'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 Orchestra.
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," English says.
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," English continues.



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