Osmond, Donny and Marie
Donny and Marie Osmond
Performing together, separately, and as part of a larger family vocal group, American vocalists Donny (born 1957) and Marie (born 1959) Osmond remained icons of popular culture even as their careers passed through phases of varying success. With their distinctively wholesome public images—which did not foreclose private turmoil—the pair were both recognizable figures who embarked on a variety of performance activities and were never out of the spotlight for long.
Raised in Mormon Household
Donald Clark Osmond was born December 9, 1957, in Ogden, Utah, and his sister Olive Marie Osmond followed on October 13, 1959, in the same location. They were the fifth and eighth of George and Olive Osmond's nine children. They were devout members of the Church of Latter-day Saints (known as Mormons); Marie was the only daughter. Donny Osmond's four older brothers began performing at Mormon church services, adding Donny to form a quintet when he was four years old, and their letter-perfect harmonies and precise coordination won the hearts of churchgoers. They began to perform beyond their home church and were eventually invited to Mormon churches around the western United States. As their fame grew, they added barbershop-style secular singing to their repertoire. Beginning in 1966, Marie was part of the family group called the Osmonds. They were, in the words of Good Housekeeping's Kate Coyne, "America's von Trapp family: a squeaky-clean lineup of eight Mormon brothers and their little sister, Marie."
The Osmonds, managed by their father, were spotted and hired to perform by an executive at the Disneyland amusement park while the family was on vacation there, and with Donny increasingly often filling the role of lead vocalist as his voice grew, they landed spots on the television variety shows of Jerry Lewis and Andy Williams. The group, at first consisting only of the five oldest Osmond brothers for recording purposes, was signed to the MGM label and became the Osmond Brothers, beginning to move from gospel and barbershop harmonies to pop styles but resolutely maintaining a wholesome image. Despite the numerous changes in popular culture fashions over the next four decades, the Osmonds never abandoned that basic orientation.
The breakthrough for the Osmond Brothers came after the Jackson 5, an African-American quintet with a similar age composition, scored a series of hits beginning in 1969. The Osmonds' "One Bad Apple" roosted atop U.S. pop charts for five weeks in 1971 and launched a series of Osmond Brothers hits that spawned an animated children's television series with the brothers contributing their own voices. Donny Osmond also had several solo hits, the biggest of which was "Go Away Little Girl." As the group tried to maintain its momentum in the fast-moving "bubblegum" teen pop scene, they added another brother, Jimmy, and finally Marie Osmond in a series of concert appearances.
Not a hint of strain appeared in the group's well-choreographed concerts and television appearances, but the young Marie Osmond was suffering internally. In her book Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression, she revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child, although she did not name the abuser. "When I look back," she wrote, according to Good Housekeeping, "I see myself as a little girl with no time for childhood…. While other kids played, we worked—memorizing scripts, learning to sing a song in Swedish or Japanese for a foreign tour, spending long days dancing, playing instruments, and singing." As a child she was "scared, overwhelmed, and demoralized," and as a teenager "scrutinized, criticized, and sexualized."
Marie Osmond Scored Country Hits
Her recording career, however, got off to a strong start as she took a country-flavored remake of the Anita Bryant hit "Paper Roses" to top chart positions in both the pop and country fields in 1973. The song reached number one on Billboard magazine's country singles chart, making Marie one of the youngest singers ever to accomplish that feat. With Donny Osmond's solo recordings, including another cover, "The Twelfth of Never" (formerly recorded by Johnny Mathis), reaching top chart levels that year, Donny and Marie were consistently outstripping the chart performance of the larger Osmonds group. As a result, Donny & Marie Osmond took shape as a performing entity in 1974.
They continued to mine the mixture of country and pop styles that Marie Osmond had exploited successfully, and with adult groups such as the Eagles riding high in the mid-1970s, the new duo was immediately successful. They had major pop hits in 1974 with "Morning Side of the Mountain" and "I'm Leaving It All Up to You." They scored several more pop hits, still specializing in family-safe covers of songs originally rendered more passionately by other artists. These included "Deep Purple" (originally by Nino Tempo and April Stevens) and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (by the Motown-label duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell). Seven Donny & Marie Osmond albums were released on the MGM and Polydor labels in the 1970s.
In 1975 they co-hosted television's daytime talkshow Mike Douglas Show for a week and were spotted by ABC television executive Fred Silverman as potential headliners on their own. They were given an ABC variety special in November of 1975 and were signed on for a weekly slot after positive viewer reaction. Donny & Marie made its debut in January of 1976. The fast-paced show exploited the duo's multiple talents as performers. A figure-skating routine, starring Donny and Marie themselves with backing from a group called the Ice Vanities, opened each show for the first two seasons. The still-teenaged Marie Osmond sandwiched high-school-level private tutoring among the rigorous tasks of an 18-hour workday.
Donny & Marie relied heavily on performances of the duo's own hits and those by other artists, with an emphasis on the emerging "oldies" radio format. In a recurring number, Marie proclaimed that she was "a little bit country," while Donny rejoined that he was "a little bit rock 'n' roll." There were also comedy skits and appearances by guest stars including other members of the Osmond family, Andy Williams, Andy Gibb (of the Bee Gees), Charlie's Angels series star Cheryl Ladd, Hollywood Squares quipmeister Paul Lynde, singer Kris Kristofferson, and even veteran African-American comedian Redd Foxx. The show was created by producers Sid and Marty Krofft, who had previously worked in children's television, but creative tension between the Osmonds and ABC executives became a factor in the show's development, and in 1979 production facilities for the show were moved to a new Osmond Studios complex in Orem, Utah. The duo branched out into film, with limited success, releasing Going Coconuts in 1978.
Changing Fashions Spelled Show's Demise
Donny & Marie did not fare well when musical fashions changed in the direction of the urban-oriented disco style in the late 1970s, even though the duo attempted to ride the trend with the release of a dance instruction paperback book, Disco with Donny and Marie. The show's look, epitomized by the purple socks worn by Donny, became the butt of jokes and satire on other television programs. Fashion designers retooled Donny & Marie for its third season, and in 1979, its fourth season, Donny & Marie was retitled The Osmond Family Hour, with regular appearances by all the performing Osmond siblings. The tinkering was to no avail, as the show was cancelled in 1979. "In many ways," noted an essayist on the Memory Lab website, the show "represented the end of an era for the televised variety show. Just the same, it managed to close this era with a bang. The costumes and sets were always dazzling and colorful, the leads were unfailingly charming and multitalented, and everything moved at a consistently lightning-fast pace."
Donny and Marie Osmond maintained their identity as a duo even after the show's demise. A children's book, Donny and Marie: The Top Secret Project, was one of several spinoffs that carried their name forward in time. Marie launched a line of sewing patterns and had a shortlived solo television variety show in 1981. For much of the 1980s, however, it was Marie Osmond who took the lion's share of the family spotlight. She scored several country hits that reached top chart levels, including "There's No Stopping Your Heart" (1986) and the duets "Meet Me in Montana" (1985, with Dan Seals) and "You're Still New to Me" (1986, with Paul Davis), and made television and film appearances.
In 1989 it was Donny Osmond's turn to experience a career revival as he released the album Donny Osmond, which spawned the number-two dance hit "Soldier of Love" along with other successful singles. In the 1990s both Donny and Marie Osmond embarked on touring careers in stage musicals, with Donny appearing in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Marie taking on a variety of roles that included Maria in The Sound of Music. Donny's theatrical career continued to flourish with an ap-pearance (as villain Gaston) in the hit 2006 stage version of Beauty and the Beast. He had some success, particularly in Britain, with his 2005 album What I Meant to Say.
The Donny & Marie show was revived in 1998, again emerging as an alternative to less wholesome fare presented on rival shows. The new Donny & Marie lasted until 2000. Marie Osmond received attention in the early 2000s for her memoir about postpartum depression and for her divorce from and subsequent reconciliation with her second husband, Brian Blosil; the Mormon Church frowns on divorce. She regularly appeared on the QVC television shopping channel in the mid-2000s. Both Donny and Marie Osmond have raised large families; Donny has five children and Marie seven. "We [Mormons] don't drink or smoke, so we've got to do something," Donny observed to Joel Stein of Time. Through the mid-2000s both Osmonds kept up a steady performing schedule, sometimes appearing together.
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