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Eddie Mekka Remembered

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There was a time in the seventies and eighties when Eddie Mekka was everywhere.

He was on Happy Days twice and he starred in the failed sitcom Blanskys Beauties. He  was on game shows like The 10,000 Dollar Pyramid, The 25,000 Dollar Pyramid, and Tattletales. He was on Circus with the Stars several times, one year being chained in a cage and lowered into a swimming pool, where he somehow managed to escape. He did appearances on Love Boat and Fantasy Island, chatted with Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore.

But the Massachusetts-born, Berklee College of Music-educated Eddie Mekka will go down in TV history as Laverne and Shirley’s Carmine Ragusa, the headliner of the Pizza Bowl and the guy who loved Shirley Feeney.

Mekka started off on Broadway in the rock opera The Lieutenant. The show didn’t last long, but enough for him to get a Tony nomination for Best Actor.  He decided to try his luck in Hollywood, and landed the role of the wildly charismatic Carmine Ragusa on the Happy Days spinoff Laverne & Shirley. On the show she and Shirley (Cindy Williams) dated but dated other people as well. He sang at the Pizza Bowl (the place Laverne’s father owned) and if you needed someone to belt out “Rags to Riches” he was your guy.

In real life, Mekka rand the Worcester County Light Opera, where he taught kids how to sing and on the show Carmine ran a dancing school. At least once a season, there was an episode where he danced with Laverne and Shirley.  When he danced he had this look of pure happiness in his eyes. He was in his joy school, following his bliss.  He got the same look when he sang. One time the show ended with the cast on the stoop, singing “Milwaukee Moon.” All of them sang beautifully, then he danced with Betty Garrett (Mrs. Babish) who until L&S was best known for MGM musicals. Watching them you could see they were all in their element. It’s also bittersweet to watch now: Only two people are alive from the cast.


There were many complaints about Laverne and Shirley, mostly that Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams didn’t get along, that the scripts were not great, etc. Yet Eddie Mekka always delivered as Carmine. In 1977, he did two roles at once: Carmine and Joey DeLuca, Carmine’s  cousin (yes, this is a sitcom trope) who choreographed showgirls routines in the fledgling Nancy Walker sitcom Blanskys Beauties. The show was considered by Wikipedia as a “complete flop” so Mekka returned full time to Laverne and Shirley.

In 1980, the gang moved to Los Angeles. Carmine moved as well, wanting to get his big break. Two years later,  he and Shirley finally broke up when she married Dr. Walter Meany (yes, another trope rhyming names)  When I saw that, I knew it was wrong because Shirley and Carmine were endgame. They were darned cute together, him calling her “Angel Face” when they kissed. When he got hot and bothered, she sent him home to take a cold shower. To dump Carmine for a character we never knew didn’t make sense. But it was the  last season, and things were going haywire backstage (Cindy Williams had to be written out due to problems with Garry Marshall and him wanting her to work on her due date)  The show ended with the last episode Carmine moving to New York and getting ready to star in a new musical, Hair. 

Mekka continued to act in sitcoms ranging from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and had a recurring role as Grady on Guiding Light in the 90s. In 1992, Penny Marshall cast him to be Madonna’s dance partner in A League of Their Own. When I saw him on the big screen, I poked the person I was with and exclaimed, “It’s Carmine! It’s Carmine!

Aside from appearing in over 50 television programs, Mekka also appeared onstage in Fiddler On The Roof, It Had To Be You (with Cindy Williams), and Hairspray.

Mekka died at his home in Newhall, California at 69.

He’s survived by his daughter Mia and his wife Yvonne Marie Grace.