David L. Lander, better known as Squiggy on '70s hit Laverne & Shirley, has an eye for talent. Suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Lander nonetheless serves as a scout for the Seattle Mariners. B&C’s Michael Malone rode the bench in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park with the Bronx-reared Lander on a recent afternoon to discuss his start in acting, what it was like to live with the Doors, and who’s going to take the World Series this fall.
You went to the High School of Performing Arts, better known as the “Fame” school, in New York. Any classmates that went on to be famous?
Ben Vereen–I think he was a dance major. He was in my economics class and he’d come in so pissed off. He looked like a hood–he’d drop his books on his desk like he was a tough guy. All the tough guys were in the dance department, which took away some of their toughness. You’d see these real tough guys coming at you, guys from the Fashion Institute, and they’d look real bad and you’d move out of their way. Then they’d pass you and you’d see “Fashion” on the back of their jackets.
What prompted you to be an actor?
My parents were both teachers in the NYC school system, and in those days you could afford a Broadway show on a teacher’s salary. We saw West Side Story the first month it was open, sat in the orchestra for $4.60. That was my first favorite show. As I got older, I liked people like Bobby Morse in How to Succeed…, Zero Mostel in The Rhinoceros. You’d watch these people and imitate them. It just seemed like something I liked.
What was it like moving to L.A. in the ‘60s?
I took my life savings, $400, with me. When I got off the plane I had a lot of phone numbers that people had given me but none of them worked. My cousins were living in Long Beach–they were going to be my last resort and they ended up being my first resort. I also remember staying with the Doors, or Jim Morrison at least, because a girl I knew from college drove me there.
You stayed with the Doors?
Yeah, they had a big house in Venice. I ran into this girl I knew at Carnegie Tech, and she had a car, and she said “Where are you staying?” I said, “I don’t know, just here and there,” and she said, “Oh, stay with us–we’re in the big house in Venice, with the Doors.” I said, “OK.”
But I really didn’t spend that much time with Jim because he was sleeping all the time. There were a lot of girls who were sort of his groupies. They were in charge of the cooking, and they always seemed to be cooking spaghetti. All the time it was spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti.
Are you in touch with the old castmates from Laverne & Shirley?
Michael McKean [who played Squiggy’s pal Lenny] I saw when he was out here doing The Pajama Game. That was fun. Me and him started as best friends—there was Lenny and Squiggy before there was Laverne & Shirley.
How did you meet?
At Carnegie Tech, which is now Carnegie Mellon–we were both drama students. We met around the first week; it just seemed like we had a sense of humor that made the other person laugh, so that’s usually what starts off being a friendship.
Did you play on the Happy Days softball team way back when?
We used to say, “We ain’t in Happy Days–you want somebody in Happy Days, get yourself a Potsie.” [Laughs] We did play against Happy Days–that was the closest we came.
I would never know you have Multiple Sclerosis if I hadn’t read it on your Website [davidlander.com]. In what ways are you not 100%?
My balance is kind of crappy. Today is sort of good, I’m walking OK. But I can’t walk long distances. I can walk in this park today without needing any assistance, but if I had to walk six blocks further, I would say by about the third block I would be wobbling noticeably.
What are you watching these days?
I watch an awful lot of baseball games. I have the baseball package, and that’s just so seductive. I like 24, but who doesn’t? I like Seinfeld.
How did you get started scouting baseball?
I was a 5% owner of the Portland Beavers, who were the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple A club at the time. I got friendly with certain people, like Bobby Fontaine, who was in the scouting department of the Montreal Expos. Bobby became the head of the Angels’ farm system, so they called me up and asked me if I wanted to scout for them. Now he’s over at Seattle, and asked me to join him.
What exactly is your role?
Because I travel so much, I can see a lot of games–major league games, minor league games. If I see somebody that I don’t know, I find out how much the current administration is hot for this guy, and he’s the one that I’ll be looking for. You can kind of discover someone who might be good in the Seattle Mariners’ plans.
Do you think the Mets can win the whole thing this year?
I don’t know, the whole thing is an awful big thing to win. I frankly can’t see how anybody in American League could lose it–I just think the American League is so much stronger.
What was your team growing up?
The Pittsburgh Pirates. Growing up in New York, try that on for size.
How did that come to be?
I was 4 years old, and my brother was 8. A 4-year-old wants to do everything his big brother does, so I wanted to be a baseball fan, and I wanted to be a Yankee fan because I loved Joe DiMaggio. But I didn’t know that Joe DiMaggio had retired that year. I was surprised that Joe DiMaggio wasn’t a position. I thought, “Well somebody else will be Joe DiMaggio.”
Then I said no, the Yankees can’t be my team anymore. And then me and my dad went to a ballgame and I guess the Pirates were playing and he got a little pennant for me. And I remember saying, “Pittsburgh Pirates”–I just loved the way that name sounded. So that will be my team.