The Everett Collection

Eddie Mekka loved doing a little song and dance as a second career

Eddie Mekka is best known for his role as Carmine "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa in Laverne & Shirley. "The Big Ragoo" was Shirley's high school sweetheart; he was also a part-time boxer, painter, singer and dancer at Frank DeFazio's: The Pizza Bowl. 

In other words, "The Big Ragoo" had many skills that qualified him for many jobs, just like the actor who played him, Eddie Mekka. Mekka and his character were trying to make it in the entertainment industry and on Broadway.

In a 1978 interview with Fort Lauderdale News, Mekka said that although the two had a lot in common, he could do a much better song and dance than Carmine.

Mekka performed on Broadway and was even nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in The Lieutenant. Mekka's style of song and dance was modeled after two of his biggest inspirations: Tony Bennett and Gene Kelly.

 According to Mekka, he was told he got the part of "The Big Ragoo" the morning after he auditioned. He added: "I didn't even have an agent yet!"

Laverne & Shirley producers saw Mekka as an "Italian-type boxer," but they had no idea he could sing and dance at the time of casting.

"When they found out it got to be sort of a joke," Mekka said in a 1980 interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Every time the writers got stuck, they said, 'Ok, this is a good place for Eddie to sing and dance."

In the interview, Mekka described Penny Marshall as a fabulous lady, and when asked about Cindy Williams, he said: "Let's just say I get paid to kiss her."

He realized his ambitions to become a recording artist at the start of Laverne & Shirley, and his success as "The Big Ragoo" helped influence his decision. He realized he was more than a side character; he was the show.

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