'Lawrence Welk Show's' Bubble
Doesn't Burst on Stage
- by Robert Digiacomo
- Atlantic City Press - At
the Shore magazine
- February 22, 2002
"The Lawrence Welk Show" is one of television's longest
survivors. The wholesome music hour has been a Saturday night
staple for more than 50 years, despite the decline in popularity
of the traditional variety show and original host and creator
Welk's death in 1992.
- That sense of tradition is
key to its longevity, says Ralna English, a veteran tV cast member
appearing in "The 'Live' Lawrence Welk Show" this weekend
at the Tropicana.
- "I think generation
after generation has shared it with their children and grandchildren,"
says English from her Scottsdale, Ariz. home. "It became
a family tradition to watch the show on Saturday night. It's
a show the whole family can sit down together and watch together.
That's rare on television these days."
- Joining English at the Tropicana
for a night of "champagne music" will be a sampling
of familiar Welk faces, including Mary Lou Metzger, billed as
"Lawrence Welk's favorite dancing partner"; and marimba-playing
Jack Imel; jazz clarinetist Henry Cuesta; and country singer
Ava Barber. They will be backed by the 11-piece Lawrence Welk
- The tour originates form
the Champagne Theater at the Welk Resort in Branson, Mo., where
regulars like the Lennon Sisters perform throughout the year.
(There is a second Welk Resort near San Diego in Escondido, Calif.).
- Now airing mostly as reruns
on PBS, the Welk show "appeals to everyone from 3-years-old
to 95-years-old," English says.
- "In Canada last year,
a lady came up to me with her 12-year-old daughter. She told
me, when (her daughter) was 3 years old, 'we were flipping through
channels and she made us stop on 'The Lawrence Welk Show."
We've been watching it ever since.
- English, a native of Spur,
Texas, never planned to be a regular on the Welk Show, either
- let alone spend the bulk of her career there. When she was
asked to appear on the program in December, 1969, the young singer
thought it would be a one-time-only appearance.
- "I wasn't even going
to do the show," English recalls. "I wanted to do one
for my grandmother, who had never really heard me sing. I wanted
to do one for her because she loved the show so much."
- Her debut was so well received
that Welk asked her to join the cast of the show, which then
aired on NBC.
- "I was not sure I wanted
to do that," recalls English, who was performing at The
Horn in Santa Monica, Calif., a launching pad for Jim Nabors,
Jack Jones and Steve Martin.
- "I had just gotten married.
My husband thought I was nuts not to do a network show. I decided
maybe I would, and certainly it has been a wonderful career for
me. I was meant to be there all these years."
- As longtime Welk fans know,
English's then-husband, singer Guy Hovis, would soon follow in
his wife's footsteps, joining the cast a few months later. The
two, divorced since 1984, have a grown daughter, Julie, and Hovis
continues to be associated with the Welk Show.
- Having spent most of her
career affiliated with Welk, English gleaned some key performing
tips from the late bandleader and host, whose mispronunciations
('wunnerful, wunnerful') were fodder for comedians of the day.
- "I learned a lot from
him," English explains. "I learned discipline. when
you're young, you're not so disciplined. When you get older,
you realize it's very, very important.
- "He was a great performer.
People don't realize he was very charismatic. he was probably
the most charismatic performer on stage. The audience was totally
drawn to him."
- While some may view the Welk
show as corny by today's slick, MTV-generation standards, English
says the formula still clicks with TV audiences.
- Reruns of the show, with
newly taped introductions and closings by longtime cast members,
each week are watched by 2.5 million viewers on some 275 PBS
stations. A 50th anniversary special, "Lawrence Welk Milestones
& Memories," which premiered in March, 2001, is considered
one of the top three PBS fundraising programs ever.
- "We're still n and it
doesn't look like there's any end in sight at this point,"
- The scheduled March 25 edition
of CNN's "Larry King Live" will mark the show's 50-plus
years; it was originally scheduled to air last fall, but was
bumped because of the events of Sept. 11.
- "It's amazing ... the
only thing we can figure is that generations have shared it,"