Ah Christmas music. Either you love it or you hate it, but no matter what you just can’t escape it! Well you can call me a masochist if you wish, but personally I love it and for more then a decade I have been cultivating a large collection of holiday music. The secret about Christmas music is all about weeding through the junk and finding the gems. Just as with every other genre of music, for every five bad Christmas songs, one good one is recorded. So this holiday season that’s what I’m going to do for you. Presented here are ten of the gems from my holiday CD collection. Trust me; it was actually very difficult to narrow it down to just ten albums. There is a hell of a lot of good Christmas music out there, so many of my favorite Christmas albums are not included here, but these ten albums are guaranteed to bring the Christmas spirit to even the most cynical of hearts.
Gene Autry – Cowboy Christmas– Although we don’t immediately connect him to Christmas today, during the 1950’s singing cowboy Gene Autry was the king of Christmas music! After appearing in the Hollywood Christmas Parade in 1946, where he and his horse Champion lead Santa’s sleigh, he noticed scores of kids yelling “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This inspired Autry to write the classic song of the same name, which he recorded as a single for Christmas in 1947 which became an instant novelty hit. In 1949 Gene Autry was sought out by Marks department store to record a promotional record featuring a brand new song, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Autry’s version would be the first recording of the holiday standard and was followed up a year later with another promotional record for Marks Department store which would become the original recording of Frosty the Snowman. With three massive Christmas hits aimed towards children under his belt, Columbia records approached Gene Autry with recording an entire album of Christmas songs in 1957. Collecting his most famous original Christmas hits, the album also featured contemporary standards such as Silver Bells and Up on the Rooftop, and traditional carols such as Joy to the World. A fourth original track, 32 Feet and Eight Little Tails, was a fun little tune about Santa’s reindeer but remains to be an obscure Christmas song. Yet what makes Autry’s Cowboy Christmas unique is strange and haunting vocal narrations by Gene Autry between the album’s tracks where Autry talks about Santa Claus, the Christmas spirit and even the birth of Christ! Due to the copyright on Gene Autry’s Cowboy Christmas having fallen into the public domain years ago, the album is easily available at a cheap price wherever most bargain Christmas CD’s are sold. A retro favorite, Gene Autry’s Cowboy Christmas is a favorite from my childhood and remains to be a perfect holiday album for children today. To order your own copy of Gene Autry’s Cowboy Christmas click here.
Dean Martin – A Winter Romance– There is just something about the smooth vocal stylings of Dean Martin that nobody can resist. The unpretentious crooner seems to have a smirk on his face and a wink in his eye with every note he sings. Its no surprise that Dean Martin’s 1959 album A Winter Romance has the same irresistible quality that Martin himself had. The quirky cover alone, featuring Martin giving one woman the eye while romancing another on a ski resort lest listeners know that his tongue would be firmly set into his cheek. A Winter Romance has a surprisingly small amount of holiday standards, with Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Winter Wonderland and Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! being the only three. However, Martin’s version of Winter Wonderland and Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! have become amongst the most popular recordings of these songs ever. Instead, Martin croons rarer tracks written during the era that inspires a sense of holiday romance. The standout track is Martin’s boozy rendition of Irving Berlin’s I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm. Meanwhile, Martin’s delightful version of Baby, its Cold Outside might make him sound lecherous if not for the fact that the song is playfully making reference to his persona as a womanizer. Unfortunately the only track that A Winter Romance seems to be missing is Martin’s classic A Marshmallow World, which he would record later in the mid 1960’s. Still, A Winter Romance drips with old school cool, perfect for a romantic evening in front of the fire. To order your own copy of Dean Martin’s Winter Romance click here.
Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift For You– These days fabled record producer Phil Spector spends Christmas locked up behind bars for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. However, in 1963 the young and eccentric Spector released what was possibly the coolest Christmas album ever recorded. Bringing together his stable of singers, including Darlene Love, The Ronnettes, Bob B. Sox and the Blue Jeans and The Crystals, Spector assigned them holiday standards and had them render the songs in their signature styles, backed by the legendary “wall of sound” for A Christmas Gift For You. However, a fatal blow prevented the album from becoming an instant hit. A Christmas Gift For You would fatefully be released on November 22nd, 1963 – the same day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas! As the country mourned, A Christmas Gift For You collected dust on the sales rack and the album was considered a flop. However, as the 1960’s raged on, the album was rediscovered and shared and quickly became a cult hit, becoming one of the most influential Christmas albums of the 20th Century. Phil Spector’s arrangements of the holiday classics helped shape and define the way that they were performed and popularized. In fact, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as performed by The Crystals, would become so popular that Spector’s arrangement would be copied so often that it has become nearly as standard as the original arrangement. But A Christmas Gift For You wasn’t without its original songs. Christmas (Baby Come Home) by Darlene Love was easily the albums’ stand out track, which was later rerecorded and popularized by U2 in the 1990s. The final track on the album, featuring Phil Spector giving the listener his own holiday greetings, is a holiday oddity and, in retrospect of things to come, is surreal and haunting. A standard favorite for classic rock stations across North America, Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You continues to be as powerful and groundbreaking now as it was when it was first released over forty years ago. To order your own copy of Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You click here.
The Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas– One of the special elements of the classic holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas was the unique jazz soundtrack performed by Vince Guaraldi. The first time a jazz score had been used for an animated feature, the soundtrackwas released simultaneously with the Christmas special in 1965. The Vince Guiarldi Trio, consisting of Guaraldi on piano, Jerry Granelli on drums and Fred Marshall on bass, helped create some of the greatest holiday arrangements in Christmas history! The album is full of holiday highlights, including Guaraldi’s now classic jazz treatment of O Tannenbaum and the child actors that voiced the Peanuts characters singing Hark the Herald Angles Sing. Yet it was Guaraldi’s original song, Christmas Time is Here, that has become a Christmas standard and is included on the disc in both it’s instrumental form, and the vocal version sung by a children’s chorus. As a bonus to the holiday music, A Charlie Brown Christmas also includes Vince Guaraldi’s classic Peanuts theme, Linus and Lucy, which was reused continuously through the decades for all of CBS’s Charlie Brown productions. Not only is A Charlie Brown Christmas essential viewing, it is also essential listening. To order your own copy of The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas click here.
Paul Revere and the Raiders – A Christmas Present…and Past– Legend has it, when The Raiders’ A&R man first heard their holiday album, he hated it so much that he pulled it off the turn table and smashed it to bits. A Christmas Present…and Past, released in 1967 during the height of Raidermania, is an acquired taste, but remains to be a unique addition to any holiday music collection. Unlike most Christmas LPs of the time, which had groups rehashing standard Christmas songs, A Christmas Present…and Past contains entirely original songs for the exception of The Raiders doing a rendition of Jingle Bells with, who sounds to be, Mrs. Miller! Highlights include Mark Lindsay’s haunting Christmas ballad Brotherly Love. Set to the music of What Child is This, Lindsay sings of social hypocrisy during the holiday season. The potent lyrics cover many of the issues concerning the counter culture movement of the era, with the most powerful verses being “At Christmastime who’d be such a fool/To not abide by the golden rule/although we send our children to different schools/and there don’t seem much brotherly love.” The lyrics bring images of the school integration issues that continued throughout the 1960’s at the time of the album’s release. Rain, Sleet, Snow is a psychedelic tribute to the postal workers that deliver packages and cards throughout the holiday season. Peace is a beautiful trippy instrumental arranged and orchestrated by Mark Lindsay, leading into Valley Forge, which plays on The Raiders colonial military outfits by telling the narrative of the Christmas experience of a Revolutionary war solider. The final track, A Heavy Christmas Message, questions the commercialization of Christmas by asking the question “Who took the Christ out of Christmas” in a clever, and not at all preachy, manner. Where Christmas Present…and Past seems to fail is some campy comedy bits which were a favorite tactic of Paul Revere. Also, for some odd reason, the sounds of an off key Salvation Army band is spliced between tracks which proves to be jarring to the senses. Yet, despite these flaws, Christmas Past…and Present remains to be a fantastic Christmas oddity for the classic rock fan. To order your own copy of Paul Revere and The Raiders’ Christmas Past…and Present cluck here.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – Christmas Album– Anybody who can’t resist the unique horn of Herb Alpert just doesn’t have a soul. Its brassy and its cheesy, but its always damn good fun. In 1968, coming off of the success of This Guys in Love with You, Herb Alpert donned a Santa hat and beard for the cover of his holiday album simply called Christmas Album. Naturally the majority of Christmas Album is brassy instrumental arrangements, primarily of Christmas standards such as Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bells and Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! However, Alpert comes out from behind the horn for The Christmas Song and The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle, an original song written by 60’s hit makers Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Yet, the real gem on the album is Alpert’s careful rendition of Johanne Sebastian Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – an odd choice, but beautifully rendered by Alpert’s unique sound. Forget the standard boring instrumental Christmas albums at your holiday party. Herb Alpert’s Christmas Album turns any party into an instant cocktail lounge, adding a quirky retro sound to holiday festivities. To order your own copy of Herb Alpert’s Christmas Album click here.
TV Family Christmas – TV Family Christmas, released in 1992, is a pop culture delight. Lovers of classic television will not be disappointed by this strange collection of Christmas songs being performed by stars from classic television programs. However, what makes it essential for every pop culture addict’s Christmas celebration is the fact that most of these songs have never been released on CD anywhere else. Each and every track is a gem within itself. The opening track, The Night Before Christmas, featuring the Chipmunks, is actually a jazzy rendition of the famous poem being performed by David Seville harnessing the art of beat poetry. One of the coolest Chipmunk tracks ever recorded, the track is not available on The Chipmunks Christmas Album. Bing Crosby, the king of Christmas classics, does a strange medley of holiday songs with sons Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsey. Of course, the friendly renditions of songs such as Here’s to the Joy of Christmas and The Snowman has a sort of pathos today considering the reports of the abuse that Crosby inflicted on his children, leading to two of his sons eventual suicides. Once again, these tracks featuring Crosby and his sons are not available anywhere else. Howdy Doody and the McGuire Sisters perform a whimsical little tune called Have Yourself a Howdy Doody Christmas; Danny Thomas sings a beautiful original song called The First Christmas; and Lorne Green, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon, the stars of Bonanza, combine voices on Merry Christmas Neighbor. Other tracks are performed by The Partridge Family, Buck Owens, The Brady Bunch, John Schneider and Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones of The Monkees. However, the gem of the album is Bobby Sherman’s I’m Going Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer). Originally released as a single for Christmas 1971, I’m Going Home is possibly one of the best Christmas songs of the 1970’s but has wallowed in obscurity for decades and A TV Family Christmas seems to be the only compilation to eve release the song on CD. A rare album, which hasn’t been re-released since its original pressing, is often hard to find, but is available through Amazon marketplace and e-bay and is worth seeking out. To order your own copy of A TV Family Christmas click here.
RuPaul – Ho Ho Ho– Although it may never be considered a Christmas classic, RuPaul’s Ho Ho Ho album could be one of the funnest Christmas albums released in the last twenty years, and is surprisingly far better then you might ever imagine. Released in 1997 in conjunction with VH1, flamboyant drag queen RuPaul recorded an unlikely, but delightful, holiday album. Filled with girl talk and miscellaneous banter with his back up singers Latasha Spencer and Michelle Visage, RuPaul tackles an eclectic cross section of musical genres including country, pop and soul. Of course, a RuPaul album wouldn’t be complete without plenty of homoerotic references, which run rampant in tracks such as RuPaul the Red Nosed Reindeer, I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus and RuPaul’s spoken word odyssey, Christmas Night. But through the camp and kitsch of this strange little album, a few gems shine through. RuPaul’s dance number, Christmas Train, is a pop medley of a number of Christmas standards such as Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, Jingle Bells, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and We Wish You a Merry Christmas and is surprisingly well done and uber-catchy. Yet the highlight of the album is the disc’s finale where RuPaul, Visage and Spencer perform Dolly Parton’s ballad Hard Candy Christmas complete with charming improvisational banter. RuPaul’s holiday album is definitely an acquired taste, but it is a funny, original and surprisingly good disc. If you’re into campy humor RuPaul’s Ho Ho Ho is worth a listen. To order your own copy of RuPaul’s Ho Ho Ho click here.
We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Head Banging New Year– The combination of hard rock and holiday songs is not a new idea by any means. Plenty of artists, including AC/DC, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne recorded holiday songs long before Twisted Sister recorded their brilliant holiday album, Twisted Christmas in 2006. However, in 2008 Wendy Dio, wife of legendary hard rocker Ronnie James Dio, teamed up with heavy metal producers Bob Kulick and Brett Chassen to create the ultimate heavy metal Christmas album of all time! Combining members of classic hard rock bands such as Kings X, Ratt, Styx, Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, KISS, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, Judas Priest and many many more, the musicians were carefully paired together and given holiday standards to arrange and record in their own unique style. Standout moments includes Dio himself with a haunting hard rock version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen that harkens back to his days as lead vocalist to Black Sabbath; Motorhead’s lead vocalist Lemmy’s rendition of Chuck Berry’s Run Run Rudolph; the original shock rocker Alice Cooper on Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Queensryche’s Geoff Tate on Silver Bells and Testament’s Chuck Billy’s disturbing version of Silent Night. Meanwhile, Journey’s Jeff Scott Soto harnesses the sound of 80’s hair bands for We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Ratt’s Stephen Percy takes a go at Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer. Although it is no question that We Wish You a Merry Xmas and a Head Banging New Year is in no way a traditional holiday album, what makes the album unique is that while past hard rock musicians has released holiday singles as novelty singles or as a joke, the musicians on this album take the project very very seriously, and as a result makes these nontraditional renderings of holiday standards work. We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Head Banging New Year features the best musicians that the world of heavy metal has to offer and they deliver. To order your own copy of We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Head Banging New Year click here.
The Buckinghams – The Joy of Christmas– In the 1960’s The Buckinghams were one of the Top 40’s biggest hit makers with songs like Kind of a Drag, Don’t You Care and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Yet, while many 60’s groups cut Christmas singles during the holiday season, it wasn’t until 2009 that the current line up of The Buckinghams, lead by original members Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna, released a Buckinghams Christmas Album. Available on their web-site, The Buckingham/’s The Joy of Christmas is a nine song ep where The Buckinghams brings the classic Chicago sound of the 60’s to the holiday season! Although it features your basic Christmas fare, including White Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock and I’ll Be Home For Christmas, the true gems of the CD are Carl Giammarese’s three original Christmas songs – The Joy of Christmas, Christmas Twelve Months a Year and Have a Little Faith. The Joy of Christmas is a nice little piece celebrating the hustle and bustle of the holiday season where Giammarese questions how we all manage to get through it all, bluntly stating at one point “Is everyone thinking the same way as me/ a drink is all I need/Maybe some egg nog with a little extra rum/and maybe this Christmas will be much more fun.” Carl hits it on the head, and would fit in at my annual Christmas party just fine! However, despite a tone of cynicism, The Joy of Christmas doesn’t get bogged down due to the warmness in Carl’s delivery as well as the sound of holiday festivities dubbed into the final bars of the song. Have a Little Faith is a different type of Christmas ballad. It is a man’s reassurance to his partner that their fathering relationship will be able to make it through the holidays. Christmas Twelve Months a Year is much like other songs written before, asking why the goodness that comes out in people’s hearts at Christmas can’t last throughout the year. However, what makes this different is that it is the track that best captures The Buckinghams unique sound from the 1960’s. The Joy of Christmas is a special gift from one of the 1960’s best bands, and although it is not available at most retailers, it is definitely worth seeing out. To preview and order your own copy of The Buckinghams’ The Joy of Christmas click here.
In 1967, Los Angeles based folk/pop band The Turtles recorded a little song called Happy Together. Written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, the song was shopped around to a number of groups before it was bought by The Turtles who had had previous chart success with their cover of Bob Dylan’s It Aint Me Babe. However, few people realized at the time of its recording that Happy Together would go on to become one of the most important records of the 1960’s. Skyrocketing to the top of the Billboard charts where it knocked The Beatles’ Penny Lane off of the number one spot, Happy Together became one of the signature songs of the summer of love. A simple pop tune that beautifully personified the love between two people, Happy Together touched a certain chord in the mass audience, transforming it from being another hit record into a state of being. In the years since The Turtles’ version of Happy Together was recorded the song has been used in dozens of films, television programs and commercials, and has been rerecorded by artists ranging from Weezer to Hugo Montenegro. Furthermore, Happy Together has been listed amongst BMI’s top fifty American pop songs in music history, and has been inducted into the Grammy hall of fame. Happy Together is more than just a song: it is an emotion; a philosophy; a part of Americana, and is easily one of the most important songs of the last fifty years.
Mark Volman (far left) with The Turtles
Mark Volman was just a teenager when he, Howard Kaylan, Al Nichols and some other kids started a surf band in their Westchester, California neighborhood. Originally calling themselves The Crossfires, the group eventually renamed themselves The Tyrtles and finally simply The Turtles. Gaining notoriety by winning a number of Battle of the Band contests in the Los Angeles area, The Turtles finally hit gold when they followed the success of fellow LA acts The Byrds and Sonny and Cher by turning a Bob Dylan record into a pop recording putting The Turtles into the national spotlight by the beginning of 1966. Maintaining their popularity with a number of minor chart successes including Can I Get To Know You Better, You Baby and Grim Reaper of Love, and despite a series of personnel changes, The Turtles hit the zenith of their success when they recorded Happy Together in 1967. Never the conventional rock band, The Turtles differed from the other groups appearing on programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, Shin-Dig and Hullabaloo by their sense of humor and by not taking themselves too seriously; in their own minds, The Turtles were never going to achieve poster boy status. Easily the most recognizable of the group members, Mark Volman stood out amongst other 60’s rockers with his stocky frame, horn rimmed glasses and very large frizzy hair. The Turtles may not have had the boyish good looks of The Beatles or The Hermits, or the sex appeal of The Doors or The Raiders, but it was still a time where talent and a good song went a long way. With their sense of self and tongue firmly planted in their cheeks The Turtles became bonafide pop superstars.
However, as the 60’s went on mismanagement and bad deals began to get The Turtles tangled into a heap of lawsuits and financial trouble. Although they had further chart success with She’s My Girl and Eleanor, the cracks began to form in the foundations of the group, and by 1970 The Turtles disbanded. However, as Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan prepared to team up as a duo the pair found out that due to their contract with White Whale
Records, they were legally unable to record under their own names! Teaming up with pal Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Mark and Howard were reborn as The Phlorescent Leech (aka Flo) and Eddie. As Flo and Eddie. As Flo and Eddie, Mark and Howard were able to kick start a brand new era of their career and found a new cult following. Finally, in the 1980’s, Mark and Howard finally settled their legal issues and once again were able to use The Turtles and their real names. Today, over forty years since they first paired up, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan are still touring the world, combining both eras of their musical journey under the name The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie.
Last summer, Mark and Howard harnessed the energy of their most famous song and took it across America as part of The Happy Together Tour. Bringing together a combination of top 60’s acts, including The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, former Raiders front man Mark Lindsay, and Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, The Happy Together Tour, which finishes up in Pomona, CA on September 26th, 2010, has combined the music with the spirit of the 1960’s. It has received rave reviews, ensuring the tour’s continuation in 2011. These days, Mark Volman is a part-time pop star when he can take time away from his new profession as a professor and coordinator of the Entertainment Industry Studies Program at Belmont Univesity. Despite his statement that he rarely gives interviews about his days with The Turtles, during a short break from the tour Mark Volman agreed to talk to me about his pop star days in conjunction with The Happy Together Tour. Mark Volman’s story is the true experience of the American rock and roll band – from its birth, to its stardom, to its fall and its rebirth.
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
A CONVERSATION WITH MARK “FLO” VOLMAN
I spoke to Mark Volman from via telephone in August 2010.
Mark Volman and long time musical partner Howard Kaylan continue to tour today as "The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie"
Sam Tweedle: So how has the Happy Together Tour been going?
Mark Volman: It’s been great. I’ve got my paycheck cashed and everything.
Sam: Now how many years have you and Howard Kaylan been touring together?
Mark: A while: I was eighteen, so about forty-five years.
Sam: Did you think when you started in the music business that forty-five years later you’d still be touring?
Mark: I never thought after five years that I’d be doing this. It was pretty remarkable to find ourselves doing it every year after five years.
Sam: How did you get interested in music? What is your personal earliest memories of listening to or thinking about music?
Mark: My parents had a pretty significant record collection and I found that when I was about the age of twelve or thirteen that I found myself attracted to listening to music that my parents owned. That sort of branched out into records that my brother owned. My brother was about eight years older then me so he was into the music of the Doo Wop groups. That was an introduction to me in the concept of the four chord changes and the simplicity of rock music. I had sort of been raised on Dixieland jazz and standard big band and theatre soundtracks. Elvis was probably the first artist that changed my music habits from Doo Wop to more of an R&B and rockabilly. I started listening to Eddie Cochran, Buddy Knox and that kind of late 50’s pre-Beatlemania music.
Sam: Now you originally started in the surf music scene, didn’t you?
Before the Turtles Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan and Al Nichols performed with The Crossfires
Mark: Yeah. [We were called] The Crossfires. Well even before The Crossfires they had actually made a record and started out as a group called The Night Riders. Then we changed our names to The Crossfires and that’s when I met them and kind of discovered their music and I joined the band in my first year of high school in 1962. The Crossfires started making a name for themselves out of the South Bay.
Sam: Was Howard part of the band at that time?
Mark: Yes. Howard was, along with Al Nichols, probably the main ingredient of The Crossfires. The group that was The Crossfires would eventually turn into The Turtles. The Crossfires was just a three-year hobby band probably like hundred and hundreds of thousands of young kids in the 1960s who were beginning to investigate music that was driven by the garage band culture.
Sam: If you were just one of thousands of bands, how did you guys turn out to be one of California’s top groups of the 1960s?
Mark: Well I guess we were above average. Most everybody played with the same quality. The level of play didn’t demand anybody to be really great. But we were probably above and beyond of everybody else at that point. We had a really great drummer and guitar player so that really helped. I think we also think with Howard and I singing that we were doing the more traditional R&B and things of that nature. We won a few “battle of bands” that introduced us to other communities other than the community that we lived in. Because of that people started getting introduced to us and thought we were better than other groups. That sort of won us an opportunity to get signed by a record company that was starting up in Hollywood in 1965 which would eventually be White Whale Records.
Sam: So how did your focus from surf music change to a more pop/folk sound?
Mark: We were always kind of playing R&B and singing the same music that the early British bands were doing. We were playing early Chuck Berry and early Little Richard and The Crickets and The Everly Brothers and Elvis. One of the better groups that we covered were The Righteous Brothers. Then we started as a house band at a club where we had won some of the battle of the bands and we began backing some of the local artists who were coming out of California. In fact, we traveled with Sonny and Cher during some of their early Caesar and Cleo shows and used to back them up. We were already good enough to pick up the music of these other groups, so when the Beatles hit in 1964, like many other bands, we began to play their songs as well. Then The Byrds hit with Mister Tambourine Man around that same time and that was when we were gi
The Turtles had their first chart success with a cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe": "I heard that he thought it was a “cute record” was the way he put it."
ven the opportunity to go to Hollywood and record some songs that they thought we did a really good job on. They asked us to put together three songs and one of them was our version of the Bob Dylan record It Ain’t Me Babe.
Sam: Did The Turtles have the first Billboard chart with that, or did Bob Dylan?
Mark: Bob Dylan never had a hit record with it. Johnny Cash did a country version but I really don’t know about the time frame. It’s possible that we kind of grabbed it at the same time.
Sam: Did you ever hear from Bob Dylan after It Ain’t Me Babe went to the top of the charts?
Mark: Well we met him right after we recorded the song and I don’t think he ever said, to our face, one way or another if he liked it or didn’t like it. At the time he was kind of caught in a whirlwind of what was happening to him. The Birds had done Mr. Tambourine Man and Sonny and Cher had done All I Really Want to Do and The Turtles did It Aint Me Babe and then The Byrds covered Chimes of Freedom. I don’t know he could really keep straight what
was happening because it was happening so fast. It was quite an avalanche of success very quickly. I heard that he thought it was a “cute record” was the way he put it.
Sam: The Turtles had a lot of top forty success before you even recorded Happy Together, which of course became the group’s signature song. When Happy Together hit, did it change things for the band?
"Happy Together did a lot to set the standards for music that we began to consider making and that we wrote"
Mark: Of course it did. It was sort of like high jumping. At a certain point you go over ten feet and you never ever go back to eight feet. Its sort of like winning a four minute mile. Once you’ve ran under four minutes, running over four minutes just doesn’t feel like it matters. Happy Together did a lot to set the standards for music that we began to consider making and that we wrote. After Happy Together we made better records. I think She’s My Girl and You Know What I Mean were better recordings and I think that Happy Together, if anything, drove us to raise the standard for the records that we wanted to be a part of. That was one change. The obvious change was that Happy Together gave us the success level that we had never had and it gave us a financial level which, of course, we never experienced. There was a lot of traditional things that you kind of consider and expect, but everything just really bounced up and from that point on, for the next three years, we lived at a different lifestyle than we had before that.
Sam: A lot of groups turned down Happy Together. Do you know which artists turned the song down?
Mark: The three artists that I know of who were offered the song were The Vogues, The Tokens and The Happenings.
Sam: And those are three bands that could have probably had their status raised a lot if they had recorded it.
Mark: There were a lot of great groups that recorded Happy Together after us; The Captain and Tennille did a nice version. It was always a great record, but I think what we did was that we arranged it in such a way that none of the other groups would have envisioned it, and that may have been the dynamic of why it became the way it did. You don’t really know if somebody else had recorded it first if it would have been such a big hit. I think there is a lot that goes into the success of a particular record that has to do with organization in terms of the sound and the voices and the arrangement. There is a lot to that record that we put into it that a lot of groups wouldn’t have. Other groups that have rerecorded Happy Together have reproduced our version of it. About three years ago, The Grammys put Happy Together in its Hall of Fame and that award went to The Turtles. That is not a songwriter’s award or a producer’s award. That is actually an award for the actual group because it was the record that becomes the part of the fabric of the American culture, that really represents the iconic signature of the 60’s. It sort of helps a lot of groups lean towards using horns and voices in a very different way than even the Beatles had. That’s the significant consideration when you look at the success of that record.
Sam: She’s My Girl is probably my favorite of all The Turtles songs. It is a haunting little song.
Mark: It is a very simple song with a very [complex] organizational structure. When we got the song it didn’t have the 6/8 jazz break. It didn’t have the whole vocal thing that took place or the sounds in the background and how they were used. The organization of the record was a bit more straightforward, and when we got through with it, it might have been a bit “far out” for a lot of people. I agree that it is probably one of the most exceptional records that we made. At the same time, it was not as a big a record as some of the records that we made that were a little easier on the arrangement. Eleanor was a much bigger record internationally for us, but I don’t think it has the power of She’s My Girl.
Sam: Eleanor sort of sounds like self parody to me. You did Eleanor for The Battle of the Bands LP which was a very interesting concept album.
The Turtles 1968 concept album "The Battle of the Bands" had The Turtles performing each track as a different group and in a different sound and style to reproduce a virtual "Battle of the Bands" event. The album produced the hit single "Elenore" which was The Turtles attempt to self parody their "Happy Together" success
Mark: Eleanor was never recorded to be a single. It was recorded to be a part of that concept and without the concept we never thought the record would have any success. I mean, if you didn’t know what we were doing it sort of defeated the purpose. But Eleanor became a hit despite the fact that people didn’t understand that we were making fun of ourselves. I think there was an audience that did get it, because they were starting to realize that our sense of humor was a really big part of the success of the group, anyway. If you followed The Turtles at any level you probably understood that or owned The Battle of the Bands.
Sam: A lot of bands in the 1960’s, for better or for worse, had a pretentious streak to them. Very few groups allowed a real sense of fun to shine through their image quite like The Turtles did. I think it was basically The Dreamers and The Turtles. The music of The Turtles has a serious quality, but the band’s persona was far more quirky. What was the idea behind that?
Mark: The concept of it being an idea actually sets in motion a possibility that it was planned, and we were really not smart enough to plan that. That quirkiness and that sense of humour goes all the way back to The Crossfires with our record Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; we were already doing a quirky thing. The sense of humor was a part of our survival. We grew up in an era where the whole idea of the teen idol mentality was a part of the growth of the music of the 60’s. You had a very strong youth presence and magazine industries that were looking for cute rock stars to put on the covers of their magazines.
Sam: Isn’t that what is still going on today?
Mark and Howard may not have been poster boys, but it didn't stop them from taking this revealing photo for "Creem Magazine." Eat your heart out David Cassidy!: "Self-deprecation became our survival and the more we made fun of ourselves, the more we were able to stand back and make records that didn’t demand having a cover boy"
Mark: I don’t know; I don’t pay attention to the music of today, but at that time the mentality of Mark Lindsay and Peter Noone and Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz and all those cute rock stars was starting to overshadow what might be considered talented musicians. I think The Turtles sort of looked at all of that that if we were going to survive, because we didn’t really fit the world of the teen idol, that we had to do a tongue-in-cheek situation. Self-deprecation became our survival and the more we made fun of ourselves, the more we were able to stand back and make records that didn’t demand having a cover boy.
Sam: Now you and Howard have been very vocal about the business problems that The Turtles went through in the 1960s. You guys had some really hard times and hard knocks with that. Also, there were some really idiotic changes that White Whale wanted to make to The Turtles, like having you and Howard dissolve the band and record with just studio musicians as The Turtles. In as easy terms as possible, what went wrong, and what advice can you give artists in the business today so that they don’t get caught in the same situation as The Turtles did?
Mark: Well that is a lot of questions in one. First of all we were just young kids, like so many others, and there wasn’t really a music section at the library and bookstore. These days you can go into the bookstore and learn about copyright infringement and learn about what makes good managers and what doesn’t make good managers and can learn about 360 deals and about finding the different songwriting deals. Nowadays, it is an industry that we didn’t have: we were just making records and everyone else was making money except for us. When we started, money was not really the angle. We weren’t getting a record deal to be in the music business. We were getting a record deal to avoid going to college and to be able to prolong our hobby band a little bit longer, but there was no knowledge about the music business, so as each year went on, and the more money we made, and the different people who got involved with our careers were much more susceptible to be learning the tantalizing ability to take money from young musicians was a part of the game. Many of them took advantage of us and the ability to do that without really knowing, because we didn’t know how to, or who to, talk to about protecting ourselves because we really didn’t know anything was going on. If you took an artist like The Beatles and say “The Beatles made a lot of money” but what a lot of people don’t know is that originally they had a one percent deal that was split between five individuals because nobody wanted to sign them. Eventually they would sell over all their publishing because they wanted to make some money and they were able to sell those early songs. They didn’t know anything about the business either. All of us were sort of in the same boat. So we were just part of the lunacy. The fact that many of the young groups that were making records were taken advantage of, and I think The Turtles story is very indicative of probably The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams, The Monkees and every group that got caught in that situation. In terms of today, it still goes on: there is no doubt that it is much more sophisticated. They make deals that just should not be allowed to take place. Artists today need to become much more involved in the industry. It’s kind of a problem, because as an artist you already represent somebody who doesn’t already function very well in the reality of what business is, and you need to bring in somebody you trust. It’s important for young musicians to understand the different part of the music business: they need to understand management, and they need to understand the flow of income from gross to net, and they need to understand the record company and how the financial situation functions in terms of production and video and ownership and all of these things. It takes an intelligent musician, and not just a creative musician, and so you have to be something you don’t want to be, which is a business person. The first thing I tell someone who asks “How should I run my life” is to be more thorough and understanding about what is out there and what your choices are. You can make a bad choice but make sure you understand that once you have you can’t really get it back without paying for it. Sometimes a young singer or songwriter will make a bad deal for themselves just to have a deal and it will have years of repercussions because of that bad deal, and to survive to get some of that ownership back. You need to be aware of that choices and those choices can have a long-lasting effect.
Sam: After The Turtles organization broke down, you and Howard hooked up with Frank Zappa. How did that collaboration take place?
Mark and Howard were reborn as Flo and Eddie via a collaboration with music legend Frank Zappa
Mark: We had known Frank for a really long time. It wasn’t like a new relationship started once The Turtles broke up. Frank was unaware that The Turtles had separated, and when he heard that we were not performing at the time as The Turtles and that we were involved in the legal issues that were taking place he approached us. Someone through his management company invited us to a show that he did with the LA Philharmonic and we went to the show. Frank had been a friend and we had known him from going all the way back to records like Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Absolutely Free. We knew him because we had grown up in Hollywood playing with The Mothers. They were playing almost weekly at a club called Vitolitos and we were working primarily at the Whisky a Go Go, but everybody sort of was pulling for each other to become successful because if anybody became successful in Hollywood it put the spotlight on all the other groups. When The Byrds made it out of The Crypt, all of a sudden the spotlight started rising on all of the groups playing around town and all of the groups pulled for each other to become successful. We knew Frank from those early days. So Frank offered [Howard and I] a job to go to Europe to sing with The Mothers. He was going over to do something like eight or nine shows, and a TV show in Holland and we said “Yeah” because it was a paycheck. We did a record for Frank called Chunga’s Revenge and Frank wanted to give us credit but we couldn’t use our real names because of the lawsuit so we came up with the names Flo and Eddie.
Flo and Eddie share the stage with Frank Zappa in "200 Motels"
Sam: Now why couldn’t use your real name?
Mark: It’s a standard clause in every recording contract that binds the artist individually and collectively, which just means that when you sign a contract with a management or record company that the record company doesn’t only own the group, but as individuals you can’t go off and make records on your own.
Sam: That’s just dirty.
Mark: That’s just real: that’s in every record contact even today. That’s not just something that just caught us. It was a standard and still remains a standard clause. It’s the clause that broke The Turtles’ back, and it was the clause that made Prince use the symbol as his name for about four years. But because of that Flo and Eddie were born on Chunga’s Revenge and we went to Europe with Frank Zappa and the tour went very well. We did about twenty dates and Frank asked us to be part of the group for a new project that ended up being 200 Motels. We started putting together the material and the working stages of singing The White Album Live at the Philmore East in 1971, and then eventually the double album of 200 Motels.
Sam: You and Howard had a resurgence of popularity as Flo and Eddie. Are you still recognized as those personas?
As Flo and Eddie, Mark and Howard maintained a cult following: "I think there is a certain audience who know who Flo and Eddie is. The Turtles is almost instantly recognized at every level. Flo and Eddie represents a small market share"
Mark: I don’t think so. I think there is a certain audience who know who Flo and Eddie is. The Turtles is almost instantly recognized at every level. Flo and Eddie represents a small market share. For all of the success, as you called it, it wasn’t really all that successful. We built a really good fan base around the records, but none of the records sold very well. The radio business became much more predominant part of our lives and were able to parlay that into a pretty good financial living. The television work did well for us too. Every area that we worked in did better then the records. The records had good songs on all of the albums but I’m not sure if we made one really good cohesive record. Maybe we stopped making records too soon. Maybe Moving Target was as close as we really got to a good record, but there is still some filler on that album.
Sam: Now what you do now is that you teach college. What type of material do you teach?
Mark: I teach at the College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University. Belmont University is the most successful Music Business university in the United States. It has 65000 students on campus and 15000 students in our music business program. It’s a big program and it teaches everything that a young entrepreneur in the music industry should be building a foundation on. Finance, international business management, record company operation, new media, public relations, video – it’s a four year college course that incorporates general courses as well as music major courses. I teach in that department and it is what I do. The tours are fun, but I’ve been teaching for twelve years.
Sam: What do you prefer more? Making music or teaching these kids?
Mark: Well I haven’t made music in years. Making music is something I stopped doing in the 1970’s. I really wouldn’t say that I enjoy touring more then I enjoy teaching. I enjoy parts of the touring, and I enjoy working with thousands of students over the years has given me the satisfaction of passing on my experience and hopefully it helps some of them to be better individuals in the type of people they want to be when they run their own businesses. There is something very significant that I get out of teaching that I don’t get out of touring. Touring now is not a creative business. I am not creating anything new. Its not hard for me and I still enjoy the performance part.
Sam: What do you hope that your legacy in the entertainment is going to be?
Mark: I don’t think about that. A legacy is for someone like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantel. I was just a singer in a high school band. I think there is a lot of what happened. I think we made some really great records. I think when people look back at my life and what I’ve accomplished I would hope that people will look at things like me going to college in my forties and getting my college degree and becoming a professor at the University level. Individually that is the most important thing I did. When I graduated as valedictorian at my university at the age of fifty years old, that was an individual success for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever reproduce. That was very significant. If that is called a legacy, I hope people will look back at the students I’ve had and know that I really cared about doing what I did. I don’t sit around and think about The Turtles as much as the people who interview me do. I don’t do interviews about The Turtles very much. I just promote the fact that we are on tour. It’s a really great tour.
Sam: Well I’ve been following The Happy Together Tour all summer long and its getting rave reviews.
Mark: Yeah, we really are having a lot of fun. Everybody who is involved are really nice, all the way down to the crew. Everybody is having a good time. The shows are being well-received and I think the promoters who brought the show are very happy with what the results are economically, and I think that this was a test that will carry over for us into next year. I think that’s what everybody is sort of talking about. I think the success of the tour will probably give us the opportunity to do more dates with it next summer.
Mark and Howard, along with Mickey Dolenz, Carl Giammarese, Nick Fortuna and Mark Lindsay will be keeping the music of the 60's alive in "The Happy Together Tour" into 2011
At the current time, reports that The Happy Together Tour will continue during the summer of 2011 have been spread throughout the internet. What is known is that Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan will be bringing the songs of The Turtles back across America in the new tour. What is not known is just who they will be bringing with them. If you are a fan of the music of the 1960’s make sure to write to Mark and Howard and let them know who you want to see in next year’s Happy Together Tour via their web-site at http://www.theturtles.com. Via his music, his mirth and by helping to cultivate the music moguls of tomorrow, Mark Volman is assuring that the musical journey continues into the future, while keeping the strong link to the path. As a result, we are all truly happy together.
The year is 2005. I am sitting in former Monkee Davy Jones’ trailer just before he goes on stage. Davy is not wearing any pants. I am looking for a way to break the ice but, believe me; it’s not easy when Davy Jones isn’t wearing pants. The World Cup is on and Davy is talking soccer to me, but considering that I am barely an armature on the subject I tactfully change the topic.
“You know who I got an e-mail from the other day Davy? Donna Loren,” I say.
“Cor. Donna Loren! Do you know Donna Loren!” Davy exclaims breathlessly.
“Not personally. I wrote an article on her and sent it to her people and she sent me a nice e-mail back” I replied.
:”Whatever happened to her? Where is she?” Davy asked.
“She is in Hawaii. Works in the fashion industry.” I answer.
“Oh. She was beautiful. Wow. Donna Loren. Me and her had a thing. I mean, we never did the nasty or anything but we went out a few times. I took her around” Davy says with a far away look in his eye and a wide grin. “How does she look? Is she still beautiful? I bet she’s beautiful” Davy asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never actually met her” I remind him.
“Oh. Well I bet she’s still beautiful” Davy reasons.
Davy Jones would not be the last performer who worked with Donna Loren who would mention her to me. Donna Loren was one of the 1960s true oddities. Model, singer, actress, movie star and TV icon, Donna Loren was America’s girl next door. The spokesperson for Dr. Pepper, she appeared in the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies, was a regular performer on ShinDig! and appeared in such cult TV hits as Batman, The Monkees, Dr. Kildare and Gomer Pyle. However, when retiring from show business at the age of 21 in 1968, Donna Loren went from being one of the most recognized faces in show business to one of the more obscure members of the pop culture community. However, there is no denying that the people who remember her truly love her, and she knew how to make an impression. Just ask Davy Jones.
The true sign that we are in the sure fire, full swing of summer is when Toronto’s CITY TV do their Annette and Frankie Beach Party marathons. For one week each year CITY TV designates their afternoon movie to the cheap and corny romps of surfing, bikinis, motorcycles, music and early battle-of-the-sexes frolic and fun. Ever since I was a kid I have, for some reason, had a soft spot for these films. Nobody can really understand why. I’m not sure I even understand why. However, since I was a young teenager I have collected and enjoyed the antics of Frankie, Dee Dee, Bonehead, Candy, Eric Von Zipper, Big Drop and all their guys, gals and foils. And then there are the girls… WOWZA! So much eye candy on that beach. But for me there was one special girl on that beach I always looked for. No, it wasn’t Annette. It wasn’t Marta Kristen or Linda Evans or Luciana Paluzzi or even Candy Johnson. No, it was the dark haired, dark eyed angel who sang It Only Hurts When I Cry in Beach Blanket Bingo. With the plink plink of the guitar and the enthusiastic encouragement of “Go Donna!” I lost my heart to Donna Loren. Now growing up in the eighties and nineties, when I discovered these films, I was a bit lost about exactly who and what Donna Loren was. To me she was nothing more than a girl that was found in the background of the Beach Party movies. She wasn’t quite a character exactly, as she didn’t have any lines nor did she participate in much of the action. However, being rewarded with a solo performance in Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo and a duet with Dick Dale of the Del-Tones (who regained fame when their song Misirlou was used as the opening theme for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) in Muscle Beach Party, I had to assume that Donna Loren was more than just a face in the crowd. Thus I recently went on a search for the beautiful Donna Loren who had held a few of my heartstrings since I was fifteen. How was I to know that I was to find a figure richly imbedded in pop culture history? How the career of Donna Loren had escaped me all these years hurts my brain and why this multi-talented model, actress and singer is not more of a house hold name in the current century remains a mystery. So come friends as Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict introduces you to
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
THE GIRL WHO DRANK DR. PEPPER
Early Dr. Pepper ad featuring Donna Loren
Donna Loren was far more than just a girl on the beach. By the time she was ten years old Donna was working in commercials, talent shows, radio and even making recordings and a token appearance on The Mickey Mouse Club. However it wasn’t until 1963 and at the age of sixteen that Donna Loren’s career would really take off when she won a national talent search by Dr. Pepper for the teenage spokesperson for their drink. Thus began Donna Loren’s five year career as “The Dr. Pepper Girl”. With her face being featured on Dr. Pepper ads, billboards, television commercials, radio spots and every other type of advertising imaginable Donna became a familiar sight in America’s collective consciousness. However Dr. Pepper had gotten much more than they had bargained for and it certainly did pay off. Donna had both a radiant smile and that special charismatic quality which made America sit up and take notice. However Donna Loren didn’t simply have a talent for just sitting about and looking pretty while holding a bottle of Dr. Pepper – Donna Loren could also act and sing! Dr. Pepper had a bonafide potential teenage celebrity on their hands.
Donna’s first go at the public spotlight as the Dr. Pepper Girl was in 1963 was as co-host of Dick Clark’s Celebrity Party which was really nothing more than a 45 minute Dr. Pepper commercial featuring a number of celebrities plugging their new albums and movies and performing some musical numbers. Featured were teen idols such as Paul Peterson, Connie Stevens, Jan and Dean, Connie Francis, Donna’s future co-stars Annette and Frankie and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones as well as a few odd choices such as Wayne Newton, Johnny Mathis and Nino and April. The special was oddly scheduled only a week after the Kennedy assassination so its success was questionable, however the world would be introduced to the talents of Donna Loren in a strong way. On the special she performed two musical numbers – the slow country ballad I Can’t Make My Heart Say Goodbye and was backed by the Challengers on Bill Bailey.
Donna Loren makes her film debut in AIP's "Muscle Beach Party" where she sings Brian Wilson's "Muscle Bustle" with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones
It wasn’t much long after that Donna, Dr. Pepper and American International Pictures joined together to create the time capsule that would make sure that Donna Loren would be seen by future generations (a.k.a. me). In 1964 Dr. Pepper became a sponsor for the Beach Party movies and Donna was slated to make a cameo in Muscle Beach Party holding a bottle of Dr. Pepper. However some genius realized that there was much more talent in Donna and paired her up with Dick Dale for the musical number Muscle Bustle (written by Brian Wilson). The performance was one of the highlights of the movie which solidified her inclusion as part of the Beach Party gang. In her next two outings with Annette, Frankie and the gang in Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo Donna received similar musical numbers. The best of the bunch was definitely Beach Blanket Bingo’s It Only Hurts When I Cry. Donna also appeared in Annette’s Pajama Party and Frankie’s Sargent Deadhead.
It was at this time that Donna recorded the album Donna Loren Sings the Very Best of Beach Blanket Bingo. The album, which has recently been released on the CD The Very Best of Donna Loren, is what it is. It’s kind of an uneven album in the sense that while a number of songs, mainly the songs that didn’t appear in the Beach Party movies, are rather good, the rest of the songs just sort of lack something. The highlights of the album include the Lesley Gore-ish Ten Good Reasons, the garage sound of So, Do the Zonk, a slow ballad called I’m Just a Little Girl and, of course, It Only Hurts When I Cry. However some of Donna’s covers from the Beach Party films such as I Think You Think and Beach Blanket Bingo aren’t what one would call stellar. Firstly, I think part of the problem is that the songs, which were originally written to be duets between Annette and Frankie are recorded by Donna as solos thus they don’t seem quite right. Perhaps it’s just that I am used to hearing these songs as they are done in the films. Also, Donna’s vocal range and Annette’s vocal range are completely different. I prefer Donna’s strong and confident voice to Annette’s squeaky under-developed one, however in these recordings Donna seems to try to imitate Annette, or sometimes the opposite happens when the song just doesn’t seem to fit Donna’s style. Furthermore, the songs are all likeable enough but lack any depth – especially with the caliber of music that was being produced in the sixties. With a world that was still reveling in the British Invasion Donna’s album didn’t take the cake. However this was no fault of Donna’s. Her recordings display a strong and sensational voice. One must wonder what could have happened if she had been working with better producers or songwriters such as Phil Spector, Billy Strange or Burt Bacharach and Hal David. A real wasted opportunity which we’ll always have to wonder “What if…” about. Under better musical direction Donna could have been another Jackie DeShannon or Dionne Warwick. She definitely had the talent. Yet, despite the lack of depth that might be in the songs, they all remain to be likeable.
Donna Loren sings "It Only Hurts When I Cry" in "Beach Blanket Bingo"
Meanwhile, if promoting Dr. Pepper and appearing in five Annette and Frankie projects in a two year period weren’t enough, Donna Loren also took another job appearing as a regular songstress on the popular music program Shindig!. The first of the rock and roll variety shows of the 1960s, Shindig! featured big rock acts performing their biggest hits, accompanied by luscious go-go dancers dressed in good girl outfits but dancing like they belonged in a red light district. Truly tantalizing and exciting stuff in the early sixties. Shindig! kept a few celebrities as regulars, such as Darlene Love, Bobby Sherman and, of course, Donna Loren, to sing the hits when they were unable to get the real singers to sing them. It was also at this time that Donna did seven consecutive appearances on Dr. Kildare in the role of Anna Perona. Now the question is when the hell did the girl manage to sleep? At age 18 she was getting more exposure than any teenage girl in America. One must assume she was running on adrenaline or something. That’s a lot of work for your average 18 year old. Mind you, she was truly living the teen queen dream in the mid sixties. Who knows what the reality was?
Donna appears opposite Burt Ward in an episode of "Batman"
Donna stopped appearing in AIP movies in 1965 but she wasn’t out of the spotlight yet. Besides still representing Dr. Pepper, Donna made two major pop culture appearances between 1966 and 1967. The first was in the Adam West Batman series. Playing a cheerleader that Robin was in love with in the two part The Joker Goes to School and He Meets His Match, That Ghastly Ghoul, Donna got to finally play what she never played before – a bad girl. Donna’s character “Susie” was actually a cronie of Cesar Romero’s Joker who was trying to corrupt Gotham’s youth by putting silver dollars in milk machines. A year later Donna played Davy Jones’ romantic interest of the week, Princess Colette Yaduin, on an episode of The Monkees. Her performances on Batman and The Monkees only strengthened her pop culture appeal.
Donna Loren joined with Milton Berel as his beautiful co-host for his failed variety show
Then, all too soon, 1967 was the beginning of the end of Donna’s short but successful show business career. Just as her Dr. Pepper contract ended she joined the regular cast of Milton Berle’s new variety show. However, with The Man From U.N.C.L.E in the same time slot, Berle’s show was cancelled after only one season. A performance on The DannyThomas Show and a guest spot on Gomer Pyle, USMC in 1968 would be Donna’s last two pieces of television work. This wasn’t by failure but by choice. Danny Thomas and Aaron Spelling offered Donna a series called, Two For Penny as a spin off from her appearance on The Danny Thomas Show. However Donna turned it down to marry and to retire at the ripe old age of 21. Can you imagine retiring at 21? It only proved that Donna’s continuous hard work had truly paid off. Thus after 1968 Donna Loren disappeared from the world of film, television and music to become little more than a memory to the people that were there, and a “Donna Who?” to those who weren’t. Perhaps it’s no wonder that I hadn’t heard of Donna Loren.
So where is Donna Loren now? Well Donna is a partner in the Hawaii-based fashion company ADASA (http://www.adasa.com/ ). However, to those who lived in the 1960s she will always be remembered as the pretty dark haired singer in the Beach Party movies or the girl who drank Dr. Pepper. In fact, I think later today I’m going to go and purchase a Dr. Pepper and think of Donna Loren as I drink it cause, well, I’m a Pepper too I guess.
HEY! ARE YOU INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE OF DONNA LOREN, OR INTERESTED IN 1960s POP CULTURE?
I can’t express enough how much I recommend that you visit Donna Loren’s website at http://www.donnaloren.net/. On the site is a tonne of information, merchandise, links and numerous video clips featuring highlights from her career. Below I am including links to some of my favourites so you can see for yourself why I’ve fallen in love with Donna Loren. If you have any interest in 60s culture at all I highly suggest you take a look.
It Only Hurts When I Cry from Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Donna sings Bill Bailey on Dick Clark’s Celebrity Party (1963). This special was a 45 minute commercial aired a week after the Kennedy assassination, and introduced Donna to the world as the Dr. Pepper Girl.
Donna Loren’s film deut in Muscle Beach Party! The song was written by Brian Wilson and Donna performs with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. How can it get better then this?
Donna Loren and the characters from Johnny Hart’s B.C. hock Dr. Pepper! There are tons more of these odd little Dr. Pepper commercials featuring Johnny Hart’s characters and Donna Loren. Make sure to check them out.
Donna Loren sings “Shakin’ All Over” on ShinDig!
Donna Loren performs Goldfinger on ShinDig! Donna pulls off the impossible by recreating Shirley Bassey’s trademrk hit in one of her sexiest performances ever!
Donna Loren performs Cher’s The Way of Love on SHinDig! A daring performance shows a glimpse of what could have been a promising recording career with better song choices then Donna’s solo material. There are tons of performances of Donna singing some of the 60′s biggest hits on ShinDig! via YouTube. Make sure to take a look at them all!
Donna Loren and Ceasar Romero on Batman! Long before Harley Quinn, Donna Loren was the Joker’s moll!
Donna Loren meets Davy Jones on The Monkees!
Donna Loren sings Call Me on The Milton Berle Show! And check out that crazy guest star list! Paul Revere and the Raiders, Bruce Lee, Phyllis Diller, Adam West….how could this show have failed?
Donna Loren sings It Only Hurts When I Cry in 2009!
Pop culture addict at work. Sam Tweedle interviews controversial cult movie director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocoust) in 2007 as part of his continual collection of the oral history of pop culture
There is no secret that a big part of PCA’s ongoing success is our collection of interviews that we have done with some of pop culture’s most famous stars, and some of the not so famous people who stand on the fringes of the pop culture community. Over the last five years I have had the great pleasure of talking to some of my favorite icons. I have watched George “James Bond” Lazenby hit on women, seen Davy Jones in his underwear, sang Bobby Sherman songs with Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist, drank beer with David “Bud Bundy” Faustino, fought with Peter “Herman” Noone, was found when lost by Tony DeFranco and looked into Light’s big brown eyes and fell in love. From Monkees to Bradys, Osmonds to Bond Girls, Fonzie to Boba Fett, PCA has been proud to present the personal stories of beloved actors, music legends, directors, child stars, artists, comic book icons, sock monkeys, pop stars, teen idols, grindhouse legend, one hit wonders, horror icons and many more just as they were told to us. We’ve spoken to legends and oddities, has-been and never-beens in a conversational atmosphere and have offered smart and thoughtful material so that we can offer something fresh for both the individuals we interview, and our public that reads our site. Personally, the PCA interviews are my life work, and possibly the greatest stories I have had the honor to help tell.
“Friday Night Lights” supporting actress Angela Rayna is coming to PCA August 2010
As many long time readers know, when we changed PCA’s format earlier this year a great deal of our archive was taken off-line and has slowly been being reformatted and represented. It is proving to be a long process that will not be finished until early 2011. However, I am proud to announce that our entire interview archive is now completely restored and back on-line. All forty two of PCA’s interviews are now available for you to read. Check them out at http://popcultureaddict.com/close. Of course, as always, our stable of conversations continues to grow. In August we will be presenting our interview with The Turtles’ Mark “Flo” Volman and Friday Night Lights’ supporting actress Angela Rawna. We are also working out details for four major interviews for the fall. I won’t announce who they are until the interviews are in the can, but I can tell you that three of the stars are Emmy Award television actors. Start your guessing now!
Since 2005 PCA has been finding the lost members of the pop culture community, including “Billy Jack” co-star Darid Roya, Herman’s Hermits drummer Barry Whitwam and most of the members of Filmation’s Hardy Boys, pictured here
But, through my research, there are a number of personal favorites who have disappeared into the mist of the pop culture journey. This happens to thousands of individuals who have their five minutes of fame, but for some reason never seem to find their foothold in the imaginations of the mass public. Over the years I have proudly found a handful of these people and have allowed them to take the spotlight once again and tell their tales. In 2009 I tracked down Billy Jack villain David Roya who played the evil Bernard Posner. After decades of living in obscurity, has been working as a teacher, marital arts instructor and yoga master in New York City and gave PCA a very intense interview full of regrets and self reflection. In 2008 I gave Herman’s Hermits drummer Barry Whitwam his first North American interview, opening a major can of worms that created a backlash amongst divided factions of the legendary British Invasion pop group. I have also tracked down the majority of the members of the ultra obscure, but beloved, Hardy Boys pop band from the Filmation animated series and gave them the opportunity to tell their stories for the first time, including their drummer Bob Crowder who was believed to be dead by the rest of his band mates! I even found a few people who really didn’t want to be found, and in respect to their privacy didn’t, and still wont, report who they were and where they are.
There are still a number of obscure, and not so obscure, pop culture icons that I am looking for and, for one reason or another, have not been able to trace by my regular means nor detective work. Some of them are out there but seem to be barely beyond my reach. Others have disappeared from the face of the Earth and their whereabouts are unknown, if they are even alive at all. However the internet is a funny thing that brings people together. That is why I am putting out a plea to you, the reader, for any information on some of the missing members of the pop culture community that PCA would like to find and give the opportunity to tell their story. Any information, new or old, would be highly appreciated and we will keep the confidential in order that these individuals can maintain their privacy.
These are some of the more obscure members of the pop culture community that we would like to locate and speak with:
The Hardy Boys’ Deven English in her “Playboy Magazine” appearance
Deven English – One of my personal projects over the past five years has been finding the members of The Hardy Boys pop group. I have successfully located and interviewed four out of five members of the group, but the only one that remains the most elusive is token girl Deven English who portrayed Wanda Kay. I have a lot of information on her, but unfortunately she has disappeared off of the face of the Earth and even her former band mates don’t know what has become of her. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, her real name was Mary Anne Rowland, or some variation on that, but changed her name and relocated to Chicago in search of a show business career. Finding work at Chicago’s Playboy Club as a bunny, Deven became a popular singer and pianist at the club and was known to keep company with Vic Damone. She even appeared in a Playboy Magazine special on the bunnies but did not take her clothes off for the photo shoot . During her time with The Hardy Boys she entered a relationship with lead singer Jeff Taylor, and after the group split the pair moved to Colorado for a while, but after their relationship ended she relocated to Los Angeles. The last known sighting of Deven was in 1972 when Hardy Boy band mate Reed Kailing ran into her on Sunset Boulevard. At that time Deven was working at a Scientology storefront. It is believed that Deven eventually married. Many people who met or knew Deven have contacted us, but all of their stories remain to be from before 1972. It is most likely that Deven now goes by a married name, or has possibly gone back to the name Mary Anne Rowland. If anybody has any information or clues on the whereabouts of Deven English, please let us know. If you know Deven, please let her know there is a world of fans that want to know how she is. Please contact us.
Reclusive actress Donna Wilkes, best remembered for her role in the cult film “Angel” (1984)
Donna Wilkes – At one time the elusive Donna Wilkes was one of the most popular keyword searches at PCA and, once again, we have gotten many e-mails inquiring about her current whereabouts. What we do know is that Donna Wilkes is out there somewhere, but she doesn’t necessarily want to be found. Former “child” star (she was actually a woman in her twenties playing teen roles) Donna Wilkes will probably always be remembered for starring as the title character in the 1984 cult film Angel where she played a “honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night.” First appearing in episodic television in the mid 1970’s, Donna made her first breakthrough when she was cast as oldest daughter Diane Adler in the comedy travesty Hello Larry. However, she replaced on the series after one season by another actress in a Darren Stevens type switcharoo. Donna appeared in a number of films throughout the 1980s including Schizoid with Klaus Kinski, Jaws 2 and Grotesque with Linda Blair. But by 1989 Donna Wilkes had disappeared from the pop culture radar completely. Missing for years, a cult following began to surround the actress when Angel was rediscovered in the 1990s and became a cult hit. In 2006 Donna Wilkes resurfaced when she contacted the webmasters of Donna Wilkes On-line. Flattered over the site, she revealed that she has been living a quite life somewhere in the US where she works at an office and is raising a daughter. She also stated that she wants to eventually return to acting when the time is right. However, for the time being she wants to remain low profile. Our message to Donna is that we respect your privacy and your desire to keep your whereabouts unknown, but there is a huge following of fans that want to hear from you. We promise to keep your whereabouts confidential, but we would love to tell your story. If anybody who knows how to reach Donna, please contact us. We are good at keeping secrets, and we have a lot of them.
“Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” co-star David Gurian
David Gurian – Possibly one of my all time favorite films, RussMeyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls promised one of the most exciting casts of Hollywood newcomers ever assembled. For the most part, none of the actors went on to have major careers, but the majority of them managed to stay in the fringes of the pop culture community as cult super stars. The only exception was doe eyed boy David Gurian who played Harris Albright, the heartbroken and jilted manager of The Carrie Nations. Despite his boyish good looks and charisma, this potential future heat throb became the most obscure of the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls cast. After Beyond the Valley of the Dolls David Gurian disappeared and has not a single acting credit beyond this classic film. When 20th Century Fox reunited the cast for the special edition DVD in, Gurian was the only cast member that was not present. It is possible that 20th Century Fox doesn’t even know where Gurian is today, if he is even alive. If anybody has any information at all on David Gurian please contact us.
John LaZar as Ronnie “Z-Man” Bazell in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” John LaZar is promoting his new film “Alice Jabobs is Dead.” PCA would love to help promote it.
John LaZar – Another of the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls alumnists, John LaZar played one of my all time favorite movie characters, the ultra bizarre Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell. Inspired by Phil Spector, LaZar camped it up with a unique sense of style and language and said such classic lines as “This is my happening and it freaks me out” and “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance.” However, the role of Z-Man proved to be damaging to LaZar’s career and he was only able to get minor roles in later years. Currently living in the Los Angeles area, LaZar has become a notable Shakespearean actor and in his appearance in the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls DVD he proved to be a well spoken and intelligent individual with a ton of information and stories that seemed to have gotten lost. Currently promoting his award winning independent film Alice Jacobs is Dead, John LaZar is alive and well and seems to stay just beyond our reach but remains to be the lost celebrity we have the most hope of interviewing. If John, or any of his people are out there, we would love to talk to you about the new film and his career and cult status. John LaZar is a personal favorite of mine and it’d be a thrill to speak to him. If anybody knows how to contact John please let us know.
Judy Strangis (with Diedre Hall) as Dyna Girl
Judy Strangis – Another celebrity that is out there and making occasional appearances at autograph shows, but remains to be just beyond our reach is pretty 70’s girl next door Judy Strangis. Daughter of television producer Sam Strangis, Judy started her career by appearing in various classic television shows such as The Tiwlight Zone, The Untouchables, Batman, Bewitched, The Mod Squad and Love American Style, and found her breakout role portraying Helen Loomis on Aaron Spelling’s classic Room 222. However, she gained mass cult appeal by playing sidekick Dyna Girl oppostie Diedre Hall on the Krofft Brother’s ultra cheesy classic Saturday morning live action program Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Unfortunatly, due to a stalking scare, Judy gave up acting in front of camera and spent most of the 80’s doing voice over work. Her career has been dormant since 1991 but she does make occasional personal appearances and is out there somewhere. IF you have any information on contacting Judy Stragis please contact us.
Bruno Polius in the early 70′s during his days with Les Poppys
Bruno Polius – With an intense stage presence like a young Mick Jagger, Bruno Polius never found fame in North America, but at one time, as head singer of the French boys choir Les Poppys, Polius and the kids were out selling The Beatles in a number of European countries. Originally a boy choir formed in 1946 from Asneieres. France, Les Poppys gained promince in the early 70’s under the radical new direction of Francois Bernheim when he hand picked seventeen young boys from the village and gave them pop songs protesting the Viet Nam war and praising the virtues of peace. The change of material paid off and Les Poppys had the Christmas hit of that year with Noel 70. The following year the group followed with Isabelle, Je T’aime and their biggest hit Non, Non, Rien N’a Changé, which knocked The Beatles’ Let it Be off the charts in France, Germany and the Netherlands, and outsold some of the biggest rock bands of the era. Although a number of boys sang lead vocals on various Les Poppys recordings, Bruno Polius was the quintensential voice of the group, lending his powerful vocals on their best remembered recordings. With a stage presence that seemed quiet and aloof, Polius had a certain intensity well beyond his years. Unfortunatly Les Poppys was much like the Munedo of their time and when a boy got to a certain age they were booted out of the group. One of the oldest boys when the group gained prominense in 1970, Bruno Polius was the first to be let go, ending the classic era of Les Poppys.
Bruno Polius today
Les Poppys still exists in some form, but after Bruno left the group lost its appeal and no more singles hit the charts. Bruno released a number of solo projects as a teenager but never managed to create the same success that he had with Les Poppys. Bruno Polius is currently active in the Paris music scene and is credited on a number of projects. In 2009 a book on Les Poppys was released in France and Polius, along with a number of other former members, made themselves assessable to promote the book. However, due to a number of factors, including no personal contacts in Europe as well as a language barrier, we have not been able to even begin to figure out how to contact Bruno Polius to share his story to the English speaking world. Classic french pop music is beginning to finally gain a cult following in North America and PCA would like to be one of the first to offer Bruno Polius’ story. If needed we can provide our own translator. If you have any information on how we can contact Bruno please contact us!
Elizabeth James in “The Born Losers”
Elizabeth James – In her white bikini and go go boots, beautiful starlet Elizabeth James struck a chord with cult film fans when she appeared as the spunky co-star in Tom Laughlin’s original Billy Jack film The Born Losers. Sporting a pixie hair cut, Elizabeth James had the beauty and grace of Audrey Hepburn, but for the exploitation film set. Strangely, after 1967 Elizabeth James dissapeared, only to reappear once more in a minor role in Peter Fonda and Susan George’s 1974 film Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Elizabeth James would never be heard from again. However, due to the immense popularity of the Billy Jack films, as well as multiple rereleases of The Born Losers over the last decade, Elizabeth James’ cult following has grown considerably and she is now hailed as one of the sexiest vixens of cult cinema. If anybody has any information on the whereabouts of Elizabeth James please contact us. Furthermore, with Billy Jack being my all time favorite film, I would like to hear from any of the dozens of kids who made up Tom Laughlin’s players in the various Billy Jack films as students of the Freedom School including Julie Webb (Barbara), Debbie Schock (Kit), Lynn Baker (Sarah), Stan Rice (Martin), Susan Foster (Cindy), Susan Sosa (Sunshine) and especiially Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor’s daughter Teresa Laughlin (Carol). I would personally love to put together a oral history of the Billy Jack experience and each and every one of these actors would prove to have a personal and unique story to tell. If anybody knows of any of these individuals whereabouts please contact us.
So the word is out. PCA guarantees to keep all information confidential. If anybody can help locate these individuals please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To look at who we’ve interviewed and what we do visit http://popcultureaddict.com/close. We promise that you/they will be keeping good company. I am depending on the information from our readers to help keep these stories alive, and to contact these missing members of our community.
As always, stay tuned because there is much more to come.
Everybody loves a comical chimp! Even Ronald Reagen
It seems that the entire world loves a man and his monkey. Ever since Ronald Regan made Bedtime for Bonzo, the appeal of the comical chimp has been a staple in the entertainment industry. Sometimes it works (David Shwimmer and Marcel on Friends); other times it does not (Kurt Russell in The Barefoot Executive). Personally, I have never been a fan of the comical chimp, but the day I first saw a little film featuring comic book writer and animation icon Paul Dini talking about guns with his sock monkey son Little Rashy outside of an ice cream truck, my feelings towards films featuring comical chimps changed forever. Perhaps the appeal had something to do with the fact that Rashy was a sock monkey. I mean, if there is one thing the world loves more then a man and his monkey, it’s a man and his sock monkey.
The Dini Household - Comic/cartoon writer Paul Dini, magician/comedian Misty Lee and sock monkey brothers Little Rashy and Super Rica
The short film, titled Ice Cream Time with Dad and Rashy, was one part of a larger body of work called Monkey Talk, which is the brainchild of Paul and his lovely wife Misty Lee. Originally, the series of films involved Paul Dini interviewing people in the comic book industry and other pop culture icons, including Mark Hamill, Grant Morrison and Dan Didio, which the mischievous Rashy, a sock monkey with a sadistic, yet loveable, streak, would interrupt with his own brand of mayhem. However, as time went on, the films grew to be more of a look at the type of insanity that takes place within the Dini household when you are living with a monkey like Rashy. The addition of Rashy’s long lost brother SuperRica, added to the fun as viewers were able to watch the abuse that SuperRica takes at Rashy’s pranks.
As Paul and Misty kept creating the Monkey Talk films, I decided that I wanted to get in on the fun, but with Paul and Misty being two of the busiest people in the pop culture industry, I decided that instead of contacting them, I’d drop a note to Rashy’s Live Journaland request an interview with him. It took him a number of months, but I eventually received a simple message that stated “I’ll Do It. Rashy.”
Paul and Rashy were kind enough to take the time to talk to me about their life and projects a few weeks before Christmas 2007. With Misty Lee sitting in, I had probably one of the fastest paced interviews I have given to date. The chemistry between Paul and Rashy is wickedly funny, and I found myself often unable to ask questions because I was to busy wheezing through my laughter as I waited to see what Rashy would come out with next.
So, friends and readers, get ready for the mayhem as PCA becomes part of the Rashy experience as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS:
EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT ME AND MY MONKEY:
A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL DINI AND RaSHy
I spoke to Paul Dini, Misty Lee and Rashy at their home in California via telephone on December 5th 2007.
DISCLAIMER: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY RASHY THE SOCK MONKEY ARE THOSE OF RASHY THE SOCK MONKEYAND DO NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THOSE OF CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT OR PAUL DINI.
Sam: Well I really want to thank you for talking to me today. This is really exciting for me because I’m a big fan of your work Paul.
Paul Dini: Thank you.
Sam: Your books, your television programs and your characters and, of course, the whole Rashy thing. The first Rashy film I saw was you and Rashy trying to buy a gun from the ice cream man and you guys had me sold.
Paul: Oh yeah. That was a good one.
Sam: Is Rashy there?
Rashy: Yeah I’m here. What do you want?
Sam: Rashy, it’s really good to talk to you.
Rashy: Where are you?
Sam: Where am I?
Rashy: Yeah. I can’t see you.
Sam: I’m on the phone.
Rashy: I can’t see you. I’m looking in the phone mouth piece.
Paul: Rashy, it’s not a video phone. You just have to listen to him over the phone.
Rashy: What kind of old person conversation am I having here? Don’t you even know how to I-chat?
Paul: No. We’re not set up for that right now.
Rashy: This is an outrage and you’re both an embarrassment.
Paul: Well you’re just going to have to do it old school Rashy.
Sam: Well look Rashy. I just want to tell you that this is the second time I’ve ever interviewed a sock and a monkey. The first was Canadian talk show host Ed the Sock and the second being Monkee Davy Jones. So thank you for taking time to talk to me.
Rashy: Hey. It’s the least I can do. I mean I know that you like to talk to celebrities and I don’t mind donating my time to a worthwhile cause.
Sam: Well the first question I want to ask is how did you two come together and meet. I mean a man and a sock monkey. How did that happen?
Rashy: I smelled money.
Paul: Really, I had this sweet little story all planned out and you put a monetary value on it Rashy. That’s not good.
Rashy: Well go on and tell your story. I’ll interject if I have something to say.
Paul: Well the honest story is that Misty likes sock monkeys and she let that be known to me one day when we were in a toy store but there were no good sock monkey around. We had seen that there were a couple of them and they just didn’t seem to have any appeal to them and I asked “would you like one” and she said “well, you know, if I find one I like.” This was about three years ago exactly. Christmas 2004 and I found this store that sold little handcrafted toys and there were a few sock monkeys in a barrel and Rashy seemed to have the most appeal of any of them. There was this one little one in there that, I don’t know, for whatever reason he just spoke to me. I said, “Well that’s the one. He looks cute.” I think it was his eyes. He has these googley eyes and he always looks like he’s wide eyed with surprise or outrage or about to do something.
Rashy: It’s because I’m staring at you, Porcupine.
Paul: Oh. Okay. That’s it. I’m trying to tell a nice story here. I didn’t think much about it and then on Christmas Eve we were at this cabin we have at Lake Tahoe and Misty came out to the living room and the tree was all out and Santa Clause had just visited and she saw her stocking and it had been taken off the chimney and it was being held up by the sock monkey and his attitude was like “Mine! All mine!” and we took a picture of it, and I guess that’s his baby picture, and from that moment on he just began making his wishes known and…
Rashy: You forgot the part where you punched me in the eye, ass!
Paul: I was just about to get to that part.
Rashy: Yeah! I was just about to get to that! I was just about to gloss over that piece!
Paul: Christmas night we were going to bed and Misty had the monkey with her all day. She’s taken him out in the snow and they bonded the moment she picked him up.
Rashy: She’s cool.
Paul: Yes she is.
Rashy: Dad’s another story. He’s a Porcupine.
Paul: Yeah. Right. He’s been watching the Three Stooges so everyone who’s not his Mom is now known as Porcupine. So, anyways, it’s getting close to bedtime and I turn off the light and after a minute or two of silence I hear this little voice calling to me and going (whispers) ‘Daaaaaaad. Daaaaaaad.” And I say “hey wait a minute. I’m not that monkey’s Dad. Is that the monkey? I’m not that monkey’s Dad. No.” So the monkey started talking at night and I said “I’m not talking to the monkey” and then I turned over and my fist..uh…hand accidentally whacked him in the face.
Rashy: That is not correct! You need to call child services because Paul Dini makes a habit and a hobby out of beating small children and sock monkeys! He’s a sick, sick individual!
Paul: No, no Rashy!
Rashy: He needs to be taken away!
Paul: No! That’s not true!
Rashy: Help me! Please! I know we haven’t known each other very long Sam but you and I go back far enough that I’d hope that you care enough about my well being!
Paul: RASHY! No! Sam, don’t listen to him!
Rashy: Get me out of here! Sam, do you have money?
Paul: Don’t answer that Sam!
Rashy: Sam! Please help me!
Paul: He plays on everybody’s sympathy!
Sam: I can see that.
What does James Garner have that Rashy wants? A tank!
Rashy: Sam, I need a tank.
Sam: You need a tank?
Paul: Misty took him to the mall today and got him some beautiful holiday outfits and he’s….
Rashy: She got me a fairy Christmas dress with wings!
Paul: It’s adorable Rashy. You look like the sugarplum fairy.
Rashy: It makes me feel cold inside.
Paul: Well the Santa costume is nice and SuperRica has a cute little elf costume. He looks just like Jingle Bell.
Rashy: SuperRica is an embarrassment to the family and himself.
Rashy's brother SuperRica
Sam: Well there’s another question I have to ask you. Is SuperRica the Cousin Oliver of this whole operation? How did he come to join your family?
Paul: Well he’s Rashy’s brother.
Sam: He came from the same barrel?
Paul: Yeah, but different times.
Misty Lee: SuperRica was found outside a taco stand in a little show box and we brought Rashy over because we understood that he was orphaned and there was a little note pinned to his front and Rashy looked into the show box and immediately punched him and that’s how SuperRica became a part of our family. He’s actually named after the taco stand we found him at.
Paul: Yes. We found him outside of a taco stand in Santa Barbara and yet, somehow, Rashy knew him to be his brother.
Rashy: Laying in a box and being embarrassing.
Paul: However, they were separated, if that is in fact what happened, is a story that they haven’t divulged to us yet. But they are brothers and they hang out together and they play all the time as brothers.
Robert Rodriquez - SuperRica's real father?
Rashy: Robert Rodriguez is his real father.
Paul: No he’s not.
Rashy: Yes he is and he’s got money and maybe he’s my real father too.
Paul: Well I don’t know who your real father is.
Rashy: You don’t know who yours is either.
Paul: I know who my Dad is!
Rashy: Yeah, you think you do! When was the last time you had a DNA test?
Paul: I don’t need one Rashy.
Rashy: They’re making some fantastic progress in the human geneome. Perhaps you should investigate.
Paul: Where have you been picking this up?
Rashy: Where have YOU been picking this up?
Paul: Rashy, c’mon. Anyways. That’s Rashy’s real origin and that’s what…
Rashy: Sam? Are you my real grandpa?
Sam: I’m not old enough to be your real grandpa I’m afraid.
Rashy: HA HA! He’s calling you old Dad! HA HA HA HA HA HA! HAAAAAAAAA HA HA!
Paul: Rashy, that’s enough out of you.
Rashy: That’s enough out of you! Porcupine!
Paul: Actually, Rashy’s grandfather does live with us too. The boys do have a grandfather named Grandpa Angus who is a surely Scottish sock monkey. He’s actually a used, rather old, stank sock monkey. I think the boys sold him on a shop for….
Rashy: 37 cents.
Paul: And a couple of bananas and the old man was shanghaied and spent several years at sea and eventually turned up at a junk shop in Monterey, California and ended up making his way to the family again.
Sam: Okay. Well this is going to be a two part question. Paul, I’m going to ask you the first part and Rashy, I’m going to give you the second part.
Rashy: I wait for no one!
Sam: Alright Rashy, I’ll give you the first part.
Rashy: That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Sam: No. No. I’m sorry Rashy. I have to give Paul the first part…
Sam: And then you can have the rebuttal. It could be better that way. You can trump him. Okay, so I’ve been trying to explain the relationship between you two to people who have never seen Monkey Talk, and one of the girls I work with said that the relationship between you two sounded like Alvin and David Seville. I thought, well, sort of, but not really. So Paul, how would you explain the relationship between you and Rashy?
Rashy is the embodiement of Pinocchio
Paul: Well, for one thing, Alvin brought in a lot of money for David Seville. Rashy has yet to bring a cent into the family and the few times we’ve put him in front of a microphone he won’t sing. He just knocks things over and runs away and just hurls abuse at us. Abuse and anything else that he can get his hands on. So our attempts to make money off of Rashy has not worked out where, I understand, Dave Seville has a breeding farm of chipmunks that don’t sing and the other ones sing out of fear. There has been actually about 88 Alvin’s at this point since 1958 or from whenever Alvin was created. There may be a little of that, but Rashy’s more like…have you ever read the original book of Pinocchio? He’s more like the original version of Pinocchio. He’s very mischievous and always loves to get into trouble. He says he’s going to be a good boy but temptation comes along or he just loses interest and off he goes.
Sam: Well Rashy? How would you describe your relationship with Paul?
Rashy: I think it’s a sad, sad situation over here. I am stuck in a state of servitude. I am punched in the face and the eye on a regular basis. I get nothing that I need or require to survive comfortably and in the way that I deserve to live. I am mortified. I am traumatized and I’m calling my lawyers! HELP! Help!
Paul: Rashy has a lovely life here in a beautiful home.
Rashy: Says you!
Paul: And you have a lovely place to sleep and you have toys and you have a brother who loves you.
Rashy: My brother pees the bed and my Dad won’t take care of it and I don’t even think he’s my real father. Nobody loves anybody around here and he’s trying to dress me up like a fairy. Apparently I’m supposed to be a part of his perverse and sick fantasies. I’m some kind of sock monkey Lolita.
Paul: That’s enough. This interview is over.
Rashy: That’s enough for you, Nabaokov.
Rashy and his "mother" Misty Lee are very close. In fact, you could say she puts the words in Rashy's mouth
Paul: It was your mother who took you shopping.
Rashy: You’re a sick person.
Paul: Your mother took you shopping and picked out those clothes for you. You take it up with her.
Rashy: I blame you.
Paul: Well your mother is the one who does it.
Rashy: Well I blame you.
Paul: You’re scared of your mother because she can make you disappear.
Paul: Or turn you back into socks.
Paul: Yeah. You pick on me cause I can’t do that. All I can do is chase you and I can’t run very fast.
Rashy: That’s right.
Sam: Well there seems to be an eternal and worldwide love and fascination for the sock monkey. Where do you think that comes from?
It's a sock monkey's world. We're just living in it.
Paul: I don’t know. I just find them very appealing. I think, visually, a lot of people find them just funny. You take a few socks, use some imagination and you got a little person there.
Misty: Also, it’s an original creation from a common household everyday item. Their sweet, their floppy, their huggable and yet they have the form of something that represent trouble and mischievousness and a lot of personality and people can customize them to meet their fancy. So many of them are so different and original that they are difficult not to love.
Rashy: Shut up Mom! He’s talking to me! Gimme the phone back!
Paul: Rashy, behave and be nice to your Mom.
Rashy: Your not being have.
Paul: That doesn’t even make sense.
Rashy: You don’t make any sense.
Sam: Well I know my favorite Christmas present ever was a sock monkey she made me named Roderick. I named him after Rod Serling. He’s actually sitting behind me here on the couch.
Rashy: What’s a couch?
Sam: Uh…it’s like a sofa.
Paul: Rashy. Behave yourself.
Rashy: You’re not.
Sam: Do you not say couch in California?
Sam: Well up here we have a few different words. I mean, in Canada we say pop instead of soda and you folks don’t have dill pickle chips down there apparently.
Rashy: What the hell is that?
Sam: its potato chips with dill pickle flavoring.
Rashy: Yeah, we have those.
Sam: You do?
Sam: What about ketchup potato chips?
Rashy: No, but I’d like to try them.
Sam: You would? Well I’ll tell you. I’ll be coming to San Diego in July and if I run into you I will give you a bag of ketchup potato chips.
Rashy: It’s a date my friend! I may not talk your crazy moon language but it sounds fantastic and tasty!
Sam: Well as long as customs brings it in and it doesn’t think it’s some kind of terrorist thing then that’ll be no problem.
Rashy: If you tell him it’s for me, they’ll let you through.
Sam: Will they now.
Rashy: Yeah. You just tell them that you got some potato chips and a bomb in there and they’ll say “where is that going” and you just say “it’s for Rashy!”
Paul: Oh yeah. That’s just great. We have to go to New York tomorrow and it’s….
Rashy: Ha ha ha ha! I got my little plastic bowling ball and a little clock that goes tick…tick…tick…tick…and I just slip it into my Dad’s luggage and he always gets pulled out of the line and they put on the rubber gloves and I laugh and I laugh!
Rashy: Ha ha ha ha ha haaa!
Paul: Yeah, Rashy always refers to me as Abdula. He’ll go “Abdula. Take this through the metal detector.”
Sam: Well, obviously you’ve been making the Monkey Talk videos for a while now. Is there any more coming out and where are you planning on taking that franchise?
Paul: Well, I want to get back to doing more interviews and profiling people in comics and animation and that was what it originally started out to be. To talk to people that weren’t getting a lot of exposure and….
Rashy: I don’t know. I’ve heard that a couple of those dudes expose themselves on a regular basis.
Paul: No Rashy.
Sam: Really? Like who Rashy?
Rashy: I’m not at liberty to say because sometimes I have a tendency to make up stories and cause trouble and I get in big trouble with my Mom. I need a kazoo….
Sam: What do you need a kazoo for?
Rashy: What don’t I need a kazoo for!
Paul: Is it on your Christmas list Rashy?
Rashy: No. It’s on my list of demands!
Paul: Well what’s on your Christmas list this year?
Rashy: I’m not telling you!
Paul: I heard you’re not too good this year and you might be off the list.
Rashy: No, that’s impossible!
Rashy: Well we got a letter from Santa saying that he was looking forward to coming here and that he has lots of gifts for SuperRica.
Paul: You were not mentioned in the letter.
Rashy: Well if that’s the case and he’s not coming then my bribes aren’t working and I want my cash back.
Sam: Well Rashy, what is on your list this year?
Rashy: What is on my list? Well I would like some grenades and then a paintball gun and a very large van with no windows in the back and also a large deep freezer.
Sam: And Rashy…you need this why?
Rashy: That is not an issue here and it is your job to do the supplying and it is my job to do the enjoying.
Sam: I understand. And you do realize that if you did get guns…I mean….
Rashy: I’ll take a gun. You can add that on the list.
Sam: Right, and then the grenades and the van…
Sam: Umm…that you…you know, I’m about to go down a political road that I don’t feel comfortable putting up on my web-site so I’m going to just move on. Sorry abut that. I don’t need any more controversy now that the whole Herman Hermit thing has finally died down.
Paul: Well, quite honestly, the last thing we need is the department of homeland security showing up here again. It’s very humiliating seeing them handcuff a sock monkey and take him away because then I need to bail him out and make explanations.
Sam: And have you had to do that yet.
Sam: Now Paul, I am really enjoying Countdowna lot but I need to ask, Rashy, what the heck is going on in Countdown, and if you were writing it what would you be doing differently.
Rashy: It would very closely resemble the soldier of fortune web-site.
Sam: I see.
Paul: Except with gorillas, right?
Rashy: YES! And you know what? The only thing I want to see in Countdown and it would make it all okay is Grodd.
Paul: That’s right. He hasn’t shown up yet.
Sam: That’s right. We haven’t seen Grodd yet.
Paul: No. We haven’t seen a lot of Grodd. He’s busy over in Justice League. I think he’s going to get shipped off the planet soon. I’m not really sure.
Rashy: Oh the humanity.
Paul: Well Rashy is a big fan of Gorilla Grodd. In fact, Rashy was campaigning for Grodd’s release.
Sam: Well do you have any emotional connection to Bobo the Detective Chimp?
Rashy: He’s alright but he’s not as cool as Grodd.
Sam: So Bobo versus Grodd, Grodd wins?
Rashy: Oh! Totally does! Hands down! Why do you even need to ask me that question?
Sam: Well how about, say, Grodd versus Titano?
Sam: Grodd versus Superchimp?
Sam: Grodd versus Congorilla?
Rashy: Is that a chick? Grodd versus Grodd, Grodd wins!
Sam: Got it. I don’t think there is a better answer then Grodd.
Rashy: That’s right. There’s no better answer to a DC comics question then Grodd.
Paul: What about Grodd versus Angel and the Ape?
Rashy: I don’t even know what that is.
Paul: Well he might be able to take the ape but he’d never be able to take the Angel. She’s to strong for him.
Paul: I’ll show you one of those books. You might enjoy it.
Paul: It’s basically a gorilla that’s a cartoonist who teams up with a girl who’s a detective.
Rashy: Kind of like B.J. McKay and his best friend Bear but not at all?
Paul: Yeah, but with a girl and there’s no trucks.
Rashy: Well if there’s no trucks I’m not reading it. I want to go to Taco Bell.
Paul: Are you going to Taco Bell? Are you going right now?
Rashy: Yeah. Give me the keys.
Paul: You’re not driving the car.
Rashy: Yes I am. I’m going to drive it into a lake and then I’m going to walk to Taco Bell.
Paul: There’s no lake between here and Taco Bell.
Rashy: I’ll find one.
Paul: Actually, there is. There’s Toluca Lake.
Rashy: That’s right! Bob Hope will be REAL surprised to see me!
Paul: Yeah. Especially since he’s been dead for four years.
Rashy: He’s in Forest Lawn.
Paul: Yeah, well you’ll have to take a round about way to get there.
Rashy: I’ll find him.
Paul: Yeah, I bet you will. You know who’s buried up in Forest Lawn?
Paul: No! Not yet.
Rashy: Not yet! Add that to my Christmas list!
Paul: Hey! The Three Stooges are there.
Paul: They are kind of spread out. I think they were cremated and spread out.
Sam: So that’s pretty much the end of my questions. So Rashy and Paul, what can we expect from you in the future.
Rashy: Wild success from me. Wild, wild success.
Sam: And how are you going to accomplish that Rashy.
Rashy: That is not your concern. All your job is to do is to spread the word about how great and fantastic I am.
Sam: Well I think I can do that.
Rashy: And get my a grenade, a deep freezer and a van with no windows.
Paul: Rashy, you’re not getting those for Christmas
Rashy: Says you.
Paul: Yeah. If those show up I’m sending them right back.
So, in order to do the job that Rashy gave me, make sure to check out Rashy and Paul’s misadventures at Rashy’s web-site (http://www.littlerashy.com) and Quick Stop Entertainment (http://www.quickstopentertainment.com/?cat=20). Monkey Talk is also available at YouTube, but to save you from searching yourself, we are proud to present Paul Dini and Rashy’s YouTube videos right here for your convince. And remember, spread the Rashy experience. Make sure to forward all of these videos to your friends and relatives.
POP CULTURE ADDICT NOTE: The majority of the photos used for this article are the property of Paul Dini and Misty Lee and were accessed from www.littlerasy.com. Please make sure to visit and read the Rashy stories and see the photos in their original context.
What is there not to love about the Brady Bunch? There’s just something so endearing about the whole thing. From the insipid plots to the dated clothing to the unforgettable theme song. Somehow the squeaky clean clan of Mike and Carol Brady has managed to sink into our collective subconscious and has become the most celebrated TV family in the history of pop culture. However, what is probably most unique about the Brady Bunch is the fact that in many ways they are like the Phoenix of myth. No matter how many times the show was cancelled somehow the Bradys managed to rise out of the flames and live again. From feature films to holiday specials to animated features – the Brady Bunch never say cancellation. Cancellation just isn’t in their vocabulary. This never say die attitude is what keeps the Bradys in our hearts and our minds.
Brady resurrections started in 1977 when the crazy duo of Sid and Marty Kroft had another groovy idea. After members of the Brady cast had appeared on the Kroft produced Donny and Marie Osmond Variety Show, Sid and Marty decided to revive the Brady franchise. The Brady Bunch had ended two years earlier, but Sid and Marty strapped it to a gurney, shot some lightening bolts through it, added music and disco suits and faster than you could scream, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” the monstrosity known as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was born.
However there was one problem. They couldn’t get the entire Brady clan back together again. Eve Plumb, who played neurotic middle sister Jan Brady, had other plans. She had little to no interest in a song and dance variety act. So what were Sid and Marty to do? You couldn’t have the Brady Bunch without Jan. Well there was one thing to do. A new Jan Brady was going to have to be hired. However, they’d do better than Sherwood Schwartz did. They were going to get a better Jan. A prettier Jan. A Jan who could sing and dance and really groove. They were going to get a Jan who would make sure that even if this Variety Hour thing didn’t work out that it could be momentarily saved by a Jan who would blow the whole thing out of the water. And that was what Sid and Marty did. Enter Geri Reischl. Already a veteran of toy commercials and horror films, Geri had sung with Sammy Davis Jr and Rene Simard and even headed up her own country band before Sid and Marty picked her out of over three hundred girls. And picked something special they had.
I first discovered what a force to be reckoned with Geri was earlier this year when researching a Brady themed article that was never finished. While watching clips of Geri singing songs like, You Don’t Have to Be a Star, Hey Mister Melody, Turn the Beat Around, Shake Your Booty, and Your Song via YouTube I discovered a dynamo who was making a show that has gone into pop culture history as one of the worst hours of television ever into something unbelievably special. So I went out to discover just who this Geri Reischl was. I quickly found her via her website, www.fakejan.com, and a few quick emails led to an interview with Geri herself.
My visit with Geri Reischl was possibly one of the most special moments of my pop culture journey. Geri and I took to each other immediately. The conversation was often interrupted by laughter. Geri Reischl is possibly one of the warmest and fun celebrities I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk with. Our conversation went on for hours but was full of stories that featured far more than just the Brady Bunch. Encounters with people like Elvis Presley, Red Skelton, Lon Chaney Jr. and Michael Jackson amazed me. Furthermore, Geri gave me the inside scoop on her involvement with such productions as The Exorcist and The Facts of Life. All this, and the real inside scoop on the Brady Bunch. Geri Reischl is an amazing woman with amazing experiences to tell about. Join me as we hear about her experiences growing up in 1970s’ show business as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PROUDLY PRESENTS
THE REAL LIFE OF FAKE JAN:
A CONVERSATION WITH BRADY BUNCH ALUMNI GERI REISCHL
Robotic-voiced Answering Machine: Hello. We are not available now. Please leave your name and phone number after the beep and we will return your call.
Sam Tweedle: Hi there. My name is Sam Tweedle. I’m calling for Geri.
Geri Reischl (picks up): Hi Sam!
Geri: Yes! Hi!
Sam: Hi! How are you!
Geri: I’m doing good! I’m awake… I think.
Sam: Are you? I hope I haven’t called too early. I mean, it’s four in the afternoon here.
Geri: No. I just had a big party weekend.
Sam: Well look. I want to thank you so much for talking to us today and I know it’s been a long time coming but it’s built a lot of excitement and anticipation.
Geri: Well why not? This is going to be fun!.
Sam: I’ve spent countless hours over the last couple of weeks looking up your career and trying to figure out what you’re all about… um… I hope that’s not freaky or anything like that.
Geri: No. I don’t care. That’s fine. As long as you don’t find the bad stuff.
Sam: I haven’t found any bad stuff yet.
Geri: I haven’t either, thank goodness.
Sam: No skeletons in the closet?
Geri: No. They haven’t come out.
Sam: Well that’s probably why we haven’t seen you all over the tabloids.
Geri: Right. I guess I have to do something and then I’ll have a skeleton.
Sam: So you’ve been busy these last couple of weeks. Have these been charity events or…
Geri: Oh yeah. I did the one in North Carolina for the James Stephens III Scholarship Foundation. That was a lot of fun. I was with Ernest Thomas, Raul Julia Jr., Jackee Harry, Roz Ryan and Reynaldo Rey. I spent the whole weekend in Rawling, North Carolina. Yeah. I’m kind of busy just doing things here and there.
Sam: So do you still do a lot of media events?
Geri: I haven’t for awhile only because I was raising my children and I thought that was more important to be a stay at home Mom and be with my kids instead of running around all the time and saying ‘hi’ in the morning and ‘good night’ at night – but now that they are almost 20 and 23 I am totally free to do all kinds of things and so that’s why you’re starting to see me more.
Sam: Well it seemed for a long time that you were this obscure mystery in the pop culture journey and all of a sudden people are suddenly becoming very aware of who you are, and you are coming back on the map.
Geri: Well yeah. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything though. I thought if I was going to have children that I was going to be at home and raise them and not have somebody doing that job because that was my job and I started acting when I was six and stopped when I was 23 when I got pregnant with my son, and my husband and I decided then that it was more important to stay at home and do that than do the other – and I never regretted it. But now I’m ready to go back out and have fun and do things and I’m a free woman again.
Sam: Was it hard giving that up?
Geri: It was, but I did so much work from age 6 to age 23 that at the time it was one of my chapters in my book and I was ready to go on to the next chapter. I knew I could always go back to where I started from so I just thought it was the right thing to do at the right time and at that time I didn’t miss it that much because I just loved being a mom. It was the ultimate. But I do miss it now and I want to get back into my singing and I love doing charity events and helping people out and doing things like that because I have a big heart and I love to be with a lot of people and you do things like that and it just makes you feel so good.
Sam: So you started at age six. Now was that something you wanted to do or was it the classic story of a Hollywood kid where somebody said, “Hey, you’re cute…” and you were suddenly pushed into it?
Geri: Well it started when my Mom put me in acting classes because she said I was just so outgoing and I had been singing around the house and she could tell I had a good voice I guess.
Sam: You have a fantastic voice!
Geri: Oh, thank you!
Sam: And that is the truth! When I started getting interested in your career I was writing an article which I’ve never finished. I sort of got derailed on it. Anyway, it was on Brady spin-offs and I was looking up clips on The Variety Hour and… well… I don’t know your opinion on The Variety Hour but the universal opinion on The Variety Hour is that it stinks.
Geri: Yes. It’s so sad. [laughs]
Sam: Yeah, but the way I looked at it was that when you appear on the screen… well… the way I wrote it was that if The Variety Hour was a toothache, your performances are like Ambesol, taking away the pain temporarily.
Geri: Well that’s good! I’m glad you didn’t use Preparation H!
Sam: Well that, for me, is what the show had going for it! You’re dynamic!
Geri: Oh, I loved doing the show because I’ve always thought my best talent was singing. I love the acting and I love the dancing but the singing is what I really loved because I had my own band for two and a half years and I sang with Sammy Davis Jr. and I toured with René Simard from Canada and I used to sing at all kinds of country and western clubs. I was always under age so I always had to sit in an office in the back and then when it was time for me to sing I would go out and do my show, then because of the alcohol, I would have to go back in the little office and sit and wait. But it didn’t bother me because I had so much fun doing it and, gosh, I didn’t care if I was singing in front of five people or a thousand people, it was just fun because you just connect with the people and you know they’re enjoying you, and you just get more energy inside you, and you just have more fun doing it. Then you don’t want to stop singing and you don’t want your show to end because you’re having so much fun with them.
Sam: So you started at age six.
Geri: Yes. I started at age six and my mother had put me in acting classes. It was at Melody Land Theatre in Anaheim, California. It was a round stage. It was a really neat venue. So I was cast as Gretel in The Sound of Music but what happened is they hired an actress to play Maria and she had five children and she wanted all five children to play the part of the von Trapps. She had a daughter who was a year older than me and the people who were running the production were sick about it because they wanted me so bad, but this lady, they wanted her, and she wouldn’t do it without her little girl doing it so I became a stand in, even though I learned everything. I had to be there every night. I never got to go on stage. I wanted so bad for that little girl to get the chicken pox but nothing ever happened but I guess it was meant to be because… you know how everything is meant to be… well I was getting a drink at a fountain and this man came up to my Mom and said, “Is this your little girl?” and she said yes and he said, “She’s just the cutest little thing. I would just love to try to get her into show business and TV and get her to do commercials and stuff…” and my Mom was quite wary about anybody like that, you know. But he gave her his business card and my Mom and Dad talked it over and about a week later my Mom called him. We went up to his office and we met him and his Mom was there and in the first week I went out for two commercial interviews and I got them both so that’s how it all started. So I guess I was always supposed to be the understudy and never be on stage. Who knows? He’d never seen me taking a drink a water.
Sam: So when you were doing the commercials, did you enjoy that as a kid? Was it hard work?
Geri: Oh! I loved it! It was just so much fun! I did forty commercials when I was working. Ten of them were for Mattel Toys.
Geri: Yes. That was my going away present because I was outgrowing their toys and the one doll, Heather, they made in my likeness.
Sam: Did they really!
Geri: Yes they did. She has long blonde hair and they said, “Geri, this is really you here,” and I said, “Oh. That’s so sweet!” but they told me that I was getting too old for their toys. So that was when I was eleven and they said that this was my going away present. It was really fun working with them. But I always had to make sure I never had a broken nail. My cuticles were always perfect. I had lost a tooth and they said, “Oh Geri. We can’t use you in this commercial because you lost a tooth!” Everybody had to be perfect in the commercials so my mom went and had a fake tooth made but it gave me kind of a lisp so they said, “To heck with it. Take it out. We know kids lose their teeth.” So I was one of the first kids in their commercials to do one with a tooth missing.
Sam: So they really loved you.
Geri: Well yeah. That’s the thing. I guess they did.
Sam: I looked up this whole Rock Flowers thing and there is a real cult for that particular set of dolls.
Geri: I had no idea actually. I had no idea that people were holding it. Liking them. Well, you know Casey Kasem did the commercial.
Sam: He did the voiceover. Actually, just the albums themselves are sought out collectables and there was an LP compilation. Yeah there are people out there that just collect those dolls.
Geri: Yeah. Well I have the Heather doll. So that’s cool. Just for a fond memory.
Sam: Now when you found that commercial on YouTube, how long had it been since you’d seen a commercial with you in it? I mean, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that they keep in circulation.
Geri: Well a friend had actually written to me and she had said, “Geri. Is this you in this commercial? Because it looks just like you…” so I first experienced it when I went to YouTube and clicked the link she had sent me and I said, “Oh my gosh!” So I sent it back to her and I said, “Oh yeah. That’s me. I can’t believe it but it got onto YouTube!” And I’m thinking, who in the world got a copy of it in the first place?
Sam: Exactly! I mean that’s what I think when I see stuff like that.
Geri: Oh yeah! I was amazed! I would never have thought of looking that up! I never look any of my stuff up actually; but I have friends and fans that will see things and then they’ll say, “Oh Geri. Have you seen this, or this?” or, “Do you know your episode of Gunsmoke is going to be on?” You see, I never look to see if I’m going to be on TV or anything but I’ve got great fans that will send me things and say, “Oh look, you’re going to be on TVLand in Gunsmoke next Tuesday!” and I say, “Thank you!”
Sam: So you did the commercials, and then you broke into horror films!
Geri: Oh! I know!
Sam: So, what’s that about?
Geri: Well it was kind of bizarre because I see an article or two that was sent to me where they call me a horror actress. So when I tell people that I’m a horror actress I have to really make sure to accentuate the ‘or’ on the end because, darn it, the other would be so much fun but, okay, I’ll accept that I’m a horror actress. But it was weird because I kind of noticed that and then they will go on to say, “And then she went on to play Jan on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and I had no idea that people were calling me a horror actress, but my two movies are pretty horrifying.
Sam: I just ordered a copy of Brotherhood of Satan but I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m waiting for it.
Geri: It doesn’t hurt for you to go on a little bit longer not watching it.
Sam: I Dismember Mama seems to be quite obscure.
Geri: Yes. I have that on VHS which I had put onto DVD so maybe I can have someone burn it and I’ll send you a copy because I have a lead in that one because it was really titled Poor Albert and Little Annie. I guess they didn’t think that was scary enough or would catch an audience’s eye so they called it I Dismember Mama instead.
Sam: And is it as bad as Brotherhood of Satan?
Geri: Well I think the movie is kind of bad. Most people who have seen Brotherhood of Satan have seen I Dismember Mama because they’re into horror movies so they have seen them both. But I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they love Brotherhood of Satan. It was one of the first movies to come out of that kind, because they made it in ’69 and I’m not sure if they brought it out in ’71, but I was nine years old when I made it. Now it is a bit of a cult classic.
Sam: I’d heard of it but I didn’t realize you were involved in it.
Geri: Right. And Strother Martin stars in it, of all people, strange because he always did westerns. So he’s in the movie playing the devil. He’ll give you creeps, I’ll tell ya. L.Q. Jones… oh I loved L.Q. Jones so much… and the late Alvy Moore. But yeah, it was a real fun movie to make but when we were in New Mexico we filmed by a lake and at the time we didn’t know that it was covered in mosquitoes so later that evening I was just covered in mosquito bites and it was so bad that they had to take me to the hospital. And one time they took me out filming where we were walking out on the road and it was super hot and my eyeballs actually got sunburned so it was so bad. But those were the only two bad things that happened when I was doing the movie so it was great fun. Ahna Capris was also in it, and Charles Bateman and it was just a really fun time during the summer. And then I Dismember Mama… my mom wasn’t going to allow me to do it because there’s, well now these days it would be super tame nudity, but there was nudity in it and, of course, I was twelve when I made it, and my Mom said, “No, you can’t be in a movie like that.” And they wanted me so bad that the director kept calling my Mom and begging her and begging and so my mom said okay and I only got my script – she didn’t want me to have the whole script – so I only got the script with my lines in it. So I didn’t get to see that movie until I was forty years old.
Sam: My god! Really!
Geri: Yeah. And I really wanted to see it so bad because I knew I had done a good job in it. I thought I had. I was proud of my work.
Sam: So why did so many years go by before you got your hands on it?
Geri: Well I didn’t realize the name had changed.
Sam: I see.
Geri: Because when I was flying out to Japan and Korea in ’72 it was out and I noticed it and I guess they had come out with Poor Albert and Little Annie because I had seen it at the airport on something and it was showing in Hawaii but then they changed the name and without computers at that time it was impossible to find stuff. But later, again, somebody told me that it was I Dismember Mama. So then I looked it up and got it when I was forty years old and watched it for my very first time.
Sam: And did you love it?
Geri: I did! I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wow, I did really good!” And of course this was at forty years old then but it was really cool to see my work ’cause that was one that I wanted to see so, so bad. It was really cool.
Sam: Why didn’t you go on to do more horror films? Maybe explore that genre more…
Geri: Oh. Okay. I was… well I know… [sigh] William Friedkin wanted me for The Exorcist. That would have been my next horror movie.
Sam: Wow! That would have been intense.
Geri: Oh, I know. But my Mom. Well I know I had three or four call backs on that one and I think I was on my final call back and a gentleman was walking by that was working at the studio and he said, “Oh, your daughter is so cute. What is she trying out for?” and she said The Exorcist and he said, “Oh no. Can I tell you something?” He goes, “I have teenage daughters at home and I have that book under lock and key. I won’t even let them read it.” He goes, “So maybe you might want to get the book and read it before you have her accept this part.” So my Mom went home and went to the library and read it and then she thought, “No, I just can’t!” At the time I was going to church and I would sing solos sometimes at church and doing a movie like that is so intense.
Sam: Did you ever meet Linda Blair?
Geri: I did meet Linda Blair because I was one of the final three. William Friedkin had called my Mom and told me he wanted me and she had said no, but he had said, “Just let her do this last interview for me. Please. Just think about it.” So my Mom said, “Oh, okay. The final interview isn’t going to hurt.” So my Mom had to sign a waiver or a thing saying that it would be okay for me to be hypnotized. So it was Dawn Lyn – who they said was too young for the part, Linda Blair and myself. So all three of us went into his office and the thing was where they put a dollar bill on the carpet, and they hypnotize you to where they say that no matter how hard you try, you cannot pick that dollar bill up. But I wouldn’t go under. Maybe I was refusing or something but I wouldn’t be hypnotized so I could always pick the dollar up. So, yeah, you would have to be hypnotized to do some of the things in the movie and when my Mom heard that she said, “No, this just is not right.”
Sam: Well I read somewhere that Linda Blair got really messed up doing that movie.
Geri: I heard she had got her back hurt really bad and everything so in the long run, if I had done it maybe my career wouldn’t have gone on the way it did. There is a reason for everything, so I just wasn’t meant to do that. But the part that I did have, and that I was already studying for, and I was learning my lines and everything – I had the part of Blair on The Facts of Life.
Sam: Oh! No way!
Geri: I did. I was cast as Blair on The Facts of Life. I was already practicing with everybody else. We were at a big long table and we had our scripts and the kids from Diff’rent Strokes would come and visit us. But I had also tried out for a cereal commercial, which I had done a series of them, called Crispy Wheat-n-Raisins.
Sam: That’s the Wizard of Oz themed commercials.
Geri: Right. And they had interviewed three to five hundred girls and they wanted me really bad and of course I had accepted because I hadn’t heard of The Facts of Life yet. So I signed a contract to do those for them. So, what happened was that the commercial coincided with The Facts of Life and they came back to me and said, “Oh Geri. We’ve got terrible news!” They said, “We are so, so sorry but you are signed under contract to do these commercials and we just couldn’t work it out with them to allow you to do this too.” So I’m 19 when I’m doing the Crispy Wheat-n-Raisin commercials but I’m only supposed to be 13 but I’ve always looked very young for my age. So they liked that as well because when you’re 18 and up they can work you as long as they want for so many hours without schooling. So I said goodbye to everyone and they all gave me a big hug and I was walking in the parking lot I passed Lisa Whelchel and I didn’t really think of that at the time because I didn’t know who she was. But later I was all, “Oh… okay.” So it wasn’t meant to be and so I did all these commercials for Crispy Wheat-n-Raisins and in the last one that I did… how old was I… twenty two or twenty three. I started when I was nineteen. Well they said I was starting to look a little bit older so I had to put my hair in ponytails. And I guess because I didn’t get to play the part I guess it was meant to be because, look, that show went on for, what, six years? Well it went for quite a while. That means that I had only been married six weeks when I got the part. Who knows what would have happened to the marriage because that’s pretty stressful. So you see everything just falls into place. So see, I probably wouldn’t have the kids I have and maybe I wouldn’t have kids because of working so hard. So everything is meant to be.
Sam: So you don’t regret it.
Geri: I don’t regret it. I just look at it as I wasn’t meant to do that and for some reason I wasn’t supposed to play that part and I was supposed to do those commercials instead.
Sam: But really – would you rather be known as Blair or as Fake Jan?
Geri: Oh. Fake Jan. But everything in my career went the way it was supposed to go so I can’t complain about anything. So I didn’t do The Exorcist – oh well. It’s no biggie. And because I toured with René Simard that helped a lot, even though my singing was pretty good.
Sam: So let me ask you – here in Canada René Simard is a bit of a pop culture icon, although time has faded his popularity in English Canada anyways. Maybe he still has a big fan following in the French populace of Canada…
Geri: Well when I was with him we went to Ottawa, Montreal and Lachine and in ’76 he was like Elvis. I mean so popular! That really helped me because I did that tour in ’76 so in the Fall of ’76, when I tried out for Jan Brady, it helped me a lot because I still remembered my dance steps and the different songs I had done with René. With him I had to sing, and had to cry, and had to dance, and I had to do all that stuff – so those little routines I did for him really helped me out with that.
Sam: Well how did you get involved with him? I mean, geographically it seems really odd.
Geri: Well he was in LA interviewing dancers, singers, everything. I can’t remember who actually sent me out on this interview. Anyways, I remember going out to this dance studio several times and having to learn little routines at the snap of a finger and I guess he was just a year younger than I was and we really blended in together. And I guess they thought we looked really cute together, so they hired me and Vicky Thomas. She was older than both of us. She was maybe… eighteen? Nineteen? But she was the rock singer. I was the country. René had his style, I don’t know what you would call it but it was beautiful, whatever he did. I mean it was amazing. So we had variety in our shows. We toured the different fairs all over the states and in Canada.
Sam: So when you were working with René Simard you did a TV pilot called “René Simard and the ProTeens.”
Sam: Now that’s an awful title.
Geri: Isn’t it?
Sam: Well what was it?
Geri: Well what we would do is we would sing and dance and it was just a bunch of kids hanging around. It was similar to, I guess, “Saved by the Bell” I suppose.
Sam: Kind of like K.I.D.S. Incorporated?
Geri: Right. Right. We were just a bunch of teenagers. Kind of singing and dancing. You know, it’s kind of hard for me to even remember. I have a picture of myself doing it but in the picture I have a rag or something so maybe I was polishing in a scene? But it’s really hard to remember that part but yeah, we did it. It didn’t go anywhere but it was a fun little thing to do but it never really took off.
Sam: So after René Simard you fall into this Jan Brady thing.
Geri: Right. In the fall of ’76, that’s when I tried out for The Brady Bunch, and I think I only had to do three interviews for that but, again, it was like three of four hundred other girls. And I never understood why I had to cry for every audition, but I did, even though I never had to cry on The Variety Hour. But I would always have to sing and I’m so glad it was a variety hour because that was my specialty and that really helped them out a lot. Marty Kroft always told me, “Remember Geri. I’m the one who picked you for this part. Don’t you ever forget it. I picked you.”
Sam: What was working with Sid and Marty Kroft like?
Geri: Oh. They were really really nice. Super guys. They were very, very professional. I don’t know. I really really liked them. They were really nice to me. Everyone accepted me right away.
Sam: Well that was one of my questions. I mean, the media would like everyone to believe that the Brady Bunch, like most casts, are a real tight knit group. Now if that’s true or not remains to be seen but we did an interview with Davy Jones not long ago and he revealed that he’s never hung out with any of the other Monkees outside of having to do a concert or a tour but, for some reason, it seems that the whole Brady thing is a whole different ballgame.
Geri: Well they see each other. I mean, they keep in contact occasionally, like special events they do something together but it’s not like they hang out together. And each of them have their own lives and they do their own things. I mean, I’m best friends with Susan Olsen so we’re doing things all the time, but not all of us keep in contact with each other because look how many years ago that is… but if you need to do something together it’s like you’re all one big family again.
Sam: So when you showed up to replace Eve Plumb they took you in?
Geri: Oh! Yes they did! They were so sweet and so nice and, in fact, Robert Reed told me, “Geri, it seems like you’ve been a part of our family the whole time. Like you started with us at the beginning or something.” And that just made me feel so good, like that this was going to be so cool. Everybody was really nice to me. Mike Lookinland and I became very good friends and Chris was always so sweet to me, and Barry and Maureen and Florence… and Bob Reed was just the biggest sweetheart in the world.
Sam: Now I wanted to ask about Bob Reed. I am a huge Robert Reed fan, mainly because I see him as one of the most tragic figures in pop culture history on this side of George Reeves because he is famous for hating the whole Brady thing and trying to shut down the original show. Now why did his attitude seem to change so much with The Variety Hour because I read that he loved doing it!
Geri: Yeah. He did! It was like a new thing for him and he could just let loose and it was something like he had never done and, no, he was always good on the set! He was always nice and friendly. It was a little bit difficult for him to do some of the dancing and stuff but he just put his all into it. He was just one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He was just so sweet, so kind, so nice. I never saw him negative at any time. Yeah, he was super. Now Susan, Mike and I were always in school together. We had three hours of school a day and Susan and I would kind of get in trouble sometimes because we would ditch and go and hide out and go upstairs to this office where Chevy Chase was playing the piano and we’d hang out with him. So that was a lot of fun and the teacher would come looking for us and we’d have to go back and my Mom would go, “Oh gosh, those girls are in trouble.” Or we’d go to Denny’s everyday for lunch. We’d leave the studio and go to Denny’s or walk to Arby’s or something and go have fun. So they were all really really nice to me. So what happened is I’d gone on the interviews and I was at school. I was a junior in high school and so a note came to one of my teachers who said, “Oh Geri. You have to go to the office right away,” and I thought, “Wait a minute. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m an A/B student. I’m a good kid. I’ve never even ditched school yet.” So I go into the office and my counsellor, Dr. Abrams, he said, “Oh Geri. I have some news for you.” I thought, “Okay…” He goes, “Well I hate to say this but you’re going to be leaving us tomorrow.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Yeah, you got the part of Jan Brady and you start working tomorrow.” I said, “Oh my god!” And I started jumping up and down and I thought I was going to hit the ceiling and he said, “Well Geri, you know I’m going to have to tell your teachers to get all the work ready for you.” Because I’d had to leave to do other things so I knew the drill. He said, “We’ll contact all your teachers and get your school work ready for you and let them know what’s going on.” The very next day I went up to the studio and we met and started learning our dance steps that first day. So it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of dancing and singing and then going and recording the songs and then going back to the dance studio and then going and filming it. I’m glad that it was easy to do because it was one right after the other. Like, “Forget that dance, forget that song. We’re going to something else.”
Sam: And you were working with professional choreographers.
Geri: Yeah. Joe Cassini was our choreographer. He was really cool. Really nice and so it was a great time for me. I had worked before with Susan on a Mattel toy commercial and we had been on interviews before together. She’s a year and a half younger then me.
Sam: So you two already knew each other.
Geri: Yeah. We had already kind of knew each other so it wasn’t just total strangers or anything like that and then Mike and I became friends and I’d go over to his house and we’d go cruising around in his new car.
Sam: Are you still in touch with Mike Lookinland?
Geri: I’ve talked to him a couple of times and I make sure that if Susan is seeing him that I tell her to tell him hi. I know he lives in Utah and has a family but I’m not in touch with him like I am with Susan.
Sam: Now I was just wondering how he’s doing. I know he’s had some troubles in the last couple of years and I’ve always liked Mike Lookinland a lot and I was just wondering if you know if he’s doing alright?
Geri: Oh, from what I’ve heard he’s doing fantastic. He and his wife have two young boys and for what I’ve heard just recently he’s doing fine. Things are a lot better.
Sam: That’s good to hear. I mean, I’m not trying to dig up and dirt or anything. I’m just checking. So well what I want to know is, well, let’s talk a little bit about Eve Plumb. Have you met her?
Geri: No, I have never met her. She never came to the set of The Variety Hour. I would like to meet her someday. I think that would be cool! The two Jan’s finally meeting! But what I’ve heard is that she doesn’t talk about The Brady Bunch too much. Now she has her paintings and she does galleries and showings and she’s really into her art work and I’ve seen some of it and it’s fantastic. She’s a really good artist.
Sam: Why didn’t she do The Variety Hour?
Geri: I think at that time, and this is just what I’ve heard because I haven’t spoken to her, but I’ve heard that she just didn’t want to do anything Brady and that she wanted to branch out and do movies and just get a little bit of separation and didn’t want that to follow her in her career and didn’t want to get typecast. But, you know, that’s going to happen when you’re on a show like that. You’re never going to lose it. I think what she did is she went and did a couple of movies like Dawn, Portrait of a Teenage Runaway but she just wanted to try something new so she wouldn’t be labeled. You know. Some people just like to go and try new things.
Sam: But then she turns around and does The Brady Brides a couple of years later.
Sam: Now I read that they hit the wall with her a few times during negotiations for The Brady Brides and that she wasn’t going to do it but finally they got her. Now at any time were you approached to be Jan on The Brady Brides?
Geri: No I wasn’t.
Sam: Is there any rivalry between the two Jans?
Geri: Well not from me! I love everybody! I mean, I’m just so happy to have played the part and I love being called Fake Jan. I love having my own identity because I would never want to take that away from Eve. I mean she is THE Jan Brady. I was the Fake Jan and I love being the Fake Jan. I think it’s cute, it’s different and it sets me apart. It’s catchy.
Sam: And it makes you notorious.
Geri: I’ve never heard anything bad about Eve Plumb except that she doesn’t like to talk about The Brady Bunch and to me I think that’s really sad.
Sam: Well it is. Look at Barry Williams! He embraces it and it keeps him in the public spotlight.
Geri: Oh my god! He is so cool! I was with him the other night and he was just, “Oh Geri!” And he gave me a big hug and then he was all serious and he said, “Are you still singing?” And I said I hadn’t for a while but I love singing still and he goes, “Well of course. You were raising a family.” And he was so cool and so nice and then his agent wants to talk to me and stuff and I don’t know what’s up with that.
Sam: So let’s leave this whole Brady Bunch thing for a minute. I want to go back to before the Bradys again and talk about Sammy Davis Jr.
Geri: Oh yes.
Sam: Now I am a huge Sammy Davis Jr. fan. When you worked with Sammy Davis – how long did you sing with him?
Geri: Well let’s see. I was with him for a little over a month. That’s with rehearsing and everything and I was what was called a “Sammy Davis kid” and I did it in Lake Tahoe. We performed for two weeks. We’d do two shows nightly and on my website, you know, you can see the pictures.
Sam: So you’d be singing stuff like The People Tree and Candy Man…
Geri: The Candy Man and all that stuff. Well one night… he was a really really nice guy but he also could have a little bit of a temper. He was so great with me. So sweet and so nice and he would come into my dressing room and he would have on just pants and no shirt and he would have fake fangs and he’d come in my dressing room and pretend to bite my neck and chase me around. Well one night when I was performing I got the hiccups on stage and he said, “Okay, do you have the hiccups?” And I said, “Yeah.” I just kept singing. I don’t know. I guess I should have kept my mouth shut but I just kept singing. I’m fourteen years old and I was, “I got to do the show. I got to keep dancing and keep singing.” So he was, “Who has the hiccups?” and I was, “Awww… I got the hiccups. I’m so sorry.” And he said, “That’s okay.” And, oh my gosh, he stopped the show. He makes a big huge deal out of it. He walks me to the front of the stage and thank goodness it wasn’t the opening night because Elvis Presley was in the audience sitting there with his little daughter Lisa Marie, watching us on opening night. Watching us with his sunglasses on and he’s all in white. I was like, “Oh my god.” I was so excited to have Elvis Presley watching me sing. But anyway Sammy Davis asked the people in the table that was right against the stage, “Does anybody have a glass of water so maybe I can help Geri get rid of her hiccups?” So he gets the glass of water and I drink some and he knew my hiccups were going and I knew he knew I was so scared and I felt terrible about getting the hiccups, but after the show… I don’t know how he did it, he must have got someone to do it but I don’t know… I got a big thing of flowers and a big huge lollipop and a stuffed animal and it was like telling me it was okay. It was no big deal. That was great so from that night on he told every show that we did, he told the audience that I got the hiccups. He put that into his show every night that, “Oh, here’s Geri. Isn’t she just the cutest little thing, but guess what she did to me? She got the hiccups!” and made a big deal out of my hiccups every night. Except during one show, I guess, I don’t know how many shows we were doing, I guess he got kind of mad at something one time and he hit the wall really hard and broke his hand. On my website there’s a picture of me with his arm around me, and if you look at his hand closely there’s a cast on his hand. So he had to go to the show and then to the hospital, put a cast on his hand, and then had to do the rest of the show with a cast on his hand. But I never saw his moodiness. I never saw anything. He was just the sweetest, nicest guy to me and funny. I mean, he’d come in and tease, you know, and be goofy and pop out of no where and scare you and he had a great sense of humor and his show was really, really good. Billy Eckstein opened for him. It was cool because when I was there we went across the street to the Sahara and that’s where Michael Jackson – the Jackson Five – were performing so I met Michael Jackson. And well, just during rehearsal, he asked me up on stage and he said, “Hey Geri” and I said, “Yeah…” and he said, “Let’s dance!” So I was dancing with Michael Jackson.
Sam: You danced with Michael Jackson! Wow!
Geri: I couldn’t believe I got to do that! It was amazing! And then Glenn Campbell was closing the night before we were going on and I got to meet him and I was like, “Oh wow! This is just a great experience.” I sat next to Billy Eckstein on the plane going up to Lake Tahoe and it was like, “Oh gosh, this is quite an event!” I mean, for a fourteen year old…
Sam: Through all of this you must have met dozens of legendary people!
Geri: Oh yeah. Through my career… oh definitely. Gosh. I met Lon Chaney Jr. and Charleton Heston and Gregory Peck and Edward G. Robinson.
Sam: Now what was Lon Chaney Jr. like?
Geri: To me, because I was young when I met him, it was a little bit of frightening. A little bit scary. He had his trunk all full of his disguises with all his things in it and I wanted to open that trunk so bad and look in it. No, but he was really cool. Really quiet and being a young kid and seeing him was just a little bit scary to me. But he was nice though. He was one of a kind. Definitely one of a kind. So I’ve met some very big stars. But you know, in the 60s. You know, the stars from then. Like wow! So, yeah, I got to meet quite a few.
Sam: That’s amazing. Who was your favourite?
Geri: Oh my gosh. Ummm… let’s see. Red Skelton. Love the man. He actually opened for René Simard. For our show. The most amazing. It was just a thrill to meet him and he turned it all around and made it as if it was an absolute thrill to meet me and he asked if he could have picture taken with me and I was just in awe. I was just flabbergasted that he would because I wanted to ask him. I mean, look who this is! It’s Red Skelton! But, no, he was so excited to meet me and he wanted his picture taken with me and I will never forget going into his dressing room and talking with him and just laughing. That’s one of my greatest memories – meeting that man.
Sam: That’s just fantastic.
Geri: That’s what I thought. I mean I couldn’t believe that was happening.
Sam: So the 70s happened and you pretty much quit in the 80s because you had your son.
Geri: Yes. I worked until 1983. I quit in ’83.
Sam: Now in your opinion, I know what my opinion is, but in your opinion, why is Fake Jan more notorious than Fake Marcia and Fake Cindy? Because there is a Fake Marcia and Fake Cindy. Why is Fake Jan the favourite?
Geri: I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I played it longer than the others. I mean, I don’t know how long they played their parts, but I think maybe because I was the first replacement of a Brady. Nobody else had ever played a Brady. They were always together. The six of them. And I was the first one to ever replace a character so maybe that’s the reason. I don’t know. I mean I’ve always been kind and gracious to my fans.
Sam: Well that is for sure. I’ve learned that first hand.
Geri: And I think maybe also because they did a spoof of me on The Simpsons.
Sam: That’s my opinion and I wanted to ask you about that.
Geri: And I’ll tell you something. I never think of anything like this happening. I mean, I played the part. I never really think of it in depth.
Sam: Well let me tell you something. When The Simpsons spoof you, you’ve hit it.
Geri: Yeah! And I’m on the poster of all the characters! I think I’m on the top row on the right.
Sam: Now the musical director on The Simpsons was the music director on The Variety Hour.
Sam: Did you know you were going to be spoofed on The Simpsons or was that one of those things that just shocked you.
Geri: It was a shocker. I later found out about it, and I didn’t even know about Tiny Toons… the cartoon when they did a midseason replacement and they called her Fake Jan.
Sam: Oh! I didn’t know that.
Geri: Yeah. So it was a midseason replacement and that was me and they do some things and I find out after the fact most of the times. But The Simpsons thing was really, really cool. And then there is a band in Illinois called Fake Jan, so I thought that was cool too. Who actually called me Fake Jan first was Nickelodeon – Nick at Nite in the 90s when they were showing “The Variety Hour” and they would say, “The all new Fake Jan – Geri Reischl” so they started calling me the Fake Jan and it just stuck. So that’s pretty cool. I like having my little own identity so I don’t take anybody else’s away.
Sam: Now I need to ask you something honestly. Now I’m not saying The Brady Bunch Variety Hour isn’t fun… I mean I’ve seen two episodes of it now and enjoyed every minute of it, but I also love Ed Wood films. Now what do you think went wrong when it came to The Variety Hour? I mean, something went wrong. TV Guide puts it in the top ten worst television programs of all time!
Geri: Yeah. I think we were number four. I’ll have to look that up again, but I was proud.
Sam: Now were you above or below Hello Larry?
Geri: Now number one was Jerry Springer. At least we didn’t get number one. But number four… I thought that was funny as heck because we even got on the cover of that TV Guide and then on the inside they have us girls in trashcans. I mean c’mon!
Sam: Now that’s not fair to you. I’ve heard Maureen McCormick sing, Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma and maybe that’s fair to her, but that’s not fair to you.
Geri: I know. But I look at all of this and I laugh and I just think its funny. I just see it as, good or bad, the show is still getting publicity. You know what I mean? And I don’t think there’s anything about it that is that bad, but they still are talking about it! Look how many years ago that was, and they are still talking about it! I don’t know if it had something to do with the writing. I mean, it was kind of corny. Kind of funny but at that time variety shows were in. Look when we would be on Nick at Nite, afterwards it would be Sonny and Cher and The Captain and Tennille and then Donny and Marie.
Sam: Even Starland Vocal Band had their own show.
Sam: Starland Vocal Band. The one hit wonder that did Afternoon Delight. Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Geri: I watched that!
Sam: My earliest memories are watching Sha Na Na with my dad and mom.
Geri: Oh my gosh! I love that! That’s great! I don’t know. I don’t know if the audience were ready to accept Bradys singing and dancing and maybe it was just too close to the other series and they were just so used to it so this was a real shock. Maybe we didn’t have a good time slot. I mean, all of those things factor in.
Sam: I love the camp factor. I love the costumes. Some of those disco suits are just a scream. Barry Williams dancing. That’s always funny to watch.
Geri: Yes! It’s great, isn’t it?
Sam: Yeah. Someday I might just write an entire article about Barry Williams dancing because it’s some of the most flamboyant dancing I’ve ever seen. Now was he choreographed, or was that actually Barry?
Geri: No, it was done by Joe Cassini and that was what he was given to do and he did it the best he could. Now he is a great singer!
Sam: Oh, Barry Williams can sure sing!
Geri: I loved singing with him. We did a version of Shining Star…
Sam: Yeah! That’s amazing! Oh, and in the music medley, when you do Hey Mister Melody, you really, really groove! And wow! One of the worst things that I’ve ever seen on television in my life, not the very worst, but one of them, is the Bradys doing Do the Hustle and Shake Your Booty. That right there has the potential to be, well not the potential… it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen but, man, somehow you made it sound good! You had the solo and the moment you start singing it suddenly goes from crap to really amazing! It’s almost as if your singing had the ability to perform pop culture miracles!
Geri: But do you notice on that clip our mouths don’t match?
Sam: No I don’t.
Geri: Well now that I’ve told you that, watch it again and you will see that when we say Do the Hustle our mouths don’t match. Of course my solo does, but I don’t know if it was the dubbing or whatever, but something happened. It doesn’t match and we just laugh… They always left all sorts of bloopers like that in… And I’m famous for my dying lines. “I could just D-I-E, die! Oh why couldn’t I just be dead!” That was, of course, the beginning of the show. Later on I guess I decided I wanted to live. You’ll notice the ribbon in my hair, with the poodle skirt, it keeps working down my ponytail and then it just eventually falls out. You’ll also see Barry skating and you’ll see him actually fall. Another one is we are walking away with our knees together, us kids, and Susan is behind me and I’m walking around the couch and I trip over the pull out rug but miraculously I pop up like that. There’s just so many things.
Sam: The only one I noticed is, again, during the, Do the Hustle number is that Bob Reed can’t keep up and completely loses it at the end – he’s no longer even trying to dance along.
Geri: There’s just so many. I mean, there is one where it’s at the beginning and we’re dancing around at the pool on those platforms. Well you’ll see one where all of our hands go up and you’ll see Chris and he goes down, and all of a sudden his arms go up and you just barely see a chuckle laugh on his face because he goes, “Ummm…darn it.” But you’ll see a lot of bloopers that maybe somebody else doesn’t notice but we do and we have just the biggest laugh when we watch them.
Sam: Well in Barry’s book he writes a Brady episode guide where he points out all the on-screen bloopers of the original series.
Geri: I’m trying to think. That was the book where they were looking for me and a lot of people were saying to me, “Oh my gosh. It’s like you fell off the face of the planet…” This one person wrote to me and told me that they were about to check if there was a death certificate on me because they didn’t know where I had gone. And a couple of weeks ago I called a big fan of mine in New Jersey for his fortieth birthday. He was having a big surprise party and his friends had set it up and he was just so thankful that I had a website because he said that he probably wouldn’t have ever found me again. He would have never known what I had been doing in my life or what was going on and he thanked me for that. But I didn’t start my website. A gentlemen did and I contributed to it and we’ve become really, really good friends now. I didn’t even know I had a website until somebody let me know that it had been started up on me. It started out as, “Where’s Fake Jan? Does anybody know where Fake Jan is?” Yeah. So nobody knew where I was.
Sam: So were you surprised, when you finally came out of the woodwork, about the reaction that you got?
Geri: Actually I was. I was like, “Wow!” Because I hadn’t thought of it after I finished being the Fake Jan. But I was really surprised when the website started because, oh my gosh, because I would have five hundred emails in no time! I still have them everyday and it’s going to be thirty years later, well next year officially. It started in 1977. Well it’s been thirty years and people still write to me and nobody has ever been negative, which is really sweet. But then, I have a lot of younger people who write me. A lot of younger people who are in their mid-thirties to forties and then some of them who are a lot younger because they have got the DVD of the Brady Hour. So people are still remembering it to this day because I guess it just stands out.
Sam: Well Geri, I’m glad that you do have that website because if you didn’t then I would have never found you! I mean, I think it’s just such an honour to be talking to you about all of this!
Geri: Oh! Very cool! Well it’s been such an honour talking to you because this has been so much fun, you know? You know what I mean? It’s been great!
Sam: Well it’s people like you that have the real stories to tell. That’s the way I look at it. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, and I hope that you’ll stay in touch still. I love getting the occasional email from you.
Geri: Oh don’t worry. This isn’t the last you ever hear from me.
Sam: I’ll be looking forward to it.
And so ended my visit with Geri Reischl. You know what the most amazing thing about that interview was? It wasn’t just me doing an interview with a celebrity. That afternoon it was like I felt that I sealed a friendship, which is more special than anything else I can even think of.
WANT TO KNOW WHY I LOVE “FAKE JAN” SO MUCH? DISCOVER GERI REISCHL’S CAREER VIA YOUTUBE!
Fake Jan: The Movie - A fan-made film featuring Geri’s finest moments on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Completely classic.
Geri’s “Rock Flowers” doll commercial for Mattel Toys – Featuring Casey Kasem as the voice announcer. The Heather doll was based on Geri herself.
Geri and the Sand Dabs perform on the short lived family drama “Apple’s Way”
Geri as Jan Brady singing Elton John’s “Your Song” – One of the rare good moments on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Elton John didn’t even realize how good this song could be!
The Brady Bunch sing Do the Hustle and Shake Your Booty – One of the campiest moments in television history is saved only by Geri’s solo. Man – dig those space-aged disco suits. Kind of an Ace Frehley meets Battlestar Galactica thing. Man the 70′s could be weird.
Geri and Barry “Greg” Williams sing “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” – Geri really grooves.
The Brady Kids do “Turn the Beat Around” – Eat Your Heart out Vicki Sue Robinson. Dig the wigs on the Water Follies. YIKES! Also features Rick Dees on Disco Duck and…the What’s Happening Kids? WOW!
Geri as a guest on Pop Goes the Country
And now I hope you get why Fake Jan has become my all time favorite Brady. Perhaps now she’s your all time favorite Brady too!
He is one of the most notorious characters in the history of pop culture. He swoops onto the pop culture journey as a pint sized harbinger of doom in thick round glasses and a sandy blonde bowl cut, inspiring fear and loathing at the drop of his name. He is a symbol of endings, failure, and the fact that nothing will ever be the same. He is Oliver Martin, aka Cousin Oliver.
Introduced in a 1974 episode of The Brady Bunch, Cousin Oliver was sent to live with the “group that somehow formed a family” when his parents were unable to take him on an extended trip to South America. Yeah. Like Mike and Carol Brady needed a seventh mouth to feed.
"Wherever I go, terrible things happen!"
Quickly establishing himself as a “jinx,” he told his Aunt Carol, “Wherever I go, terrible things happen.” Carol assured him he was wrong, but little did Carol know that Oliver’s words were a prophecy. Six episodes later The Brady Bunch was cancelled. Behind the scene insiders have proven that it was not the addition of Cousin Oliver that had ended The Brady Bunch, but the legend had already begun. Cousin Oliver became the poster child for the fabled “Jump the Shark Kid” – the moment you know your favourite TV series has ended when the producers, in a last ditch attempt to boost ratings, add a precocious kid to the cast. He wasn’t the first of these unfortunate additions, and he wouldn’t be the last, but Cousin Oliver created the legacy to be followed by characters such as Chachi Arcola, Andrew Keaton, Sam Drummond, Dawn Summers, and more Cosby Kids than even the most obsessive pop culture addict could ever memorize. When the popular website jumptheshark.com created what is commonly known as “The Cousin Oliver Syndrome,” he did what no other character from The Brady Bunch had been able to do – he became an adjective. Cousin Oliver had become a phenomenon all his own.
But behind those thick glasses and button down shirts was a child actor by the name of Robbie Rist. Already a veteran of TV commercials and television guest spots, at age nine Robbie Rist had become a favourite amongst casting agents in Los Angeles. With his wholesome cuteness and ability to remember lines, Robbie signed for a six episode stint on The Brady Bunch. For Robbie, it was just another job, and he had little idea that he would become a legendary pop culture oddity and a part of the pop culture lexicon.
However, when The Brady Bunch ended, the curse of Cousin Oliver didn’t follow Robbie Rist. While the rest of the Brady’s were singing and dancing in the ill-fated Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Robbie was appearing on the multiple Emmy-winning sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Ted Knight’s boy genius son David. He is also remembered fondly for playing Dr. Zee on sci-fi favorite Battlestar Galactica and for the role of Whiz in the 80’s animated/live action Saturday morning musical/adventure series Kidd Video, as well as providing the voice of Ninja Turtle Michelangelo in the live action big screen adaptations of the cult 80’s series. Although Cousin Oliver symbolized failure, Robbie Rist’s long career in Hollywood has been anything but.
I caught up with Robbie Rist in November 2009 in Los Angeles. Primarily known today in the Los Angeles area for his work in various alternative rock and punk bands, as well as his work as a voice actor, there is no evidence of Cousin Oliver in Robbie Rist today. The blonde bowl cut of the seventies has been replaced by shaggy long hair, and his finely pressed button downs are now black band t-shirts. Robbie Rist is both high energy and highly intelligent, with a “matter-of-fact” style of conversation spoken by a veteran who has been in the entertainment industry for nearly forty years.
Sprinkled heavily with pop culture references and his unique sense of humour, my time with Robbie Rist was one of the liveliest interviews I ever had . Sitting down over a pasta feast to die for at an old school Italian Restaurant just off of Hollywood Boulevard, the two of us spoke quickly and enthusiastically as two children of the seventies who have always been engulfed by pop culture – although while I sat in front of the television, Robbie sat in front of the cameras. Constantly sidetracking ourselves over subjects ranging from California girls, 70’s Euro-pop, horror movies, KISS and Bobby Sherman, Robbie shared with me his story of growing up in Hollywood, the secret to his success, his thoughts and opinions on the Cousin Oliver phenomenon, and how he survived being a child actor in Hollywood.
Come pull up a chair and chew on some of our left over bread sticks as I talk to a true pop culture original as:
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
“WHEREVER I GO, TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN”:
A CONVERSATION WITH ROBBIE RIST
Sam: How old were you when you were doing The Brady Bunch?
Robbie: I was nine.
Sam: Had you done a lot of stuff previous to that?
Robbie: I had done a lot of stuff. By the time I did The Brady Bunch I had done nearly eighty commercials. I had already done the John Denver Specials. I had at least done one of them and then I presented an award to him on the American Music Awards. I was on Temperatures Rising. I did a bunch of stuff before The Brady Bunch and by the time that had happened it was just a job.
Sam: How did you get into show business? Were you a product of stage parents?
Two of pop cultures' most famous monsters - The Wolfman and Cousin Oliver!
Robbie: No. I pretty much bitched my parents into it. I was really into those 1930s Universal movies. I loved the Wolfman. I was always a pretty melancholy kid and there was something about the Wolfman’s story. He’s such a loner. He has a sad story.
Sam: He’s a tortured soul.
Robbie: Yeah. Totally, and for some reason I really responded to that. So I really loved all those movies and Lon Chaney Jr. was my favourite actor so I [said to my parents] “I want to be in a monster movie. I want to be in a monster movie. I want to be in a monster movie” which turned into “I just want to be in a movie” and my parents sent me to one audition thinking I’d think it was just ridiculous, [but] I got the job. Then I got the next one and the next one and I’m pretty much out of the gate, and I just started knocking them down. It was pretty crazy and pretty freakish. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to go because I started out just kicking ass and then, every once in a while, I’d miss one and I’d say “Hey! I’m supposed to get all of them!”
Sam: So your nine years old. You get The Brady Bunch gig. It’s just a job. They bring you on. Now they were an ensemble cast for years and then they bring Cousin Oliver in…
Robbie: Yeah, but everybody was super cool as far as that went. I mean, I noticed that Robert Reed wasn’t there for the last episode but I never noticed any [tension] between Reed or Sherwood Schwartz or anything. If they were mad at each other it all happened off stage.
Sam: But you came in and were accepted right away?
Robbie with Susan "Cindy Brady" Olsen.
Robbie: Oh yeah. Susan Olsen was probably the closest in age so we were the closest. I am more friends with her than I am with the rest of them. I still talk to her. She’s awesome. She’s one of my favourite persons in the whole world. The cool thing about Susan is that she’s not the kid that was on TV. She never was. She had the darkest sense of humour. Even as a kid. When she was 12, I was 9. Let me give you an example. I became a huge Queen and Dr. Demento fan in those days because of her. I was at her house one day and she said “You got to listen to this” and put on Queen II. There was some scary shit going on there. The art that Susan Olsen makes is really twisted. Really strange. She just recently wrote a book about The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.
Sam: I’m a fan of The Variety Hour. Were you ever disappointed you didn’t ask you to be on it?
Robbie: Nah. I wasn’t disappointed to be on anything. Whatever. It’s all a job.
Sam: Why do you think The Brady Bunch has endured over the decades?
“The Brady Bunch! It’s so ridiculous that I love it!”
Robbie: I think the Brady’s would [explain it better] because they would know a little bit better about it than I would, but everyone now can look at the show through the filters of the years that have passed. When it was just a TV show, although mind you a Top 10 TV show…a successful TV show, it still existed in this innocent universe where people didn’t get behind the kitsch factor. It was guilelessly itself. Then it hit syndication and at this time Bill Murray opens up the gates of irony on SNL when he sings “Star Wars. Those near and far wars,” allowing everybody else watching television at the time to start filtering their world like that too, and all of sudden [they say] “The Brady Bunch! It’s so ridiculous that I love it!” and it becomes this kitschy thing. I look at it as a quaint period in television history. That’s really what the show is. It’s like Donna Reed. It was another time.
Sam: Now your character, Cousin Oliver, was only in six episodes, but the character has its own mythos beyond The Brady Bunch.
Robbie: It’s taken off on a life of its own, which has nothing to do with me really.
Sam: What is your take on the whole Cousin Oliver phenomena? I mean, Cousin Oliver wasn’t the first “Jump the Shark Kid” in TV history, but why do you think he became the poster child for it?
Robbie in "Big John/Little John"
Robbie: I don’t know. Well, again it was lightning in a bottle. Look. Kirby Furlong was just as good of an actor as I was, if not more so. Moosie Drier, Brad Savage, Philip Tanzinie, Sparky Marcus…all these dudes that were at least as good as me. Some of them were way better than me. Why doesn’t anyone even know where Kirby Furlong is today?
Sam: I could find him.
Robbie: I’m sure you could. If you do tell him I say hello.
Sam: You must have had a decent working relationship with Sherwood Schwartz because he brought you back for Big John, Little John.
Robbie: Well I was 9. I’d say my Mom did. I never really talked to them about what their motivations were because by that time I was 13. If I have a frustration about my career it’s that because of the time that a lot of this stuff happened, I wasn’t particularly aware of a lot of the stuff that was going on around me. I was just doing it. If I had those opportunities now I would be talking to everybody. [I’d say] “Really? Why do you want me on this thing?” I have decades of working in this industry and I’ve done some really great stuff. I mean I was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Brady Bunch is good and it definitley gives me a little bit of awareness out there, but, c’mon, Mary Tyler Moore is up there with All in the Family and Cheers.
Sam: It’s one of the best sit-coms of the 1970’s, if of all time.
Robbie: And on top of that, I have the privilege of being on one of the best last episodes on television ever. I mean The Mary Tyler Moore Show had one of the best last episodes ever. It’s so sweet and heartbreaking and I can’t even think of it now without tearing up. But I have the privilege in being in that. How cool is that?
TV Guide ad featuring Robbie as David Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Sam: You played Ted Knight’s son on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. What was it like working with Ted Knight?
Robbie: Amazing. Everybody on [The Mary Tyler Moore Show] weren’t just on that for five years, [but] had also been on other shows before that and even beyond that.
Sam: Well what’s amazing about The Mary Tyler Moore Show was that afterwards everybody went on to have successful shows like Too Close for Comfort and Lou Grant and The Love Boat and The Golden Girls.
Robbie: Ha. My Dad had such a thing for Betty White.
Sam: Now besides The Brady Bunch and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a small cross section of fans remember you from Kidd Video.
Robbie: Yeah. I did Kidd Video.
Sam: Now I was watching a video on YouTube of you and the rest of the band playing on Dance Fever. Did they actually send you out on tour and doing concerts when you were making that show?
Robbie: We did a tour of Israel but it was all mimicked.
Sam: But you’re a real musician.
Kidd Video LP from Isreal (Left to Right) Robbie Rist, Bryan Scott, Gabrielle Bennett and Steve Alterman
Robbie: Yeah. We ran into the same problem as the Monkees did. At first they just wanted to use our looks and for us to just shut the hell up. They wanted to get our voices in there but Bryan Scott [Kidd Video] said “Hey. How about letting me get a song in there? How about that?” So if it would have got another year it would have been even harder. We might have gone “Hey, we can turn this into something” but, you know, they wanted something else. But it was an opportunity to sing, and that’s all us doing it. The second year’s worth of animation was pretty nutty looking. Somebody had put something in the water, I’m thinking. I watch those videos on YouTube and once in a while and I’ll get an alert that somebody has written something and it’s not nearly as painful now as it was then.
Sam: Did you get to know the other members of Kidd Video very well?
Robbie: Yeah. I still know Steve Alterman [Ash]. We still talk once in a while. He’s a good dude. Gabrielle Bennett has disappeared off the face of the planet…. She’s out there. She’s alive but she’s way under the radar. Bryan got involved with a loop group. He’s in Top Gun. Maybe he still plays music. I don’t know.
Kidd Video featuring Robbie's character Whiz
Sam: So how did you get into voice acting in the first place?
Robbie: I was with an agency that did commercial voice overs with a kids department so whenever they needed kids voices they’d go down to the kids department and say “C’mon. Come and read for us.” I started picking up jobs and I started picking up a lot of them. I went “Wait a minute. You’re telling me that a voice over job is over in a half an hour?” If I do a cartoon I basically make the same money as I would for a day of on-camera and I don’t have to be there at four in the morning? Sign me up! The average radio spot pays you three hundred bucks and is over in forty five minutes, leaving me the rest of the day to go play guitar or something. So I just pursued that. I did the Teenage Mutant Turtle Movies and did Balto and a bunch of commercials.
Sam: Well you’ve been working ever since. Between acting and music and voice work you’ve stayed firmly in the entertainment business.
Robbie: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to get a job yet. My job is art. It goes in periods of full and then bare, but even the “job” I once had was as a recording engineer at a website that did rich content greeting cards. So I’ve been lucky because it’s been all art, all the time, ever since. Once someone told me if you’re in entertainment don’t specialize. Don’t do one thing because you’ll be doomed.
Sam: Is it true?
Robbie: Yeah. Don’t specialize. Do everything. Do stand up. Do improv. Be an actor or a singer. Teach. Just do whatever you can to pay the bills because every once in a while one might take a bigger place in your life and the other one will get smaller, but it will shrink again and then something else will get larger.
Sam: Now let’s talk about your music. Today you are probably better known in Los Angeles for your career as a musician than as an actor.
Robbie: Music has been there all the time. I started playing violin at three and piano at five, guitar at seven, bass guitar and drums at 13. In the meantime I played mandolin and banjo. If it had strings on it I could pretty much figure it out.
Sam: Who were your musical influences?
Robbie: I don’t know. My parents were playing, and being German immigrants there was a lot of polka music, and my Dad used to listen to the German hour on the local college station. I know if it was Sunday…German Hour. Right on. Wolfgang Schneider.
Sam: So are you with one band or do you work with a bunch of bands?
Robbie: I was a lead singer for a bunch of years with a band called Wonderboy. We put out three records and we worked really hard. I, at a certain point, got tired and nobody was really paying attention, so I thought that maybe my abilities were best served in the service of others, so I kind of became a utility infielder for a group of musicians around town. There was a music festival called Poptopia that was all power pop bands from all over the place who would come into town, and let’s say their bass player couldn’t make it so I got to the point that with any given instrument, with one rehearsal, I could be a member of that band. Now I am playing with Steve Barton, the singer from Translator, and I’m in a group called Nice Guy Eddie and I just joined up with a new thing called Your Favorite Trainwreck. Before emo was called emo a whole bunch of bands from Orange County were sort of writing personal songs played really loud and there was one band called Gameface and one called Farside. So two guys from those bands formed Your Favorite Trainwreck. I’m playing with members of Marky Ramones’ band called Everybody Needs a Dictator. Pretty funny kind of a punk rock band. Then I do one off singles.
Sam: You produce as well, don’t you?
Robbie: Yeah. There is a group called Slapdash that I’ve been working with and a punk band called Finland Station that I’m working with. I do a lot of that sort of work.
Sam: So that is how you have managed to maintain. You seem to be a fairly together guy despite the fact that there is this idea that former child stars become train wrecks.
Robbie: No. It’s not true. Look. I met with a couple of production companies who contacted me to do a reality show around me. One of the guys that I had this interview with was a friend of mine. I go in there and he says “Yeah, no promises, but if we can make a show around you, let’s do that.” So they interviewed me and two weeks go by and I don’t hear from [anybody]. After three weeks I call them and say “What was the upshot of that meeting?” I mean, if it’s no then, whatever. I don’t really care. Either way, it was a reality show. [They say to me] “You’re too boring. You’re not a train wreck and that’s what people want.” Former child stars that become train wrecks have bad parents. Always. I talk about this all of the time. Because I was a kid actor everybody wonders why, at least outwardly, I seem somewhat put together. And a fair amount of that is true except for the parts that are completely disastrous about me. In every case that a child actor goes bad, it’s because their parents were douche bags.
Sam: Well obviously your parents were good and supportive.
Robbie: My Mom got a reputation of being difficult, because if there was a possibility of me being hurt on the set she would walk on the set and stand between the camera and me and say “He is going to get hurt doing this. We’re going to leave” and they’d say “You can’t leave. We’ll sue you” and she’d say “You want me to sit around and wait for you to hurt my kid? See you in court.” She got a reputation for being difficult although [she’d say to me] “We don’t have to be here.” That was her thing about keeping me in line. She’d say “We don’t have to be here. You could be in school. You can be just like every other little kid and you might even prefer that but while we are here we’re going to do this my way.” She totally had my back, where I’m willing to bet [other child actor's parents] didn’t have their back. They were like “Hmmmmm…my kid’s making a lot of money. We could put in a deck.” Gary Coleman’s parents spent 2.1 million of his dollars. I think aside from them not having sex with you, the least you expect from your guardians is that they don’t steal your money.
Sam: No wonder Gary Coleman is so angry.
Robbie: Yeah. When he was 18 he might have thought he could get an apartment. Joe Jackson? That guy should burn in hell. Look at the ET Awards two days after the death of his son. He was smiling.
Sam: Look at the way he’s exploiting Michael Jackson since his son’s death! He’s making money off his kid’s death!
Robbie: I hope they keep hell hot for him. At least Brian Wilson was lucky because his Dad died, thus giving him some shot of sanity, but as long as Joe Jackson lived there was no way that Mike was going to make it.
Robbie with his "Brady Family"...and check it out! Davy Jones has stopped by? Somebody get Marcia! (Left to Right) Christopher Knight (Peter), Susan Oleson (Cindy), Mike Lookinland (Bobby), Davy Jones, Barry Williams (Greg) and Robbie
Sam: Now I know that every now and then you are thrown together with members of The Brady Bunch at different autograph events. How do you get along with them as an adult?
Robbie: Fine. We did a couple of autograph conventions this year. Finally got to meet Chris Knight’s wife. She’s hilarious. She’s really cool.
Sam: And how do you feel about people recognizing you as Cousin Oliver?
Robbie: Just like everything else there are a couple of ways to approach it. One is that it happened, and the other is that it didn’t. The Eve Plumb approach to The Brady Bunch is, “It never happened. I don’t want to talk about it.” It is interesting. For some people it is a bane, but I don’t have anything I need to prove to anybody.
Although Cousin Oliver has become a legend, Robbie Rist has worked under the radar and behind the scenes helping to create the long and winding paths of the pop culture journey. By not pigeon holing himself into one profession, Robbie Rist has done what many child stars have failed to do – survive in the crazy thing we call show business. One of the most fun guys I’ve had the pleasure to meet while in Los Angeles, I look forward to hanging out with Robbie again next time I make it to California. Perhaps terrible things always happen when Cousin Oliver is around, but Robbie Rist is one of the coolest guys that I’ve met on my pop culture adventures.
The introduction of MTV in 1981 changed the way that music was seen on television forever
The popularity of rock music owes a lot to television. In the early days of the rock n’ roll industry television was the only way most kids were able to see future musical icons and while the new form of music was considered taboo by parents, preachers and decency groups, bringing it onto television broke down the boundaries that allowed the world to accept and embrace rock music. I mean, if Ozzie and Harriet’s kid Ricky was playing it, it couldn’t be all that bad, right? Throughout the 1960’s shows like Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, American Bandstand, Shin-Dig and Hullabaloo brought the biggest musical acts in the world into people’s living room each week. These programs gave way to the variety shows of the 1970’s where acts like Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and The Captain and Tennille invited performers to come onto their shows to not only sing but perform comedy skits. However, everything changed in 1981 when MTV was launched. Considered a crazy idea at the time, and passed off as a fad, MTV changed the way that audiences watched music, and it revolutionized the music industry forever. By airing back to back music videos for twenty four hours, seven days a week, MTV popularized the hybrid of film and music, forcing bands to create videos out of necessity and not merely as side projects. However, MTV’s influence over the music industry wasn’t always positive. Suddenly it possible for people to have music careers based on their good looks and not their individual talents. You no longer needed a good song to have a hit. All you needed was a good video. Video did kill the radio star.
However, while variety shows and musical showcases became obsolete as a result of MTV, fictional bands still continued to pop up in sit-coms, kid’s shows and other surprising places. A legacy was born by groups such as The Monkees, The Partridge Family and The Bugaloos and, for better or worse, this trend did not dissolve under MTV’s might. In fact, as MTV moved away from airing videos in the 1990’s, the popularity, not to mention the quality, of the fake bands began to increase making the grey boundaries between reality and fiction even more intangible today then ever. So come with me as we take a trek through the 1980’s and 90’s and into the 21st Century as we take another look at the best, the worst and the weirdest musical acts that came from our favorite TV shows in:
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
TV TUNES: MADE FOR TV BANDS THAT ROCKED OUR TELEVISION SETS
PART TWO: 1980 TO 2008
Just as I did with Part One of our look at the history of fake TV bands, I stuck to a number of different parameters in order to pick and choose between hundreds of fake bands that have popped up on the pop culture journey. First, all the bands had to be fictional or made for TV. Artists who just took their existing musical career and played themselves, even if in made up situations, would be exempt. As a result Will Smith is not included for his sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air nor will one of my favorite TV programs, Flight of the Conchords. However, S Club 7 will be included because although they played themselves, they were brought together to create a made for TV band. Next, either a regular cast member, or a reoccurring cast member of a TV program had to be a member of the band. Third, the group must perform in front of an audience. Plenty of TV programs have musical numbers, but it was important that the groups actually perform in front of an audience instead of just doing a musical number for the sake of the TV audience. This cancelled out a great shows like Fame and Rags to Riches, and a not so great show like Cop Rock. Fourthly I chose to stick to episodic television, which means I won’t be including sketch comedy. Finally I have also not included any animated bands in this article and they will be represented in Part Three of this series. So you ready to start rockin’ and rollin’ with your favorite TV friends? Get ready to be transported the 1980’s where the bangs were only bigger then the shoulder pads! I’m just going to warn you though. The 1980’s were full of some questionable moments in fake band history. Just sayin’.
Scott Baio and Erin Moran opened each episiode of "Joanie Loves Chachi" with the ballad "Look at Me"
Joanie and Chachi (Joanie Loves Chachi) Scene: An empty Italian restaurant. A lone man sits solemnly plunking away at a player piano. The man? Scott Baio. Suddenly he begins to sing:
“Something magic in the way you hold me in your eyes.”
Suddenly, out of the darkness, we see he is not alone. The figure of Erin Moran appears out of nowhere adding her voice to the melody:
“No one warned me love just takes you by surprise.”
Staring intently at each other the two allow their voices to meld into one another:
“I don’t know what’s come over me; you’ve got me hypnotized when you…..lookatme!”
Some may call it assisted suicide but I truly believe the opening theme sequence to Joanie Loves Chachi is TV magic! I mean to this day the opening theme is far more memorable then the premise of the notorious failed Happy Days spin-off. For those few who remember, or even cared, what many people forget is that the entire premise of Joanie Loves Chachi was that Joanie and Chachi move always from Milwaukee and, more or less, start their own pop band in Chicago!
Joanie and Chachi's band had a sound ahead of their time. Although the show was set in the early 1960s, their music sounded like it was written in the 1980s
In 1982 Happy Days creator and head honcho Gary Marshall decided that it was time for teen lovebirds Joanie and Chachi to strike it on their own. Devising a subplot in the previous season of Happy Days that saw series favorite Al Delvecchio marry Chachi’s mother Louise, Marshall had Chachi move with Al and Louise to Chicago where they opened an Italian restaurant in which the majority of the series’ action would take place. Marshall then sent Joanie off to college in order to create a reason for her also to be in Chicago as well. Finally, he had them form a band. In actually, Joanie and Chachi were performing together in Happy Days , but by creating a band for the couple would help flesh out the cast by adding Chachi’s socially retarded cousins Mario and Annette on guitar and bass, a spaced out drummer named Bingo on drums and Chachi’s kooky Uncle Rico as the band’s manager, who’s business scruples made Cornel Tom Parker look like Mother Teresa. Each episode dealt with Joanie and Chachi’s trials and tribulation as they’d break up and make up as they went from gig to gig, which also meant that Joanie and Chachi would perform a song each episode.
Scott Baio actually gave the old college try as a singer and released a pair of albums that proved to be even more unpopular then "Joanie Loves Chachi"
However Joanie and Chachi’s musical career had a lot more problems other then the usual sub-plots revolving around jealousy that put their relationship in peril each and every week. First of all was the fact that, just like Joanie’s brother Richie’s band, the band never had a name. Second was the fact that nobody was quite sure what year it was supposed to be. You see, if Happy Days was set in the early to mid 1950s when the show began, by the time Joanie Loves Chachi hit the airwaves the year would have had to have been around 1961 or 1962. In 1962 singers such as Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent, Neal Sadaka, Bobby Rydell and Bobby Vinton ruled the charts. However, Joanie and Chachi sounded far more like the Captain and Tennille and the Carpenters. Ahead of their time? Possibly, but it was more that the producers just decided to throw away the historical accuracy of the era. However the biggest set back that the band faced was the fact that Scott Baio couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. Seriously! Viewers were reminded that each and every week the moment Baio opened his mouth to sing the opening theme! Yet that didn’t stop Scott Baio from releasing two LPs during his career – a self titled LP in 1981 and “The Boys Are Out Tonight” in 1983.
Anyhow, Joanie may have loved Chachi, but the TV audience didn’t love the show. The series wrapped up after sixteen lack luster episodes and Joanie and Chachi eventually found themselves back in Milwaukee for the final season of Happy Days and, thankfully, without their band. From there on in they left the singing to Potsie.
"Janet Jackson's a part of your band? Whatchoo talkin' about Willis?"
The Afrodisiacs (Diff’rent Strokes) The history of TV bands have had it’s share of questionable quality and ear sores, but there has never been anything more off-tune then the Afrodisiacs featuring the sounds of Diff’rent Stokes stars Todd “Willis” Bridges, Dana “Kimberly” Plato….and Janet Jackson? That’s right! In fact, if it wasn’t for Janet Jackson this musical mistake would never have had happened.
You see, long before Janet Jackson stepped into a recording studio (at least for any other reason then to watch her brothers sing) she actually hit the pop culture radar as an actress when she was discovered by TV legend Norman Lear and joined the cast of Good Times as “jump the shark” kid Penny Woods. After Good Times ended she was in another short lived sit-com called A Different Kind of Family, and then found herself in another Lear series, Diff’rent Strokes playing Willis’ girlfriend Charlene between 1980 and 1984. Janet would have been happy just pursuing a career in acting, but tyrannical father Joe Jackson pushed her to record an album In 1982 her first self titled album was released and in an attempt to promote the album it was decided that Janet would sing on an episode of Diff’rent Strokes. Great idea….right? Well it might have been if they had only allowed Janet Jackson to sing. Instead the episode had not only one, but four musical performances spotlighting the questionable vocal talents of the three teen stars.
The Drummond kids attempt to do music was timed to coincide with the release of Janet Jackson's debut album
The story tells of Willis and his pals forming their own soul group called the Afrodisiacs. Gotta admit. It’s a pretty clever name. Housed in a padded performance space the guys work hard on creating a groove that would melt butter. But could Willis groove? Well he had all the moves. There is no denying that Todd Bridges could dance. Since the beginning of the series the writers were looking for reasons to get Willis to dance. However Lou Rawls Willis was not. Yet everybody acts like he’s a decent singer because…well…that’s what the script said they had to do. Anyhow, it was decided that a second singer was needed for the band, because obviously the Afrodisiacs planned on ditching Willis the first moment they could, so Willis got the band to audition his girlfriend Charlene. How convenient!
Dana Plato a better performer then Janet Jackson? Apparently The Afrodisiacs thought so...or perhaps they wanted to keep her around cause she was scoring the good drugs
This gave Janet Jackson a chance to sing a song from her new album. However, a wrench was thrown into Willis’ plans when Arnold had white step sister Kimberly sing a number with the Afrodisiacs after Willis and Charlene had left. Kimberly grabs the microphone and croaks out a pretty little ditty while staring into space with wide gloss overed eyes, making you wonder if she got into Carrie Fisher’s stash just prior to filming. But can a white girl sing soul? According to the Afrodisiacs she could and in a totally unrealistic plot twist, decided that Dana Plato was a better singer then Janet Jackson! Yup. I’m serious. Dana Plato is better then Janet Jackson. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief here. Obviously tempers flared which almost broke up the band. Yet in the end everybody made up and the three singers came together and found perfect harmony performing “Ebony and Ivory” at the end of the show. How bad was it? Well, after hearing it Stevie Wonder wished that he was deaf instead of blind, Paul McCartney wished he was the dead Beatle and Janet’s brother Michael went insane trying to figure out if he was ebony or ivory. You can actually see Janet Jackson physically wince while performing the number. It’s just that bad.
At the end Mr. Drummond predicts that the Afrodisiacs are going to be a big success, but history tells another story. Todd Bridges, thankfully, never sang on Diffr’nt Strokes again, Dana Plato became the poster child for Hollywood child stars gone bad and Janet Jackson left the show to, well, become one of the biggest recording artists of the 90’s. Well Mr. Drummond was right about one of them. But did her musical exposure on Diff’rent Strokes help Janet Jackson’s recording career. Well, despite having a successful recording career later on, Janet’s debut album was a giant flop. Coincidence? You be the judge.
The original line up of KIDS Incorporated - Jerry Sharell, Renee Sands, Rahsaan Patterson, Stacy Ferguson and Martika
KIDS Incorporated (KIDS Incorporated) The day that my kids come to me and say “Dad, what were the 1980’s like” I’m going to show them a first season episode of the popular long running musical kids program KIDS Incorporated. Perhaps it’s not what the 1980’s really were like, but as a kid growing up in the 1980s it pretty much jives with my recollection.
Created for syndication by Thomas Lynch and Gary Biller in 1983, KIDS Incorporated was the house band for a kids hang out called The P*LACE, consisting of band leader Mickey, diva Gloria, sisters Renee and Stacey and a token black kid who simply went by the moniker “The Kid.” Each week the group sang the hottest top forty rock songs, covering artists like Madonna, Bruce Springstein, Devo, the Cure and other 80’s icons, as they dealt with love, life and stardom in what was really a fun little kids show. Plots were kept to a minimal due to the fact that the kids performed up to five songs per episode, but they made due with what they had. There was romantic tension between Gloria and Mickey, rivalry between Renee and Stacey and The Kid could break dance.
Original diva Martika had the first post-KIDS Inc. hit with a 1988 "one hit wonder" "Toy Soldiers." However, it was rumoured that a behind the scenes rivalry with co-star Jerry Sharell for solos saw him leave the show after one season
However, while ratings were favorable for the show, trouble was brewing behind the scenes. When the producers decided to introduce more fantasy based concepts like leprechauns and ghosts show star Jerry “Mickey” Sherell left the show stating that he was expecting the show to be a more mature and realistic look at life. Yeah Jerry. If this was realistic just where was KIDS Incorporated’s parents and how was that band being financed? It was rumored, however, that he and costar Martika, who played Gloria, had a rivalry and he was unhappy that she was getting more solos then he was. The producers wrote Mickey out of the show and the band hired new lead male Ryan. However due to slipping ratings, blamed on faulty syndication schedules, KIDS Incorporated was slated to be cancelled. That is when the unexpected happened.
Jennifer Love Hewitt made some of her earliest screen performances as a later member of KIDS Inc.
Learning of KIDS Incorporated’s pending doom, Walt Disney productions picked the series up and bought the actors, sets, concepts and even the previous episodes and turned it into an early Disney Channel program. I mean, if Disney can find a way to buy and exploit kid’s talents, they’ll do it! With Disney backing the show KIDS Incorporated became an even bigger success with a better and more stable time slot and slightly better production values. However, as the kids continued to grow older Disney began to “Menudo” them by replacing the older kids with younger replacements. The next casualty would be Gloria who would be written out in 1987. However, as a result of being able to “Menudo” the kids, KIDS Incorporated managed to stay on the air until 1994 – an astonishing nine seasons! Mind you, by 1994 none of the original kids were involved.
Little Stacy Ferguson would prove to be the breakout musical star of "KIDS Incorporated" when she grew up to be Fergie. Incidently, she also was the longest surviving member of the group, appearing on the show from 1984 until 1988, and reprising her role in a later 1990 episode
Yet for some there were life after KIDS Incorporated and some of the KIDS Incorporated kids did go onto much bigger things. The first breakout star was Martika, who played Gloria, who had a huge hit a year after leaving the show with the one hit wonder “Toy Soldiers.” Jennifer Love Hewitt also began her acting career as a later addition to the KIDS Incorporated cast and, of course, would later go onto much bigger things.
However the real breakout star was Stacey “Fergie” Ferguson who, formed her own group called Wild Orchid with her former KIDS Incorporated co-star Renee Sands after being “Menudoed” out of the show, and would later join The Black Eyed Peas and eventually go onto major solo success.
Unfortunately, as a result of publishing rights to all of the songs performed by KIDS Incorporated, we’ll probably never see the series on DVD, but thankfully clips of the show are available on YouTube so that we can relive the 1980’s, and preserve what the 80’s really looked like for future generations.
"The Facts of Life" Girls before the 1980's took hold of them
Sexy Lingerie (The Facts of Life) Everybody loved those girls from Eastland Academy when they first appeared in 1979 but by 1985 Blair, Natalie, Tootie and Jo, the girls of The Facts of Life, had pretty much jumped the shark. They had opened a novelty shop, adopted a “jump the shark” kid, and even added a sexy carpenter played by none other then future Hollywood mega star George Clooney to their little sit-com family. Could they jump any higher? Oh believe me ye of little faith. They could. Would you believe that The Facts of Life girls would become a singing group with the unlikely moniker Sexy Lingerie? It’s totally true. However, thankfully Sexy Lingerie would only appear once, and only as back up singers to 80’s pop star El Debarge! The man himself! Remember El Debarge? Barely? Well this “classic” episode of The Facts of Life may refresh your memory..
The "Facts of Life" Girls formed "Sexy Lingerie" to enter a teen magazine contest to win a chance to back up 80's "one hit wonder" El Debarge
When “jump the shark” kid Andy enters the girls without their knowledge into a contest to be back up singers for El Debarge (the man himself) by writing an essay in fluorescent lipstick on the back of a Debarge album and having it delivered to Teen Scene Magazine’s office by an exotic dancer (wow…that kid had some serious disposable income burning a hole in his pocket) the girls laugh off the idea. However, when the essay gets them into the finals they have a change of heart and record an impromptu version of “My Boyfriend’s Back” featuring Blair on lead vocals. Thankfully the producers of The Facts of Life realized the limitations of the girls musical talents and kept their musical performance down to a record thirteen seconds (trust me, I timed it). I mean, the girls could carry a tune but they were hardly the Partridge Family. Hell…they weren’t even the Brady Six! However, despite being only mediocre, their demo got the girls into the finals where they were flown all the way to New York City to compete for the grand prize audience with, the man himself, El DeBarge..
El DeBarge (the man himself). Along with George Clooney's perm, his 1985 appearance on "Facts of Life" really dated the program
Completion proves to be minimal except for a Detroit group of cliqued “bad girls” calling themselves Commotion who, in typical 80’s fashion, quickly establish themselves as the chief rivals by trading insults and nasty banter. Nailing the interview portion of the contest the girls and Commotion find themselves battling head to head for the final honor. Unfortunately, Tootie downs a can of root beer before going into the recording studio and belches through the final recording putting Commotion into the lead. However, upon arriving, the man himself, El Debarge recognizes Commotion, revealing them to be a professional group, which disqualifies them from the contest, meaning that Sexy Lingerie wins! Well…did you really think they were going to lose? The end of this episode was predictable in the first few minutes. With a flash of his pearly grin El Debarge coos “It looks like its me and you Sexy Lingerie” and the episode ends with El Debarge and The Facts of Life girls singing Debarge’s not so classic pop single “You Wear it Well.” Fade to credits. The Facts of Life girls returned to Eastland while El Debarge faded into one hit wonder obscurity.
Sexy Lingerie never returned, but that didn’t stop The Facts of Life girls from singing again, nor was El Debarge the only singing star to cross the girls’ path. Two years later, in an episode featuring former teen idols Bobby Rydell and Fabian, the girls performed a little doo-wop number called “Hot Rod Lover” which, although flat and lifeless, was far longer and better then their performance as Sexy Lingerie. Another 80s one hit wonder also showed up at Eastland – Stacey “Two of Hearts” Q who would steal George Clooney away as her road manager. Tootie even had a run in with Jermaine Jackson who taught her that fame wasn’t all it was cracked out to be. But thankfully, despite their flirtation with music, The Facts of Life girls didn’t make many attempts at singing, which is probably why we remember the show so fondly today.
One of the worst ideas of the 1980s - the New Monkees!
The New Monkees (The New Monkees)Ah the 1980s. So full of bad ideas. New Coke, Scrappy Doo, the E.T. Atari game. However, one of the forgotten bad ideas of the 1980s is The New Monkees. That’s right! Remember them? Probably not because their time on our TV was so brief that everybody involved is ashamed to admit that it ever happened.
In 1986, as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the classic sit-com and the worlds most popular TV fake band, The Monkees, MTV honored them as the god fathers of the rock video by airing a twenty four hour Monkees marathon which not only introduced a brand new generation to the psychedelic antics of Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones but created new found interest in the group. Suddenly the Monkees were all the rage again, prompting Peter, Davy and Mickey to reunite and go back on tour, make a new album and even appear in teen magazines again decades after their days as teen idols (Mike Nesmith, having made billions after inheriting his mother’s liquid paper company, opted not to get involved).
The New Monkees were made up of Jared Chancler, Dino Kovas, Marty Ross and Larry Saltis
In order to capitalize on the rebirth of Monkeemania Colombia Television and Coca Cola decided to create a brand new Monkees show. However, instead of hiring the original Monkees to reprise their roles in the new program, they hired original Monkees creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to hold auditions as they did decades earlier. But this time they weren’t going to have any of that hoopla about the Monkees not playing their own instruments. This time they were going to hire not by charisma, charm or acting ability but by musical talent. Five thousand hopeful musicians turned out for their chance to become the New Monkees but only four were chosen – Jared Chancler (the new Mike), Dino Kovas (the new Mickey), Marty Ross (the new Peter) and Larry Saltis (the new Davy). The show itself was also retooled. Instead of being an episodic program like the original, The New Monkees would be an MTV inspired sketch comedy show full of regular features, quick cuts and music videos.
In 1987 The New Monkees released their single "What I Want." Nobody bought it. Instead they were buying the old Monkees albums, who were experiencing a resurgance of popularity
As for their music, while the original Monkees had great song writers such as Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond and Carol King writing timeless pop songs that would become some of the most beloved music of our time, the New Monkees adopted both a sound and look that sounded more like Mister Mister or A-Ha. A self titled album and a single called “What I Want” was released in conjunction with the series. Remember the song? Of course you don’t. Nobody bought it.
The New Monkees was slated to last twenty two episodes. It only lasted thirteen. Critics dismissed it and fans were still clamoring for the original Monkees. In fact, Monkees reruns were getting higher ratings on MTV then The New Monkees were getting in first run, and the Monkees Greatest Hits album was selling more units then the New Monkees debut album! Even the original Monkees themselves were outraged by the new program. In an interview Davy Jones said that if there was to be a New Monkees that the old Monkees should have been involved in picking their predecessors while Mickey Dolenz said to TV Guide that the New Monkees “tarnished the original concept and divided the fan market.” However, in an odd footnote, Mike Nesmith’s son Jason Nesmith auditioned for the program, but despite his family connection, didn’t make the cut. Obviously he should have worn a wool hat.
Slated for a full season, "The New Monkees" lasted only thirteen episodes and then faded into obscurity
So, after thirteen ill fated episode The New Monkees came to a bitter end, being nothing but a curiosity of the weird and wacky 1980’s. However, everybody has their fans and in 2007 Dino, Marty, Jared and Larry reunited with fans in Los Angeles to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The New Monkees debut. So where are the New Monkees today? Well Dino Kovas left the New Monkees and went to film school, and currently works in special effects; Jared Chandler joined the military and currently works in Hollywood as a military technical advisor and a stuntman; Marty Ross works on TV and film scores; and Larry kept rockin’ and rollin’ when not working at his own vegetarian restaurant. The moral of this story? Lightening doesn’t strike twice, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
“We weren’t a friggin’ band! We were a TV show about a band.”
- Monkee Davy Jones in a 2006 Pop Culture Addict Interview
Rickey Nelson started it all when he brought Rock n’ Roll to “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”
Ricky Nelson started it all. When a girl friend of the teenage co-star of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet swooned over rock n’ roll sensation Elvis Presley, the green eyed monster bit Ricky and he believed that he could do whatever Elvis did. Bringing his problem to his father, former bandleader Ozzie Nelson, Ricky told his Dad that he wanted to perform a rock number on their show. Ozzie was delighted and by years end Ricky made his musical debut with a cover of Fat Domino’s “I’m Walkin’.” The song was a hit, and soon Ricky Nelson was not only a TV star, but a hit recording artist, performing cover songs and new material at the end of each and every episode of Ozzie and Harriet. Thus, long before MTV was even an idea, a new standard plot device was created and TV would be changed forever – the morphing of rock n’ roll and television. However, Ozzie and Harriet was a unique program. It was an odd predecessor of the reality show in which whatever was actually going on in the Nelson household at the time would be scripted into a half an hour show so TV audiences could get a peek into the Nelson household. Thus, in order for the combination of rock n’ roll and TV to continue producers had to hope that their cast members could find the musician that lived deep into their soul as they created their own fictional rock bands as part of the show. Thus was created the “made for TV band.” To this day the introduction of musical groups created by our favorite TV characters has been a constant reoccurring phenomenon since the golden age of television. Often the groups only stay around for one episode. In other cases the fictional rock band is the premise of the whole show. Some of these groups have even broken outside of the boundaries of TV fantasy and have made hit records, sold albums and even toured world wide. Other groups have been forgotten quicker then they appeared. However, the musical episodes of our favorite TV programs have stayed with us, be it for better or for worse, and have become some of the most endearing and memorable moments of the pop culture journey, while chronicling the course of popular musical trends and movements.
Join us as we outline the journey of the fictional TV music groups as we look at the best, the worst, the most memorable, the most unique and the darn right bizarre that TV has had to offer as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
TV TUNES: MADE FOR TV BANDS THAT ROCKED OUR TELEVISION SETS
PART ONE: 1951 TO 1979
Now outlining the history of the made for TV band is a far larger task then one might think. Literally hundreds of TV programs have done this at one time or another. Thus, in order to reduce the number of bands that I’d use in this article I decided to stay in a number of different parameters. First, all the bands had to be fictional or made for TV. Artists who just took their existing musical career and played themselves, even if in made up situations, such as Ricky Nelson or DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince would be exempt. However, the Monkees will be included because although the Monkees played themselves, they were brought together to create a made for TV band. Next, either a regular cast member, or a reoccurring cast member of a TV program had to be a member of the band. As a result many great bands became exempt, such as The Red Coats from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Scum of the Earth from WKRP in Cincinnati. Third, the group must perform in front of an audience. Plenty of TV programs have musical numbers, but it was important that the groups actually perform in front of an audience instead of just doing a musical number for the sake of the TV audience. Fourthly I chose to stick to episodic television, which means I won’t be including sketch comedy. This made great groups like Sid Caeser’s The Haircuts, Saturday Night Live’s legendary Blues Brothers and SCTV’s Five Neat Guys exempt from the project. I have also not included any animated bands in this article. I’ll chronicle their stories in a future article. Finally I just wanted to write about made for TV groups that had a story to tell. Ready to hear their stories? Well grab your back stage pass and let’s get ready to rock out with some of televisions greatest icons.
Desi Arnaz as Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy”
The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra (I Love Lucy) Long before Ricky Nelson strummed a guitar on Ozzie and Harriet, and before rock and roll even existed, Desi Arnaz was drumming funky beats. Is it any surprise that I Love Lucy would be the show to originally introduce the concept of the reoccurring fictional musical group? I mean I Love Lucy was the true innovator of the sit-com. It was the first to use the three camera set-up, was the first sit-com to be taped instead of performed live, and it introduced standard sit-com plots that are being used to this day. It was also the first sit-com to use a musician as a character, and his band as a regular plot device. Of course, the character was Lucy’s Cuban bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo, played by Lucille Ball’s real life husband, and real life Cuban band leader, Desi Arnaz. Yeah, there may have been a bit of typecasting going on there.
Desi with his real life orchestra. Because of Desi’s commitment to “I Love Lucy.” the Desi Arnaz Orchestra fell apart.
However, despite popular belief, The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra was not the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. In fact, as a result of I Love Lucy the Desi Arnaz Orchestra actually broke up!
Desi Arnaz had formed his band in 1935, a year after he arrived in America from his native Cuba. In 1939 The Desi Arnaz Orchestra had it’s big break when they were cast as part of a Broadway production called Too Many Girls, and a year later, when the play was turned into the film, the band was brought to Hollywood to reprise their role, and fate turned one of the most important cards in pop culture history. It was on the set of Too Many Girls that Desi Arnaz met Lucille Ball. The pair was married in 1940, and they continued their separate careers paths. However, just as all show business couple’s who spend time apart, Desi and Lucy’s marriage began to feel strain while Desi toured with the band. You see, Desi had a weakness for liquor and women, and Lucy knew this. So, when Lucy’s popular radio show My Favorite Husband was to be brought to television Lucy lobbied for her favorite husband to be cast opposite of her where she could keep an eye on him. It took a lot of time to convince the CBS executives that it was a good idea, but the premise of the show was retooled and instead of being about a banker and his wife, the show was turned into a situation comedy about a struggling Cuban bandleader and his wife who longed to be in show business despite the fact that she had no talent. Sure, it sounds like a bit of a dumb idea for a sit-com but audiences everywhere fell in love with I Love Lucy, and the series is still one of the most popular sit-coms in television history to this day.
“Babalu!” Desi, his bongos and his music were an important part of “I Love Lucy.”
Soon there wasn’t a man, woman or child who didn’t know of The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra and their brand of Cuban music. Ricky and his orchestra played numbers like “Cuban Pete,” “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” and, of course their signature song, “Babalu,” at the Tropicana Night Club. “But why can’t I be in the show Ricky?” became a popular catch phrase on the program as Lucy begged Ricky to be allowed to perform alongside him. However, despite Ricky’s protests, Lucy would eventually scheme her way into the numbers and television magic would happen. So you’d think now that Desi Arnaz had an outlet to showcase his music and his real life orchestra that they’d be on top of the world. Well in reality just the opposite happened. As a result of Desi’s commitment to I Love Lucy, where he eventually became writer, producer and director of the series, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra stopped touring and eventually fell apart. As a result the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra was made up of actors and studio musicians, for the exceptions of Pepin Betancourt and Alberto Calderon, who were members of Desi’s orchestra and stayed with him in Hollywood. By the time that I Love Lucy finished in 1957 Desi had abandoned the music business altogether to produce television full time. Sadly, today Desi Arnaz’s music career has gone virtually forgotten and ignored while his role as Ricky Ricardo has turned him into an icon. Thankfully reruns of I Love Lucy will play for eternity so that we’ll always see a glimpse of Desi Arnaz’s musical brilliance.
Beatlemania comes to Hooterville when “Petticoat Junction’s” Bradley Sisters become The Ladybugs!
The Ladybugs/The Bradley Sisters (Petticoat Junction) Music was always a big part of Petticoat Junction. The sound of Smiley Bernadette plunking away on his banjo while Uncle Joe played a harmonica wasn’t uncommon. However, in 1964 Bealtemania hit the Shady Rest Hotel. When Uncle Joe gets wind of the success of the Beatles, he decides to transform his three nieces, Billie Jo, Bobbi Jo and Bettie Jo, along with Sheriff Ragsdale’s daughter Sally, into a long haired pop band modeled after the Fab Four called The Ladybugs. As a result, the Shady Rest suddenly became overrun by screaming frat boys, who in a comedic attempt at role reversal, fainted, did back flips and hollered hysterically for the girls. Unfortunately series producer Paul Henning obviously had little appreciation nor understanding for the Beatles and as a result the Bradley Sister’s impersonation of the Beatles and their fans was actually more insulting then funny. The girls mugged and made garish faces as they did a limp version of “I Saw Her Standing There” while their audience behaved like retards.
Fiction crossed over to reality when The Ladybugs appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in March 1964
Yet CBS believed in the power of their parody and in a shocking example of fiction mirroring reality, on March 22nd 1964 Petticoat Junction actresses Linda Kaye Henning, Pat Woodell, Jeannine Riley and Sheila James (who was most famous playing Zelda Gilroy on Dobie Gillis) were welcomed by Ed Sullivan on his show to perform as the Ladybugs on the same stage that the Beatles made their American debut (the other performers that night were Bobby Vinton, Van Johnston and The Brooke Sisters). Thankfully the Ladybugs would go into retirement as quickly as they were introduced and as music performances continued on Petticoat Junction the quality would grow as well.
After a major cast shakeup Jeannine Ridley was replaced by Meredith MacRae as Billie Jo Bradley. MacRae had a superior singing voice and quickly it was written into the series that Billie Jo had the desire to enter show business as a singer. Many episodes surrounded her attempts at a singing career either alone, or as a musical duo with handsome crop duster Mike Elliott, played by Mike Minor. Eventually the other two sisters would get into the act as Linda Henning and Lori Saunders (replacing Pat Woodell as Bobbi Jo) joined Meredith and they became a trio who often sang on the show, although it seemed the only song that they seemed to know was “Up, Up and Away” by The Fifth Dimension, which, although performed well by the girls, was sung once too often. Anyhow, while it may have started with a garish beginning, the musical legacy of Petticoat Junction is still remembered fondly by fans of the series.
Ginger, Mary Anne and Mrs. Howell form The Honeybees and sing “You Need Us”
The Honeybees/The Gnats (Gilligan’s Island)The Shady Rest Hotel wasn’t the only place on television that would feel the influence of Beatlemania. Although they may have been far away from civilization, Gilligan’s Island would also get washed away in the hysteria. When a Beatles inspired rock group called the Mosquitoes, consisting of Bingo, Bongo, Bango and Irving (incidentally played by real life folk group The Wellingtons, who are most famous for singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song), come to the Island in order to “get away” from the mass hysteria caused by their fame, they discover the seven stranded castaways and promise them that they’ll help them get off the island. However, to the SS Minnow’s ship wrecked crew and passengers horror, they find out that the Mosquitoes have no plans on leaving the island soon. So, the Skipper hatches a plan to harass the Mosquitoes just as badly as they would be harassed on the mainland in hopes that they will reconsider staying on the island any longer. However, the plan fails, which leads the Mosquitoes to relocate on the other side of the island where they announce that as a result of the harassment they plan on staying even longer. Thus a new plan is formed. This time it is schemed that they should develop their own rock band that the Mosquitoes can “discover” and take back to civilization.
Unfortunatly for the seven stranded castaways, The Honeybees were just a bit too good to be rescued
The men form a group called The Gnats, but as a result of being both tone deaf and terrible the Mostiqutoes just shrug the band off. Thus it’s the girls turn. In possibly one of the most famous musical television sequences of the 1960s this side of the Beatles on Sullivan, Mary Anne, Ginger and Mrs. Howell become the Honeybees and sing a sweet pop ditty called “You Need Us.” Using a combination of sex, melody and a few clever lyrics, the Honeybees are a hit with the Mosquitoes. Unfortunately, they are a bit too good and the next morning they find that the Mosquitoes have left the island leaving only a note telling the girls that they are a so good that they could possibly replace them on the charts, so that they went back on their promise and left them all behind. Gilligan finds a silver cloud to the lining though. The Mosquitoes have been considerate enough to leave signed copies of their LPs. What bastards! The Honeybees, The Gnats and The Mosquitoes would never be seen or heard from again, but this episode would remain one of the most popular Gilligan’s Island episodes ever, and would be remembered by everyone who ever saw it.
Sally Fields enetered the world of folk music in 1966
Gidget and the Gories (Gidget) Long before there was Sharon Osbourne, Mazzy Starr, Wendy O. Williams or even Nico or Jinx Dawson, Sally Fields was the first woman of goth rock. What’s that? Cute little Sally Field the godmother of goth rock? I must be putting you on…right? Well you better believe it bucko. If you don’t believe me you need not look any further then a 1966 episode of Gidget where she and her best friend LaRue join in on a jam session with surf boys Doug and Paul. Paul and Doug decide to start a band, but wont let Larue in unless Gidget fronts it. Unfortunately Gidget can’t play any musical instruments but the boys just say “Girls as cute as you don’t have to do anything” and shoves her a tambourine. Man, you gotta dig pre-woman’s lib America. Anyway, the group appears at a beach dance the next day and is a huge success.
Gidget goes Goth? It happened in 1966, making Gidget the first Goth princess of Rock n’ Roll, beating Coven’t Jinx Dawson by at least two years
Riding off of the afterglow of their debut, Gidget sees an announcement on TV for an upcoming “battle of the bands” type contest and enters her new group. Adding a drummer named Ringo Feinberg, the group decide to get rid of their clean cut image and, obviously inspired by the Doors, decide to visit the darker side of rock n’ roll. Before you know it Gidget is all decked out in black with heavy dark mascara and white face, resembling a sexy version of the Misfits insignia. Calling themselves The Gories, the group gets to work to really turn on and tune out before their television debut. However, as happens in most sit-coms, problems arise. First, Gidget’s father finds out that the TV producer who has hired them actually did so because of their “fresh faced no gimmick” image, and due to the fact that she totally sucks, the guys still want to throw Larue out of the group and expect Gidget to tell her. Doesn’t band politics totally suck? Anyhow, Gidget tells the Gories that if Larue goes she goes. The big twist? Gidget’s ultimatum doesn’t work and both her and Larue find themselves kicked to the curb and the guys, now just calling themselves The Gories, still go on the show and despite their new goth look manage to win and go on to success. Gidget and the Gories was truly an odd footnote in pop culture history as the first goth band and even being a predecessor to Coven, Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper. Yet the Gories story would get even stranger. In an episode of Sally Field’s next series The Flying Nun during an episode where Field’s character Sister Bertrille shows home movies from her life before being a nun, the home movies includes a shot of Sally Field in her Gories makeup and Bertrille states that she too was in a rock band called the Gories. Obviously an inside joke, one can also wonder if Gidget and The Flying Nun was in the same universe, and ironically the Gories replaced Gidget with Sister Bertrille because, well, they sort of looked the same. Eerie….
The most successful fake band in TV history – The Monkees! (front to back) Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones
The Monkees (The Monkees)The Monkees, undoubtedly, are the most successful and most famous fake TV band of all time, managing to break through the third wall of fiction and creating a controversial and confusing grey area questioning if they were a real band or not. Inspired by the Beatles hit film A Hard Days Night, the premise of The Monkees was thought up by up and coming TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider who sold the premise in 1965. A trade ad appearing in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter for “Folk and Rock Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series” brought over four hundred applicants for the part, including future music stars Steven Stills and Paul Williams, as well as future psycho killer Charles Manson. However, as we all know today, the final pick for the Monkees was folk musician Peter Tork, country/folk songwriter Mike Nesmith, former child star Mickey Dolenz and Tony nominated Broadway actor Davy Jones. Record producer Don Kirshner, who went on to produce some of the most famous pop acts of the era, was brought in to oversee the musical side of the project, and he in turn brought in song writers such as Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond and Carol King to start penning songs for the new fab four.
Do the Monkees play their own instruments? Is Marilyn Monroe a guy in drag?
Now it was no secret that the Monkees didn’t play their instruments on their first recordings, but they did sing their own songs, and their first LP was released in August 1965, a month prior to the premier of the actual TV series. As a result, before the Monkees even made their screen debut they received their first #1 Billboard record with Boyce and Hart’s “Last Train to Clarksville.” This early success pretty much guaranteed them a successful premier and The Monkees was an instant hit. Combining music with zany comedy and endearing characters, the program was like nothing seen on TV before. However, continuing to challenge the boundaries of reality and fiction, the Monkees were not playing fictional characters. The Monkees were literally playing themselves. Davy, Mike, Mickey and Peter quickly became as popular as the Beatles with more top ten hits weekly on the music charts. Yet, trouble was brewing behind the scenes.
The Monkees third album, “Headquarters” (1967), featured songs written and chosen by the Monkees, as well as the group playing their own instruments
As word got out that they didn’t play their own music, a retaliation by serious music fans against the band began to form. This made Mike Nesmith very uncomfortable, especially since his own songs were appearing on the albums as early as the first LP. Eventually he rallied the rest of the Monkees together who demanded that they have more creative control on the music and to allow them to play on their own albums. Don Kirshner refused to let go of his position and wanted them to record bubble gum material, including Sugar Sugar, which would eventually become a hit for The Archies. A meeting was arranged between the producers, Kirshner and the Monkees between the first and second seasons of the show which resulted in Mike Nesmith putting his fist through a door and Don Kirshner being fired. Now the Monkees were thrown into the position of choosing their own material, and Mickey Dolenz actually went and learnt the drums. This resulted in the band not only going on tour, but with the help of a few studio musicians, playing their own material on their third album, Headquarters. However, despite the continuing popularity of the group, the continuation of hit records on the charts and the fact that the series won two Emmy awards in 1966, the series would fold after it’s second season. Yet, while most TV bands would fold up and fade away after cancellation the Monkees stayed together, in one form or another, until 1971.
A secone wave of Monkeemania hit in 1987, prompting the band to reform.
Furthermore the Monkees would return in 1986 when a second wave of Monkeemania hit North America. After MTV ran a Monkee marathon, interest in the group was brought to a new generation and the Monkees reformed, sans Mike Nesmith who had gone on to other things, and were once again recording new material and going on tour. So the question remains – were the Monkees a real band or a show about a band? Well while the band was brought together by TV producers and the Monkees were not in charge of their earliest recordings, the Monkees worked harder then the average manufactured boys band today, and stayed together longer then the TV show. Furthermore, they had over a dozen top ten hits, and songs such as “I’m a Believer” and “Daydream Believer” have become pop standards. So it’s like The Monkees were a fictional band who became a real band. But be they a real band or not, the band paid their dues, and deserve their place in not only TV history, but music history as well.
The Kroft Brothers’ “Banana Splits” – Fleegle the Beagle (the groups leader), Bingo the Gorilla, Snorty the Elephant and Drooper the Lion
The Banana Splits (The Banana Splits Adventure Hour) So imagine this. A Laugh In rip off for kids featuring a group of furries that play rock and roll music and introduce cartoons. Sound like a good idea? Unlikely, but the historic pairing of Hanna Barbara and the Krofft Brothers made it a reality and while the show may not be that memorable, The Banana Splits unleashed possibly one of the most beloved Saturday Morning theme songs of all. Joe Barbara and Bill Hanna approached the Krofft Brothers, who were making a name for themselves as puppeteers, in 1968 to create the costumes, characters and sets which would be used as wrap around sequences for a new hour long anthology program featuring a combination of cartoon reruns from the HB archive and some new live action serials. Using the Monkees as inspiration, the whacked out brothers came up with four musical animals – Fleegle the Beagle (the groups leader), Bingo the Gorilla, Snorty the Elephant and Drooper the Lion. Each Saturday the Banana Splits met at their colorful club house for band practice, which would be an opportunity for a musical number, and tackle issues with its rivalry with rival group The Sour Grapes Bunch, who never actually appeared on screen but were sent messages via under aged go go dancers in purple mini dresses.
The Banana Splits released a single, “Long Live Love” in 1969
Not surprisingly, an album of the Banana Splits music was released in 1969, and although most of the songs remained unmemorable (for the exception of the highly memorable theme, “The Tra-La-La- Song”) an interesting group of notable musical legends contributed original material to the album including Al Kooper, Barry White and Gene Pitney! However, while the Banana Splits was never a fantastic production, two important moments in pop culture history came out of the show. The first was that as a result of their involvement in creating the show, the Krofft Brothers gained the attention of NBC which opened the door for them to produce H.R. Pufnstuf a year later, launching them into stardom where they would dominate the 1970’s by creating some of the most unique and fondly remembered children’s programs of the decade and changing the face of pop culture forever! Also, the roots of the furrie fetish probably started here. Some kids obviously preferred Snorky over Davy Jones. Adding to the odd history of the Banana Splits is that The Cartoon Network have revived them and the band is now being featured once again with new songs and videos. Well, unlike real rock stars, furries never die.
Sam Tweedle is a writer and pop culture addict who has been entertaining and educating fans of the pop culture journey for a decade. His writing has been featured in The National Post, CNN.com, and Filmfax magazine.
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