is best remembered as the perky eternal optimist “Shirley Feeney” on the popular 70s sitcom Laverne & Shirley. Lynne played “Miss Yvonne, the most beautiful woman in Puppet Land” on the Saturday morning kids show send-up Pee Wee’s Playhouse. She also appeared in George Lucas’s 1973 love letter to his youth American Graffiti with Cindy Williams.
The two ladies were seated at a long folding table laden with shiny stills highlighting their career accomplishments and they were chatting. While my wife was deep in price negotiations with a nearby vendor, I approached the two actresses with my then teenage son, who was not exactly thrilled to be there. He was wearing a long, almost floor-length, black overcoat with silver clasps down the front. Cindy turned towards us, smiled and began to make a fuss over my son’s jacket. I mean she stood up and leaned over to examine it, narrowing her eyes and delivering a stream of compliments. I told them both that I was a devoted fan and I selected a photo from each of their respective inventory to be autographed and eventually added to my collection. Let me tell you… Cindy was adorable! She was friendly and talkative and engaging and very sweet. Lynne was charming, as well. I thanked the two ladies for their time and we began to walk away from their table, with Cindy still going on about my son’s coat. My son’s demeanor changed a bit, after his taste in wardrobe was given such praise and validation by that woman who lives in a Milwaukee basement apartment on that TV show and caps beer bottles for a living.
Many years later, Mrs. Pincus and I found ourselves at another Maryland collector show, this one a mere 14 miles from Gaithersburg in the tiny municipality of Cockeyville (I am not making that up). This little hamlet is the home of the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention (MANC), a three- day gathering of vendors, lecturers, fans and, of course, celebrities. I’ve been to MANC and I have even written about several adventures there. On this day in 2017, Cindy Williams was in attendance. Since I had already obtained Cindy’s autograph, I decided to present her with an original Josh Pincus portrait… of her, not of me. (It’s the one at the top of this page that you and Cindy thought was Natalie Portman.)
MANC was set up in a similar fashion to other shows. Aisle after aisle of books, toys and novelties informally illustrating a history of pop culture from the Golden Days of Radio right through present day. In the center of a large hotel ballroom was a corral of tables, behind which sat the likes of Larry Storch, Dawn Wells and a number of other names from television’s formable years. Among these folks was Cindy Williams in a maroon blazer and still looking great. I waited behind a couple who were wrapping up their little chat with Cindy and when they moved away, I sidled up to her table. I explained that we had met years earlier and that I just wanted to give her something. I withdrew the color drawing from a manila envelope and handed it across the table to Cindy. She kvelled (as “my people” say). I had heard her kvell before when she went on about my son’s jacket. This was very similar. She laughed a little, pointing out that my drawing made her look like Natalie Portman, adding that was not a bad thing, as she explained that Natalie Portman was beautiful in her opinion. Cindy asked me about my artwork and about being an artist. She seemed genuinely interested. We spoke for a few minutes and Laverne & Shirley or television or movies or show business never breached the conversation.
Then, to my surprise, she said: “Please! Let me give you a picture! I insist!”
She picked up a color shot of herself and co-star Penny Marshall in character from Laverne & Shirley and wrote the following to my wife and me:
Love & Thanks
Josh & Susan
Cindy (Natalie P.) Williams
AKA Shirley F.
She thanked me again for the drawing and for coming by to say “Hello.”
Cindy was truly a sweetheart and one of the nicest, most genuine and down-to-earth celebrities I have met. Her passing was unexpected… and sad.