Ray Richmond: The night Cindy Williams got punk’d by Jim Morrison

In 1999, I wrote a book called “My Greatest Day in Show Business” that didn’t exactly fly off the shelves but that I was hugely proud of nonetheless. It featured 75 stories from celebrities ranging from Jack Lemmon to John Ritter, Katey Sagal to Judith Light, about the greatest day in their careers. Some were hilarious, others bittersweet, still others inspiring. But no one’s was better than the tale told to me by Cindy Williams, the beloved “Laverne & Shirley” star who died last Wednesday at 75.

Of all the people I spoke to, nobody was kinder, funnier and more down-to-earth than Cindy. Within 30 seconds of our phone conversation starting, it felt like we’d known each other forever. She was, in fact, the sweetest person in the public eye I’ve ever interviewed, and the only one I spoke to for that book whom I singled out for thanks in the acknowledgements. I was later told by several people that everyone Cindy dealt with felt similarly about her. For her and me, it was love at first “Hello.” Within 10 minutes, she was off to the races in talking about her greatest day in show business, which actually happened while she was waiting tables at a legendary nightclub before her career even launched. It’s an especially apt story to relate during Grammy Awards week.

SEE Cindy Williams, ‘Laverne and Shirley’ star, dead at age 75

I’ll let Cindy pick it up from there:

“It was the Summer of Love (1967). I was 21 and got this incredibly cool job as a cocktail waitress at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. My friends were all jealous, mainly because I got to work around live music. Live, fabulous music.

“So, it’s my first night working there, and the manager of the club, Mario, gives me the VIP section. I’d waited tables before, but never cocktails. My initiation as a waitress had been serving pancakes at the IHOP up the street. The other girls at the Whiskey had given me sort of a crash course, which was rooted mostly in the science of getting big tips. It involved the way you put down your tray when returning change. Very complex but proven methods. Really.

“Anyway, as I get to my first table, I’m very nervous and excited all at once, because this place is truly magical with all of the cool music and people. I mean, c’mon, it’s 1967! When I reach the table, I see there’s three girls and three guys, so I start taking orders, ladies first. I move around the table to get the guys’ orders, and as I look up from my little waitress pad and pen, I suddenly find myself staring into the eyes of Jim Morrison, from the Doors. The Jim Morrison!

“To have Jim Morrison at my first table went way beyond cool. It was just surreal. And my God, he was handsome. So I just stand there slack-jawed for what seems like an eternity before I can muster up the nerve – and the voice – to ask for the man’s drink order. The women have already ordered Tom Collinses. The two other men want double scotches. And now it’s Jim Morrison’s turn to order.

“‘I’ll have a bottle of Jack Daniel’s,’ he says as cool as can be.

“I hesitate a beat, and then write it down. The thought crosses my mind that I might not actually be able to serve him an entire bottle of liquor at his table, But then I caught myself and thought, hey, this is the Summer of Love. This is Jim Morrison. If the man wants a bottle of whiskey, I’m sure he can have a bottle of whiskey.

“So, I take this order back to the bartender, a very hip guy I instantly like named Tony. The minute Tony sees the ticket, he starts in.

“‘Hmmm…let’s see…Tom Collins…double scotch…bottle of Jack…Uh, Cindy, what’s this?’

“‘What?’ I reply, feigning ignorance.

“‘What’s with this bottle of Jack Daniel’s?’ Tony asks.

“Before I can reply, he says, ‘Wait, let me guess. Morrison’s in the club, isn’t he?’

“‘Yes!” I blurt out, hardly able to contain myself. ‘Isn’t it fantastic?’

“Tony was somewhat less impressed.

“‘You go right back there,” Tony ordered, ‘and you tell the little sonofabitch that he knows damn well I can’t serve him a bottle of Jack at his table. It’s illegal and he knows it.’

“‘Um,” I reply meekly, ‘maybe you could make an exception?’

“‘Go!’ orders Tony, handing me everyone else’s drinks.

“I head back to serve the rest of the table. I’m starting to tremble a bit as I get there, and I say to my illustrious cocktail customer, ‘Mr. Morrison, I am so sorry, but our bartender just told me that we can’t bring a bottle of Jack Daniel’s to your table.’ (I decided to leave out the “little sonofabitch” part.) ‘Can I bring you something else?’

“Morrison looks me right in the eye. God, he was so handsome. Did I mention that?

“‘Tony wouldn’t happen to be tending bar tonight, would he?’ Morrison asks.

“‘Um, yes,”‘ I reply.

“‘Well,” he says, ‘you tell that little bastard that I always get a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at my table, and he knows it, and that’s exactly what I’d like now!’

“Oh my God. Even when he was angry, he was just so damn gorgeous. It turns out Morrison also has a beautiful speaking voice, and I’m somewhat mesmerized, to say the least. All I can manage is, ‘Yes, sir,’ and I’m off to see Tony again.

“At this point, I’m thinking that a little begging can’t hurt.

“‘Can we just give Jim the bottle, Tony? Pretty please?’

“Now Tony gets really ticked.

“‘Do I have to go out there myself and re-explain our policy to this asshole again?’ he asks. ‘It’s very simple. No bottle at the table! Is that clear enough? If Morrison has a problem understanding that, tell him to get his rock star butt out of that chair and come deal with me!’

“I can see my short life as a cocktail waitress already flashing before my eyes. Back to the table I go.

“‘Mr. Morrison…I am so very sorry, but I just don’t think Tony is going to serve a bottle to…’

“‘Please try one more time,’ Morrison politely interrupts me, ‘or I’m afraid I’ll need to get up and go talk to the idiot myself.’

“Well, so now, I start to feel like I’m experiencing some sort of white-out. I’m just positive that these guys are going to start carving up each other’s faces any second, and I’m feeling lightheaded.

“I somehow manage to find my way back to Tony.

“‘Tony, PLEASE! He wants the bottle!’ I blubber, breathing heavily and starting to whimper. ‘Can’t you make this one exception?’

“Tony just glares at me like I’m some sort of termite.

“Back I go to Morrison. I feel like I’m not going to hold it together much longer. In fact, I’m not holding it together now.

“‘Oh M-M-Mister M-M-Morrison!’ I squeal between sobs, ‘please don’t get upset. There is no way I’m g-g-going to be able to s-s-s-serve you a b-b-bottle. I (sniff) don’t know what else to do. I’m just s-s-s-so (sniff) s-s-s-sorry.’

“At this point, I break down completely in tears. While I’m weeping like an idiot, Jim Morrison takes my hand, smiles up at me (God, more handsome than ever) and asks, ‘What’s your name, honey?’

“‘C-c-c-cindy,’ I sob.

“‘And this is your first night working here at the Whiskey, isn’t it?’

“‘Yes,’ I say, sniffling and whimpering.

“‘Well, Miss Cindy,’ Morrison starts, ‘me and my pal Tony have been playing a little joke on you here tonight. Just bring me a double.’

“I look over, and I see Tony and all the other waitress doubled over in laughter. I couldn’t believe it. It was all just one huge joke – on me.

“Standing there feeling like the world’s biggest sucker, I thought, ‘Whoa. Is this the coolest job in the world or what?’

“Morrison would come into the club nearly every night, drinking his Jack and reciting his poetry or singing a cappella as we closed up. It was an amazing time to be alive. He was always just so sweet to me after that night. (And do I need to say again how handsome?)

“Did I feel dumb after falling for the prank that night? Absolutely. But it was so totally worth it. This was Jim Morrison. It was the Summer of Love. And the leader of the Doors had taken me by the hand and called me Miss Cindy. Life could never get better than that.”

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