SNL Parody or One From the Vaults? ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’

| August 27, 2012 | 9 Comments

The older I get, the more amazed I am at the sorts of senior citizenry that suddenly appeal to me. No, I don’t bolt out of my seat and hobble up the aisle during the curtain call at a Broadway show, nor am I gumming a sensible dinner in my bathrobe at 4:30 in the afternoon while daydreams of having a fine bowel movement jitterbug in my head.

However, at 6:00 every Saturday night, my longtime live-in bachelor friend and I have, what we call, our “premium cocktail hour” while tuning into a rerun of The Lawrence Welk Show.

Kids, if you’re not familiar with this hour-long foray of charming musical banality, then look up from your incessant sexting and LOL’ing and pay attention. I’ll make it easy for you: Mr.Welk was the real-life bandleader that Fred Armisen parodies on Saturday Night Live with the funny accent who nearly chokes on the effects of an overheating bubble machine and introduces musical acts with Kristen Wiig playing the singer with the curiously high forehead and tiny baby arms. And for those of us who grew up watching The Lawrence Welk Show, which ran from 1955 to 1982, I can assure you, SNL’s version isn’t much of a parody, if truth be told.

At the height of discomania, while my newly divorced mother boogied Saturday nights away in our small Texas town, I was sent to my great-grandmother’s house where we’d watch The Lawrence Welk Show. She’d make my favorite dinner: a frozen pizza, crinkle cut oven fries, and fluorescent orange macaroni and cheese, paired with a Dr. Pepper sipped from a cartoon-covered jelly jar. As we cozied into our evening of processed cheese foods and cheese-ified entertainment, it’s safe to say that I knew, even then, how corny and square the show was — which was precisely its appeal. As a budding homosexualist I was dazzled by the kitschy awfulness and garish costumes and sets. And to this day, I can safely say that I’ve yet to see more nauseating color palettes.

Imagine my delight, as a full-grown camp-enthusing homosexualist, to discover that The Lawrence Welk Show now airs every week on PBS, which is now book-ended with highlights from the show by the now-elderly cast-members of yesteryear, all of whom are carefully pulled, dyed, tanned, and bleached, and still touring the show and delighting an audience weaned on “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”

Last year when my confirmed bachelor friend and I rediscovered Mr. Welk’s show, we decided to make that hour of musical milquetoast nostalgia even more special by serving vintage cocktails. While all the trendy mustachioed college dropouts are donning grandpa vests and brewing their own rutabaga bitters and quince peel liqueurs, I thought I’d get in on the fun and dig up some 1920’s and 1930’s recipes and try a new one out every week. Last week we made a “Blood and Sand” cocktail, created in honor of, and as a tie-in with, the premiere of Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 movie of the same name. The recipe is a cinch:

1 oz Scotch (It can be cheap; you’re mixing it so who cares?)
1 oz blood orange juice (It can be just plain O.J. from a carton, but no fucking Sunny D.)
¾ oz sweet vermouth (We use Martini & Rossi, and say “yes” just like the commercial.)
¾ oz Cherry Heering (find the little hobo-size bottles if you can’t spring for the big one)

Put ingredients in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, shake 10 seconds, strain into a rocks glass and add an attractive orange twist. This cocktail is flawless, as the gays say.

Once you’ve whipped up your premium cocktail, settle in with us for an hour of fine, wholesome toe-tapping goodness! But before you do, I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite things about The Lawrence Welk Show so you’ll be prepared.  Cheers!

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1. The Mind-Blowing Costuming
Costumes on The Lawrence Welk Show range from the simple and obvious sort of “community theater”-style pictured above, to psychedelic eyeball-melting monstrosities in sherbet shades and highly flammable fabrics. It’s never too much. Fuck subtlety. The point is, I assume some old queeny Hollywood set-dresser had a field day when he got the gig to costume this show. No seam is left un-frilled, no bangle or fringe is deemed unnecessary, and certainly no cliché is too hokey when clothing the singers and dancers for their numbers. Making a little kid? Knickers with high socks and a broad brim hat and a big droopy Fauntleroy bow at the neck is standard issue. Turn-of-the-century gowns are lousy with dingle-balls and doilies, and miles of gathered petticoats, and scores of fussy covered buttons.

And then there’s the animal costumes. Egads.

Like something from a childhood nightmare, the designers’ attempts at adorability fall flatly into “killer clown under the bed” territory. Of course, I love it all. And when they trot the young people out in their matching polyester blazers and Holly Hobby dresses for the big group sing-a-longs? I nearly lose my mind.

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2. Salli and Sandi
For years I assumed they were sisters, as their Stepford good looks and eerily similar singing voices led me to believe they were found by the stork in the same cabbage patch (as it is truly impossible to wrap your mind around the fact that anybody involved in Welk’s show ever came near a vaginal canal, least of all the sexlessly wholesome women).

Salli and Sandi debuted on The Lawrence Welk Show in the late 1960s, warbling in otherworldly unison, their sound like a smile would make if it could be sung. I adore them. They could always be counted on to sing the latest soft radio pop hits, and were never afraid to dress up in a silly costume or pile yet another wiglet on their already precariously tall bouffant wigs. It helped that they had cute little figures too, so that when Welk finally allowed his gals to show some knee (a previously fireable offense), Salli and Sandi could be counted on to don appropriately modest mini-skirts. At some point in the mid-1970s Salli found the “y” in her first name, married the show’s country singer, and left to do Broadway. Sandi hung around until the ‘80s, and both ladies continued to tour with the Welk cast for many years after. (It is unclear if Sandi ever found the “y” in her name.)

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3. The Beefcake
Gaze, (if you can do so without falling in love or ruining the upholstery you’re sitting on) into the piercing brown eyes of the dual-dynamo crooners, the Otwell twins. Swoon as the helmet-haired Tom Netherton thrills you with his sensual baritone and Ken Doll-looks. And try, just try, not to imagine yourself sweetly frolicking in the clover, wrapped in the manly arms of the show’s Irish tenor, Joe Feeney. Alright, I admit, Joe Feeney is a harder sell than the other singing automatons, but I can’t explain my panty-dropping attraction to Joe Feeney. Mr. Feeney had one of those faces that looked sixty even when he was twenty, and he appears to have the usual middle-aged paunch of a career lounge entertainer accustomed to an “on the house” t-bone steak and baked potato with all the fixin’s. But to hear him sing “Danny Boy” or “My Wild Irish Rose” is guaranteed to bring a blush to your cheeks, and I don’t mean the cheeks on your face. Eh, to each his own, as they say.

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4.Anacani
Everybody is wild about Anacani, although inexplicably her name is generally followed by “the Mexican Girl” whenever I am commiserating with other fans of the Welk Show. But simmer down, Lulac; it comes from love. Anacani (yes, no last name necessary) was unofficially presented as “the Mexican Girl” by the Welk Show every chance they could get, as she could always be counted on to stick a flower in her hair and shimmy around the stage in a slinky sequin number whilst singing jazzy numbers like “El Cumbanchero” or the achingly romantic “Bésame Mucho.” I have often wondered if Mary Lou, or Gail, or Ralna ever talked smack about the gorgeous Anacani, or perhaps disparaged her virtue or bemoaned her rapid rise to the top of The Lawrence Welk Show family. I mean, just look at her. Oh, the countless elderly men who found themselves pondering their flaccid members in the tool shed or basement, willing some sort of stirring down below as Anacani, the Welk Show “Lady in Red,” swayed slowly back and forth in close-up, a phallic Shure microphone grasped tenderly as it raised to her glossed lips, the first tender notes of “Perfidia” gushing lusciously from the string section…. good Lord. I just lost my mind and forgot I’m a homosexualist.

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 5. Geritol
Talk about knowing your television audience: The Lawrence Welk Show‘s audience was old people, most especially old ladies. Geritol was the decidedly unglamorous major sponsor of the show. Geritol products were bottles of a mildly alcoholic tonic to help with iron-deficient blood complaints for the anemic elderly set. I always assumed when I was a kid that just to open the box of a bottle of Geritol would flood the house with the musty smells of an old-folks home, the odor being the equivalent of the sound of a phlegmy cough, or the taste of calves liver. But Geritol must have really worked, because one had only to look at all those Me-Maws and Paw-Paws hopping and jerking to “Pennsylvania Polka” during the audience dance numbers. Sure, they may seem a bit self-conscious of the cameras, awkwardly navigating the stage with their prim smiles and dowdy double-knit pantsuits, but I have to tell you that those old-timers are workin’ it! I hope that when I’m their age, I can take such pleasure in something as simple as a sweet song well-played and sung by a pretty girl in a ball gown; and that I still have the gumption to get up and shake a shriveled leg, not even caring what some snippy twit is going to write one day on some kitschy-ass gay blog.

In the meantime, I’m going to do what Mr. Welk would always say at the end of his shows — I’m just going to keep a song in my heart; well that, and a gin gimlet in my belly, or some other fancy old-timer’s cocktail. And until then…

“…Here’s a wish, and a prayer that every dream comes true. And now ‘til meet again! Adios! Au revoir! Auf wiedersehen! Good night!”

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Category: Analyze, Featured

About the Author ()

Patrick Johnson is a performer, costumer, and curmudgeon who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the part that is not awful. He is currently readying his debut album of neo-vaudeville self-loathing tunes entitled, Mister Patty Bruce: "Show Queen." Please "like" Patrick at: Facebook.com/pages/Mister-Patty-Bruce-Show-Queen

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  1. I LOVE watching the Lawrence Welk Show on PBS!!! I could not bear 1 minute of it as a child, now as an adult I find it to be more surreal than Yellow Submarine, Pink Floyd, or John Waters. Fascinating, compelling, bizarre!

  2. Buck Jones says:

    I agree – it was/is surreal. I can only imagine watching it now with a gaggle of gays and a fresh cocktail in my hand. It is the definition of camp. Great post! Loved the recipe for the cocktail, and I think we all were “enjoying” the LWS eating the same wonderfully prepared meals as kids.

  3. Donald Caputo says:

    Fabulous! Thank you Patrick for a wonderful trip back to the camp and bubbles. I still watch, always contemplating how I would look in a mustard leisure suit. Now I’ll just do it with a Scotch Old-Fashioned.

  4. jackson says:

    Still on on Saturdays at 6 in Scranton (WVIA). Don’t ask how I know that…

  5. Heidi Ross says:

    Reminds me so much of my parents, God love ’em! I took three years of tap because of this show. My mother wanted me to dance with that terrifficc black man that smiled so pleasing while tapping up a blue blaze!

  6. filthy the clown says:

    I think I know why Joe Feeney appeals to you…he bears a striking resemblance to the Coach Reindeer from Rudolph whom I believe you also have the hots for. Great article!

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