Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Lawrence Welk Show

If you missed out on this, eithr in real time or on pBS reruns, consider yourself lucky . . . very lucky.

Long ago in a faraway place, or maybe in a place very nearby, people used to gather around their television sets, which were black and white until sometime in the 1960's, to watch a disaster in television musical variety history history known as "The Lawrence Welk Show." My mom says her parents watched it, though not religiously, and with an element of snark that made the viewing of it bearable. To my dad's parents, however, "The Lawrence Welk Show" was second only to "The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Spoken Word" in both quality of musical taste, presentation, and overall importance. Much of what my dad would have seen must have been PBS reruns, but it did not matter to my parents.  It was "culture" to them, and it needed to be imparted to their children.  My dad tried to spend as many Saturday nights at his best friend Jerry's house, as his parents were Cuban immigrants and didn't, thank God, appreciate the imortance of Lawrence Welk and his merry band of unmusical halfwits.

In fairness to Mr. Welk's cast, there were a few genuinely talented performers who drifted through the cast on occasion while on their way to bigger and better things or simply while trying to pay the bills.  Because my mom's older sisters saw some of the real thing, they have memories of watching for the Lennon Sisters each week until the ladies wised up and took their talent elsewhere. (Some of them are still performing live in Branson , Missouri.)  The Lennons had a beautiful sibling blend, and were pretty women who looked much prettier after they were no longer forced to wear some of the inane costumes the Welk costume department dug from the apparent rejects of  Catholic thrift stores,  the Goodwill,  Salvation Army bins, or  similar sources.

My parents saw the Lennons perform in Vegas shortly after their marriage, and had a chance to meet them afterward. My mom said they seemed to be very down-to-Earth, genuine people.  Sadly, their father was murdered by a crazy person in one of the earlier celebrity stalking events that ended in violence. Some guy named Chet was reading movie magazines, which were prevalent back in the 60's early 70's. These magazines printed roughly 90% lies, and most celebrities about whom they lied didn't even bother suing them because the magazines  would simply fold and change names, and tracking down the people actually involved in perpetrating the lies became very difficult. Anyway, this nutcase named Chet  was reading through the lines of the movie magazines, much as more modern schizophrenics sometimes get their messages from the cryptic words and phrases one must sometimes type in to leave a comment. (I have a sanity-challenged cousin who records these words and non-words in a journal and prays about how they should direct his life; anytime my mom gets word of him doing anything really nutty, she calls both the FBI and his local law enforcement, because she's convinced he's going to eventually be responsible for an incident such as Sandy Hook or Aurora; the police try to keep tabs on him, but they don't have enough evidence to put him in a lock-up mental health facility. We tell everyone in that part of the family [except for my grandma; she's as afraid of him as we are]only our P.O. box that's in another town than where we reside, but, if one invests enough resources, one can find almost anyone, although we float false addresses and do have an elaborate security/alarm system;  he hasn't threatened us or anyone else as far as we know, but neither did the Sandy Hook shooter, to the best of my knowledge.)

Anyway, the crazy person, Chet, thought he and Peggy Lennon, the second eldest of the Lennon children, even though she was married and had several children already, were destined to be together. Chet thought the only person or thing keeping them apart was Bill Lennon, the Lennon Sisters' father and manager.  He caught up with Mr. Lennon one day while Mr. Lennon was arriving at a golf course one day with one of his sons. He shot and killed him point-blank. It was a terrible tragedy, and it happened somewhere in the midst of the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King shootings and the Manson murders.  My mom was maybe two when it happened, so she really doesn't remember any of it, but her sisters were devastated.  The Lennons by that time, I think had a musical variety show of their own independent of Welk's debacle, and continued with their show with heightened security.

Another at least semi-talented member of Welk's cast at one time was his daughter-in-law, Tanya, who started out as being no relation to him and  but at some point became his daughter in-law.  She didn't last too terribly long as either his cast member or his daughter-in-law, but she harmonized well with some other members of the cast and had a decent enough solo voice. I don't know what she did after leaving Welk's show. She probably went on to perform lounge acts in Vegas or somewhere similar. Whatever she did, she made  good decision in separating herself from Mr. Welk and his band of music-less cretins. I doubt that she would have been given her share of solos or even featured trios after parting ways with Lawrence Welk, Jr.

Some man named Ken Delo also had a decent voice and harmonized well with the Welk daughter-in-law and a few others.

A lady named Ralna English had a nice if countrified voice. She was hired first, then convinced Mr. Welk to hire her husband Guy something or other. Their sound was decidedly country, but their voices mixed nicely. One of my favorite Welk memories was of Lawrence himself announcing [I think] Guy and Ralna singing what Welk described as a "modern-day spiritual."  The song was "One Toke Over the Line." I wonder if Welk, with his limited English  (German was his native language even though he was born in North Dakota), had even a clue that the term "one toke over the line" was a drug reference. I have to assume no, but then, maybe Mr. Welk was more hip than anyone would have guessed. I'd say the chances were highly dubious, though.

When the Lennon Sisters saw the light and  left, Welk tried without success to replace them with a variety of related and non-related female singing groups. The most notorious of these replacement groups was, as Mr. Welk frequently referred to the, "The Lovely Semonski Sisters."  Even with beauty being in the eye of the beholder and talent sometimes being within the ear of the same, these sisters were neither lovely nor talented.  Some were  little prettier than others, and some had better voices than others, but they had neither the prettiness nor the voices in and of themselves than did the sisters they were supposed to cause us all to forget about, much less the sibling blend despite being full siblings (unless the Maytag man played a role in some of their conceptions). Not all siblings who sing have voices that blend.

I'm sure I've written about these Lennon Sisters wannabes before, but I must once gain describe the impact they had on my musical development. The Semonskis were half Polish and half Irish, and presumably Catholic, as were the Lennon Sisters. The Lennons emerged in an era when most practicing Catholics took the ban on artificial birth control very literally and very seriously. The Lennon family had ten surviving children. (Little Mary Lennon was run over by a car as a one-year-old.)

The Semonski Sisters numbered six, although it's unknown as to whether any additional Semonski sisters,or for that matter, brothers, existed. If there were more Semonski siblings, excluding them from the performing group would have been arbitrary, as neither looks nor talent seemed at face value to have been  criteria for inclusion in the performing group. For whatever reason, the eldest five Semonski sisters appeared to be relatively close in age to the extent that it would have been different for someone who didn't know them to place them in order chronologically. The youngest Semonski, who may (or may not) have been named Michelle, was noticeably younger by several years than the next older Semonski.   One can only surmise as to the reason for this. Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Semonski had a long-running feud, at which time Mr. Semonski  spent several years sleeping on the living room sofa. Perhaps Mrs. Semonski had a crisis of faith of sorts, at which time she figuratively told Pope Paul to take a flying leap into the Mediterranean Sea while she took her contraceptive pills regularly before she eventually repented and found her way back to Natural Family Planning. (What do you call people who use the rhythm method as a form of birth control?  Parents.) Perhaps it was neither; it may have been divine intervention at work  all along  , as the world was not yet ready for Michelle Semonski.

Regardless for the reason, Michelle appeared to be much younger than her sisters, and made the most of her relative youth while the cameras were rolling. Michelle could teach university courses on how to mug for  cameras while performing if such courses existed or were needed.  The footage I've seen of her in the PBS reruns I've watched with my paternal grandmother remind me very much of Patty McCormick in  the old movie "The Bad Seed."  Welk might just as well have stuck Juliette Lewis on stage with the Semonskis and glued an over-sized bow to the back of her head. She would have been more believable as a pure and seraphic child than Michelle Semonski was.  If the smile was intended by Welk's producers to be angelic, they got it all wrong. I've seen  more sincere smiles in footage of the Manson followers being led in cuffs and chains to their courtrooms or back to their cells. Michelle's smile would be describe as sinister at best, and more aptly, as depraved and malevolent, or as evil incarnate.

This Semonski performance occurred after Semonski #1 left to embark on her highly succesful solo career Ithink, or maybe she's just not visible in this portion of the video.

Enough of bad musical variety television. This blog has ended. Go now to love and serve the Lord and to snark on TWOP or wherever else you find such activity suitable and satisfying.


  1. Amazing, Alexis. Lawrence Welk is another one of my obsessions. Have you seen the video in which they perform "One Toke Over The Line"? Check out YouTube. It's hilarious.

    I love watching the Lennon Sisters sing "Sugartime", though I share your opinion of the Semonski Sisters... except when they do the "Beer Barrel Polka".

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. First Lawrence Welk found Sandi and Sally at BYU, who were not even related (only Sandi, the redhead was Mormon; I don't know what Sally Flynn was doing at BYU)and tried to pass them off as the reason no one needed to miss the Lennons. Sandi and Sally sang in unison until roughly the final two notes of each song. Then Welk had that pair of sisters that sang with the set of twin brothers. Then he finally found the Semonskis. He may as well have given up on the idea of finding another musical family since Andy Williams had the Osmonds and his viewers weren't quite ready for the Jcksons. (Actually, Lawrence Welk's best bet, if he was so intent on having another musical family as part of his "musical family" would have been to ask George Osmond to refer a few groups to him for auditions, as George would've had tons of musical LDS families begging him to help them get their big break. It wasn't Lawrence Welk's way to ask anyone for advice or help about anything, though. He knew it all.) He also could've tried to get the Boone Sisters as well. He might not have been willing to pay what Pat wanted for the girls' services, though. Welk was known to pinch a penny pretty tightly but to gradually give stock in the corporation to long-standing workers as a way of rewarding loyalty.

    In Welk's book "This I Believe," he discussed how he was against mimimum wage in general and mimimum performers' salaries. His idea was that if a worker was willing to work for less, why was it any of the government's business? This sounds racist of me, but if he didn't like the way things were done in America, perhaps he should have gone back to the part of the Ukraine from where his parents immigrated and were welcomed by the U.S.

    He grew up in Strasburg, North Dakota, named for the region of the Ukraine from which much of the original white population which settled that part of North Dakota immigrated. They had immigrated from Germany to the Ukraine because they felt discriminated against as Catholics. The schools in Strasburg, ND at that time taught in the German language. They had originally tried to teach the children in English, but without the backing of the parents, they were getting nowhere, so they gave up and taught in German. If the parents had been more supportove, maybe Lawrence would have spoken better English. It's a bit pathetic for someone born and raised on American soil to have such a limited command of the language.

    In any event, as an American, I resent his having been so critical of the way things are done here.

    According to the Lennons, they were considering leaving the Welk show and hadn't decided for sure. (There was very little time off while working for Welk, as touring with the group in the summer was mandatory. The Lennons except for Kathy all had families by that time, and even Kathy was married.) Lawrence got wind of the Lennons'n indecision and didn't renew their contracts. The Lennons learned that they were being axed when members of the cast and crew would sneak up to them and tell them how much they were going to be missed during the rehearsal and taping of what would be the Lennons' final show with Welk. Lawrence didn't mind people leaving him, or so he said, but he wanted them to come to him for advice. The man had a decent-sized ego on him.

  4. Man... Now I have another book to find.

  5. The person writing this article sure thinks they "know it all". They think just cause they write all that, that it's true. I think there was lots of talent on the Lawrence Welk show including the "Semonski sisters".

    1. I expressed my opinion. Talent is often in the eye or ear of the beholder. You're free to have a difference of opinion, and I will not even trash talk you for expressing it.

    2. My husband and I enjoy the show, more so when in black and white . At our age we get a ten for nostalgia that this show fulfills. I enjoyed your blog, am new to all this electronic media stuff, so bear with me as I wish you well in a great future. Keep wring , you're very good .

    3. I probably like the black and whites more as well if only because the Lennon Sisters are in more of them

  6. I thoroughly enjoy the reruns. I also think there was a number of very talented musicians on the show. I look forward to watching it every week I can.

  7. I thoroughly enjoy the reruns. I also think there was a number of very talented musicians on the show. I look forward to watching it every week I can.

    1. I enjoy some of the rerun as well, thuogh probably not for the same reso as you do. that being said, there were definitely talented musicians within the troupe. Probably everyone in the band was highly skilled, and a few singers were gifted as well. I don't think the how ever quite rebounded after losing the Lennons.

  8. This was hilarious and well written! All 30 years have been saturated by this cheeseball variety show. It has its moments for sure, but everything is just so whitewashed and polished it becomes insufferable. You really know your Lawrence Welk and I actually learned a lot!
    This is my favorite Semonski Sisters clip, just because it's so hilariously bizarre. Not only do they sound really bad, but their parents are in the clip too, and their Dad is apparently a pirate. And then the random "garlic" dude comes in from the audience and talks to Mr. Welk about welfare. It's SO WEIRD, but fantastic!