Transcript of April 5, 2002 "Larry King Live" Tribute to Lawrence Welk and The Lawrence Welk Show
CNN LARRY KING
Tribute to Lawrence Welk
Aired April 5, 2002 - 9 PM ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, memories of champagne music and the remarkable man who made it, Mr. Wonderful, Lawrence Welk.
His show's been on TV for 50 years. Joining us: Janet Lennon of the singing Lennon sisters. She was nine when she started on the Welk show. The man with all the moves, dancer Bobby Burgess, a former Mouseketeer, joined the Welk show in the summer of '61; and singer Ralna English, she became part of the Welk music family in 1969. Plus, Lawrence Welk's son, owner/operator of the Welk Resorts in Branson and Escondido, Larry Welk Jr., and Lawrence Welk's grandson, as well as KCAL's news helicopter pilot and reporter Larry Welk III. And they are all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We thought this would be an appropriate way to begin.
How the man got hit with bubbles all these years, I'll never understand it. But hey, anything for show business. It's a new thing for me, Mr. Wonderful.
We have a great show here tonight folks with an outstanding panel and a wet table. Whoa, I love this. Anyway, the remarkable story is this is an unprecedented record in the history of American entertainment. Lawrence Welk started on local TV on KTLA in 1951, debuted on ABC in 1955, went off ABC in 1971, immediately into syndication for 11 years and now, in its 15th year on public television. That's 50 years in all.
Larry Welk Jr., how do you account for this mainstay attraction?
LARRY WELK JR., LAWRENCE WELK'S SON: I think, probably, I would account for it by the fact that my dad loved what he did and he loved entertaining people. And that was the most important thing to him.
KING: And that showed through?
WELK JR.: It definitely showed through. Plus, he did -- he had spent -- he had paid his dues for so many years doing those one- nighters through the Midwest and the ballrooms. And we still see that today. People come up to us in Branson, Missouri and they say, my grandmother danced to your dad back at the such and such a ballroom.
KING: You now do all his memorabilia, right? Your life is built around your father.
WELK JR.: Well, in a way, yes. I mean, we do...
KING: You have got the Branson, Missouri spot, right?
WELK JR.: We have a resort in Branson, Missouri and we have, you know, a resort down in Escondido, California, where we have a small theater.
KING: Is his birthplace a monument, too?
WELK JR.: Yes. They restored his birthplace, which was is Strausburg, North Dakota. It was just a little sod home. You know, my dad left the farm when he was 21, spoke no English.
KING: What was he? He was German?
WELK JR.: He was German, yes.
KING: And the family didn't speak English?
WELK JR.: They didn't speak any English. I remember going back there as a little kid and listening -- and, of course, I didn't speak any German, so it was very difficult to communicate. I remember those German ladies made good cooking, so...
KING: And Larry III grew up to be a helicopter pilot.
LARRY WELK III, LAWRENCE WELK'S GRANDSON: Well, yes. I mean, it follows -- oh, no it doesn't follow at all.
KING: By the way, you were the -- I was on the air for four hours that night. You were the helicopter pilot following O.J.
WELK III: I was flying for six that night. So, yes, I was working for KCBS-TV at the time and I was their pilot.
KING: And I was sitting in Washington announcing you were up there? That was some event. So, you've left the Welk entourage to go on your own, right?
WELK III: Well, as far as the business is concerned, but, you know, I mean, we're still pretty close as a family. Now, you know, all the grandchildren are -- it's amazing how wonderful we all are. We all love each other and we all hang out and talk.
KING: How big a family is it?
WELK III: There's 13.
WELK JR.: There is my -- I'm the youngest of three children. I have two sisters, Shirley and Donna.
KING: Both living? WELK JR.: Both living.
KING: And how many grandchildren?
WELK JR.: And then I think there's...
WELK III: There's 11.
WELK JR.: Eleven grandchildren.
KING: Did you know your grandpa?
WELK III: I did. And it was really an amazing thing growing up around my grandfather because everybody else thought, wow, you know, you are Lawrence Welk's grandson, and isn't it amazing? And to me, it was just, you know, I didn't realize how -- what a wonderful experience it really was back then.
KING: When we come back, we'll bring our other three panelists in. A lively looking bunch who match the set, and our entire hour will be developed to this, the 50th anniversary on television of Lawrence Welk. You know, he's gone, but he's still on. He'll be on forever.
We'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the Lennon sisters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This is a wonderful nostalgia show for you this evening, saluting Lawrence Welk. And now we're going to talk to our three people who performed so ably on that show for so long. Janet Lennon, how did you -- how many sisters? There were three of you, right?
JANET LENNON, SINGER, THE LENNON SISTERS: There were four sisters to begin with...
KING: And then three.
LENNON: Well, at one point three and then back to four, and now we're back to three again.
KING: How did you hook up with Lawrence Welk?
LENNON: Well, Larry and my oldest sister Dee-Dee (ph) went to high school together, St. Monica's in Santa Monica, California. And Larry asked Dee-Dee to a party one night. It was going to be a Halloween party in 1955. And at the time, my sisters and I were singing at little service clubs like Elks clubs, Lions clubs, just to make a couple of dollars. We wanted to build a dormitory on the back of our house because there were so many kids.
And Dee-Dee said, well, I'd love to go to the party with you, but my sisters and I are singing at the Elks club. And Larry said, well, you know, I'll come watch you sing, I'll pick you up, I'll take you to the party.
So he came and heard us sing. And he said, gosh, I didn't realize you were singing with your sisters. I thought you were going to be with a choir or something. And he said my dad just started his national show on ABC and is looking for young talent. So I'm going to tell him about you.
So I didn't think much about it. This was in October. And late November, it was a Sunday morning, it was raining, I remember, and Larry called our home and said my dad's home in bed sick with a cold. He can't get out of the house, come sing for him. So we drove up to Brentwood -- four little girls from Venice -- we drove up to Brentwood, and there's -- we go through these iron gates, and there's Mr. Welk in his beautiful home.
KING: Sitting in bed or?
LENNON: He came out in a satin smoking jacket and velvet slippers, and sat on his couch.
KING: Was he carrying his accordion?
KING: Just asking.
LENNON: He was too weak. But he came out and he said, so sing for me. And we sang a song. At the time it was a song popular by the McGwire Sisters called "He," and he said, well, I just think you are terrific. And he called his musical director on the phone, and said I want you to hear this. And we sang for him, and he asked us to be on his Christmas Eve show 1955.
KING: How long were you on?
LENNON: We were on every Saturday for 13 years after that.
KING: Did he ever pay you any kind of real money?
KING: He didn't pay great money, right?
WELK JR.: He paid everybody scale. I mean, everybody. LENNON: That was the policy, yeah.
KING: Well, it's not a bad policy. So he kept it all.
WELK JR.: He paid the musicians, paid them scale. And the singers and dancers.
KING: All right, now we'll get to that. The Burgess story. So you worked for scale, too?
BOBBY BURGESS, DANCER: Right. He told us right up front. He took us into his dressing room, my partner and I, and he said, now I only pay scale. But if you do well, you can make a lot of money on the outside, doing state and county fairs and club dates and nightclubs.
KING: I'd say the same thing.
BURGESS: And he said, also, if you stay with me for 10 years, I have a profit-sharing plan. And I'll give you 100 percent of what I put away, at 15 percent of everything you make for me if you stay 10 years or longer. Well, I stayed for 21 years, and I left with six figures. Not bad, huh?
KING: What was a mouseketeer doing at the Lawrence Welk audition?
BURGESS: I was lucky. I went from one family institution, from Walt Disney to Lawrence Welk. And you know, Lawrence Welk used to say to people, I never had any trouble with Bobby because he was raised by Walt Disney.
KING: And you had a dance partner, right, Barbara?
BURGESS: Yeah. I started with Barbara. We started dancing on "The Welk Show" when I was 19.
KING: We used to be suspicious there was a relationship. Was there?
KING: Come on, Bobby!
BURGESS: Yes, and no, and then it turned into a brother and sister, and I ended up marrying Myron Florence (ph) daughter Christy, the accordion player's daughter. But yeah, Barbara and I danced together on the show for six years, and she married one of the singers.
KING: What was it like working for him? BURGESS: What was it like working for him? Great. He gave me complete freedom. I mean, they told me the theme two weeks in advance.
KING: It always had a theme, right?
BURGESS: Pretty much so, especially in the later years. And you know, if he said do a tarantella and I didn't know how to do it, you know, I'd find a coach and I'd put my own dances together -- because I did my own choreography -- but he left it up to me.
KING: You pick your own outfits or he had...
BURGESS: You know, I could suggest what outfits to wear, what sets to use. In fact, the last five years I even got to direct my own dances. And he was always happy, because he knew I practiced two or three extra hours a day.
KING: And Ralna, how did you come to him?
RALNA ENGLISH, SINGER: Well, I was working at a club in Santa Monica called The Horn. And a lot of people started there...
ENGLISH: Yeah, in the '60s. I had moved from Texas. And was working there. And there were about 11 performers there at the time. Steve Martin was there and Jim Nabors was discovered there.
KING: And don't tell me, Lawrence Welk Jr.?
ENGLISH: No, it wasn't Lawrence Welk Jr. this time. My grandmother loved the "Lawrence Welk" television show. And she'd never really seen me perform, and I had been performing professionally since I was 13.
So I had been working in Vegas and in all these different places, and I said I want to sing on "The Lawrence Welk Show" for my grandmother.
KING: Hold it right there. Let me get a break and we'll pick that up. We'll be right back. We're saluting Lawrence Welk. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGLISH (singing): You'll never know just how much I miss you. You'll never know just how much I care. And if I tried I still could not my love for you. You ought to know for haven't I told you so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK. Ralna. Grandma? ENGLISH: Well, I wanted to sing for my grandmother, and she had never heard me really perform before. And she loved that television show. When we went to my grandmother's house, we watched "The Lawrence Welk Show."
But anyway, here I am in Los Angeles, and I asked all the kids -- there were 11 performers there -- I said, does anybody know anybody from "The Lawrence Welk Show?" Well, they knew that one of the fellows knew somebody from the show, S.K. Grundy (ph). He got him to come down the next day. He said, why don't you come into the office with me? It was right down the street. Because Lawrence had his office in Santa Monica, and I was right down the street at The Horn on Wilshire.
So the next day, I came in. They said, he'll be coming in from a golf game and I'll just kind of introduce you and you sing a song for him. So I was a newlywed, and I asked my husband if he'd come down and play the guitar for me and let me sing a song for Mr. Welk the next day.
So I did. And basically he said after what I sang was what I thought was, don't call us we'll call you. But he really meant what he said, and that was we don't have a place for you now, but if we do we'll call you. And a few months later he called me to sing on the show. And I went on the show.
ENGLISH: Sure. Yeah, it was always scale. But you know, another thing is he didn't have any contracts. Everything was a handshake.
BURGESS: And no auditions really. No formal auditions.
ENGLISH: No formal auditions.
KING: How many years were you on the show?
ENGLISH: I was on 13 years.
KING: I want to get at something here. When people watch this show and you sang with someone, didn't you, a lot?
ENGLISH: My husband.
KING: Your husband?
ENGLISH: My newlywed husband. We were newlyweds. I came on the show and i went on the road right away. And I was just miserable because, you know, here I am, a newlywed and I'm away from my husband for 17 days. So I had to figure out a way to get him on the show with me because he was a singer, too.
So, six months later, the Christmas show came up. And I thought, hmmm, this is a good time for us to sing together. Went to everybody on the show, the director, the assistant director, the producer, the musical director, everybody. They all said, no, we don't have any husbands and wives singing on the show. No, no, no, we're not going to do this. So I thought, I'll go to Lawrence. I went to Lawrence. We sang for him, and the rest was history.
KING: He made up his own mind, right?
ENGLISH: Oh, absolutely.
WELK JR.: When it came to the show, he made really all the decisions.
LENNON: He had such a wonderful feeling for his audience and what they wanted. He would never let his audience down, ever.
KING: Now, you're the youngest guy here, right? When you watch this show, it's got to be a little square to you, yet hypnotic. There's something about Lawrence...
WELK III: You can't stop watching it.
KING: Yes, why?
WELK III: Well, to me it's a little different because when I watch the show, I see my Aunt Raulna or my -- I see people that are like my family on the show. So you can't believe how many kids my age come up and say our parents or our grandparents made us watch it every Saturday night. They had to watch it.
KING: We'll go around the horn. All right, as a young man, what do you think was the magic of it? It's hard to be removed sometimes.
WELK III: I think the magic of it was that when you watched it, you saw a show that was put together by a guy that -- my grandfather, who loved what he did and believed in what he did. And it was just wholesome, good entertainment. And that is why people watched it. You don't see anything like it on the air today.
KING: To his great credit, Pete Fountain played for your father.
WELK JR.: That's right.
KING: The great clarinetist, great jazz Dixieland clarinetist. And I said, well, why did you, a great jazz Dixieland clarinetist, play for Lawrence Welk? And he said I learned more under Lawrence Welk than anything. And the one thing I learned was discipline.
WELK JR.: Oh, absolutely. My dad brought -- well, first of all, Dixieland was his favorite kind of music. And I had brought Pete to my dad's attention. I had heard him at a concert at the Shrine Auditorium. And my dad ultimately brought Pete up and then a lot of other New Orleans players that were there.
KING: Pete didn't drink either while he was with your father.
WELK JR.: Oh, he drank a lot...
... but not on the show.
KING: What do you think made that show?
WELK JR.: You know, it was -- it's such a mixture of -- I think the reality -- the warmth and the real feelings came through.
KING: Because it was square.
WELK JR.: Absolutely.
KING: I mean, it was square in 1951. It was considered square. Arthur Godfrey was considered hip.
WELK JR.: Well, you know, when that show went on the air in 1955, my dad was 52 years old. So, he was not a young man. I mean, it's not like an overnight sensation. I was 15 when that show went on the air. And the music, I wouldn't have listened to that music at that point in my life.
KING: I remember him on the radio. Your father was on the radio.
WELK JR.: Oh, yes.
KING: All right. We'll take a break, come back with lots more to go with our tribute to the "Lawrence Welk Show." And when someone is on that long, you feel like he's still -- when did he pass away?
WELK JR.: In 1992.
KING: It's been nine years and you still feel like he's around. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LAWRENCE WELK SHOW")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back.
Larry Jr., your mother is still with us?
WELK JR.: She is. I talked to her on the way over here today.
KING: How old is she?
WELK JR.: She just turned 98 years old.
KING: Why did he pick the accordion? WELK JR.: When he was on the farm, he made a deal with his parents. They had an old pump organ there, and so he learned a little bit how to play keyboards. But he always wanted to play the accordion.
So, he made a deal with his father that he would stay on the farm and work until he was 21 years old if his dad would buy him this $400 accordion, which was a lot of money, you know, in those days.
KING: Was he the only major orchestral leader whose instrument was the accordian?
Dick -- the only other guy I could think...
LENNON: Contino (ph).
KING: Dick Contino, who won on Horace Heights amateur hour. I remember that.
WELK JR.: Yes, and it's funny. I mean, the accordion, of course, people still laugh at the accordion today, even though in certain types of music, like Cajun.
KING: What do you think, Janet, was the magic?
LENNON: I think that, you know, music is such a universal language. And we get a lot of people coming up after the show in Branson who say my family, we moved from Europe or from anywhere in the world to the United States in the '50s or '60s and we couldn't speak English and we couldn't understand the shows on TV. But we could turn on Lawrence Welk and our whole family could dance and have fun.
KING: Now in Branson, do you do a Lawrence Welk show?
LENNON: Our show in Branson is a really hip -- great hip show. I wish more people knew it. It's fabulous music. The band is awesome.
KING: Was it called "The Lawrence Welk Show."
LENNON: It's called "The Welk Show." This year, we do a tribute to Burt Bacharach's music. We have a fabulous young cast and a 20- piece orchestra that knocks people's socks off.
KING: What was it like, Bobby? He taped his show, right, but it was live to tape, right?
KING: You had to start on time and finish on time. I understand he was a little bit like me.
BURGESS: Right. He wanted it to be like live TV. In fact, if anybody made a mistake, you know, it cost a lot of money to keep 45 people and the crew afterwards.
KING: And he had a like don't stop the tape rule. He rolled on.
BURGESS: He wanted it to look like live TV. And if you forgot your lyrics or whatever it is, it looked like it was happening.
KING: Was it, therefore, pressure or fun?
BURGESS: Did I have a lot of pressure or fun? I had a great time, both. But, you know, I was so focused on my dance routines. I didn't get to see all this other great talent. And now that I'm home on Saturday night, I looked at that show and there's some great musicians and artists on that show.
KING: You were under a lot of pressure, Raulna?
ENGLISH: Was I under a lot of pressure?
KING: Yes. Live television, national show, one of the first national hit shows.
ENGLISH: No, not really, not performing. No, I didn't. But I did go through a period of time in my life where I was under a lot of pressure. In fact...
KING: You had a breakdown, right?
ENGLISH: I had a breakdown in 1980. And Lawrence was wonderful. You know, he was very quiet. Yeah. And I took medication until 1992 when I was taken off of it by my physician, and I have had no problem since then.
KING: Was he supportive?
ENGLISH: Oh, very. Very. He was wonderful. I adored him. I loved him very much.
KING: How did you get over it?
ENGLISH: I had an experience in a mental ward of the hospital, and I felt literally God's physical hand on me, and it changed my life forever in another direction. So.
KING: He was very -- well, how should we put this -- squeaky clean, right? I mean, nothing, you couldn't do double entendre on that show. You couldn't do things that were...
LENNON: Everything was pretty -- as far as like speaking on the show, everything was pretty script, because they had to get 22 musical numbers and all the intros in in one hour.
KING: There were 22 musical numbers? LENNON: Usually, 21, 22. And -- so Mr. Welk had cue cards which he'd read in between. And other than that, we really were not encouraged much to talk a lot. So -- but as far as the material went, no, we couldn't do double entendres, and he did change words once in awhile. If the word beer was in a summer-kind of song, he'd change it to cheer. You know. Although he had champagne music. I don't know.
KING: But he wouldn't take beer or cigarette advertising?
WELK JR.: No, he wouldn't.
KING: Ahead of his time.
WELK JR.: No, that's right. And I would say like probably some of the frustrations that maybe an artist such as my friends here would have experienced is that he would pretty much pick the songs for the people to do, and he would always want you to stick to the melody. He was very conscious of his audience and...
ENGLISH: Well, you know, he wasn't really that way with me, Larry, not at all.
KING: He let you improvise?
ENGLISH: We pretty much chose. I think Lawrence changed over the years. I think when the Lennons were there, it was a different ball game. And then, later on -- because we chose out material, for the most part. And they would come in and say, do "Love Nest" -- and we go, "Love Nest," OK. But I mean, for the most part, we would say, we want to do this, how about this song? And we'd work out the arrangement ourselves, as far as for the most part.
KING: We'll get a break, come right back. We'll reintroduce our panel. We're only halfway through our tribute to Lawrence Welk. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE WELK, "LAWRENCE WELK SHOW": Hold it, boys. Hold it, boys. Stop the music! Don't you cats know this polka jazz is strictly from squaresville? I can't stand that kind of music. You go and dance with him and let me run the camera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right there? The camera? All right. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back, saluting 50 years of television. I don't think anybody can top it. Lawrence Welk is the man we're honoring. And with us is are Janet Lennon, the singer with the Lennon Sisters, still doing their thing in Branson, Missouri. Bobby Burgess, dancer, former mouseketeer. He and his dance partner Barbara Boylen (ph) hired for Welk's show in the summer of '61. Ralna English joined "The Welk Show" in 1969. Larry Welk Jr. is his son and owner/operator of the Welk Resorts in Branson, Missouri and Escandido, California. And Larry Welk III, his grandson, who is a helicopter pilot/reporter for KCAL Channel 9 in Los Angeles.
Another interesting thing, Larry Jr., he didn't have comedians, right?
WELK JR.: No. In fact...
KING: Afraid of blue material?
WELK JR.: Blue material, I mean...
KING: The only variety show that never had a comic.
WELK JR.: Actually, he would -- I remember one time the sponsors decided that the show had been on the air a long time and it needed freshening up. Do you remember? And they suggested that Lawrence bring in a line of dancing girls. You know, so that they -- there would be like a Raquettes kind of a thing.
KING: And what did Lawrence say?
WELK JR.: If you do this to me, I don't do the show anymore.
LENNON: He had a fabulous sense of humor. And when we went on the road, people saw a whole another other Lawrence Welk on stage.
KING: He did?
ENGLISH: Oh yeah.
LENNON: He was hysterical.
KING: You mean when he did live shows for people?
KING: Because he was not funny on television.
LENNON: No, because he was scripted.
ENGLISH: He was the most charismatic performer that I've ever seen on a stage.
KING: You call him a performer?
ENGLISH: Absolutely. Oh, honey, that's what he was.
KING: He looked uncomfortable at times. I mean, they called him the Ed Sullivan of music.
ENGLISH: He was reading cue cards.
WELK JR.: You know, he grew up on the road doing all the live entertainment. They could go out and play Madison Square Garden and I think he played...
WELK JR.: And he'd have them in the palm of his hand.
BURGESS: Oh, he had a lot of comedy bits. I mean, his most fun was he'd invite people out of the audience to do the polka.
One time, one time we took this lady on tour, and every night she lost her wig. Nobody knew that, and we weren't supposed to tell anybody, but she would come up, let him hold her glasses, and he'd start polkaing with her. And then he'd say, Bobby, she's too good for me, you come out here and dance with her. And I danced with her, and she'd flip her wig every night and then run under the table and under the piano and start crying and all.
LENNON: It was hysterical.
BURGESS: And it was a great bit. It backfired only one time. This lady had to find out the name of a town that was a German or a Polish town where they did the polka. Well, one night we were playing in Florida, and Lawrence said, where are you from? And she said Kissimmee -- and of course it was Kissimmee, and it blew the bit and that's the only night it didn't play. But every night for two years she lost her wig, until finally they put it on the TV show, and he actually exposed the whole thing as a setup by putting it on of his books.
KING: He also broke the color barrier, did he not?
WELK JR.: Yes, he did. He brought in...
KING: Dancer Arthur Duncan.
WELK JR.: Arthur Duncan.
KING: 1964. Hard to believe if we tell the audience this, you think about racial problems. Blacks didn't appear on American television. They were the invisible...
WELK JR.: No, that's true. And I don't think that my dad would have known that somebody was black or brown or green. He totally was into what they did as an entertainer. I mean, another thing that he did, and everybody around him told him, Lawrence, you're crazy, is when he hired Myron Florin (ph), who became probably one of the most popular performers to ever be on that show.
And my dad was an accordion player and Myron was an accordion player. And they said, Lawrence, you're making a big mistake. He plays better than you. And he said, "that's the only kind of person I would hire."
KING: You were never musically inclined, Larry?
WELK III: Never. I'm a killer at karaoke. Other than that, I...
KING: What about the other children, the other grandchidren?
WELK III: I mean, there are -- some of the grandchildren have musical ability, but they haven't gone into it. They haven't done it professionally.
KING: Why did you leave the show?
LENNON: We left the show in 1968. We were all young marrieds. We had young children, and the show was 52 weeks a year. And we just had had opportunities to work a lot less, to do 16 weeks in Vegas and take our kids with us. Work less and make more money. And it was just time.
KING: When did you leave, Bobby?
BURGESS: I never left. I went clear to the end until 1982 until it was not on anymore. And then we did specials. You know, like in '85, we came back and did a Christmas special. Since it's been on public television since '87, you know, we just did this big reunion show this last March. And 47 original members came back and performed. And that was great. I got to dance with all three of my dancing partners.
KING: Was that on PBS?
BURGESS: On public television, yes.
KING: He played for the Eisenhower inaugural?
WELK JR.: He did.
KING: '52 or '56?
WELK JR.: You know, I think it would've been '56. Yes, it would have just been '56.
And I think he played a couple of the other inaugurals.
LENNON: Yes, he did.
KING: What kind of father was he? Tough?
WELK JR.: He was a tough father, but not -- he was a loving father, but he was a tough father. I mean, when you come out -- I don't think I really ever understood it until I went back and visited his birthplace and I saw all the tombstones of the young people. I mean, those were tough lives back there... KING: I'll bet.
WELK JR.: ... you know, living back there. And you saw the -- and I think it was difficult for him to be in touch emotionally, you know, like we hear so much about today.
KING: It was hard for him to be. He wasn't a hugger?
WELK JR.: No. Even though he was a very loving person and he would cry and have -- he was very emotional.
KING: What kind of grandfather was he?
WELK III: I would say pretty distant, as a grandfather. He -- we knew that he loved us and he was very loving, but we always got that -- the show. There was more family than just the grandchildren. Everybody was his family. And we always got that. But it made for a great father.
KING: Being honest here. This is honest. Did he live his principles?
WELK JR.: Oh, absolutely.
KING: So, you never would have caught him with another woman?
WELK JR.: No, no, no. In fact...
KING: That's funny, huh?
ENGLISH: It's hilarious, Larry.
KING: Considering what went on with the people on the show, it's very hilarious.
WELK JR.: Even though I'll have to say he certainly had an eye for pretty women.
LENNON: He did.
WELK JR.: You know, he could do a show on the road and he'd invite the pretty ladies, or any of the ladies up to dance on the stage with him. And they'd do a tag dance. He'd be able to....
KING: What was he like -- there were a lot of relationships going on on the show, right?
BURGESS: Three of the four Lennons got together with their husbands from the "Lawrence Welk Show." It was the musical family. We were together so much because we were filming, we were going on tour. I married, like Myron, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
LENNON: I met my husband there and my sisters met their husbands there, too. KING: So there was a the lot of -- because you were close together everywhere. You would think that would logically happen. Did he ever give you a problem with cleavage?
ENGLISH: You know, I never had any -- I never had him say anything to me except wonderful things. We had a great relationship. A few years into the show, they started getting letters because Rose Wise was our wonderful costumer. She'd have to go out and get these dresses that every girl on the show -- and there were a quite a few of us -- could wear and make it look good on each one of them.
So our fans, our audience out there, very conservative, started writing letters to say, why does Ralna cut her dresses down lower than all the other girls when they're all lined up. And she's showing her bosom on television. And, you know, I mean, this was this horrible -- so, Lawrence one day, he comes out and he puts his arm around me, my girl, we've been having these letters about you. And there's a little problem with your dresses being so low-cut. And by this time, I had had it up to here. And I said, Lawrence, I'm sorry, there is nothing that I can do about that. You're just going to have to talk to God about it.
Well, he -- the baton starts going on his leg, you know. And he's just absolutely -- he walked away from me. That's the only time.
KING: How did he resolve it?
ENGLISH: It passed. You know what? That's the only time that any word was -- that I felt any distance from him at all.
KING: We'll be right back with more of our great group and our discussion of, what a guy, Lawrence Welk. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LAWRENCE WELK SHOW")
WELK JR.: Hi, I'm Lawrence Welk Jr. This is Lawrence Welk III and Lawrence Welk the fourth is due any day. That's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. Why did ABC cancel the show?
WELK JR.: They were looking for a younger demographic, and it got to the point where the...
KING: A lot of shows went off at ABC, with big audiences.
WELK JR.: Yes, they had big audiences. I mean, it had nothing to do with ratings. It had nothing to do with viewers. They were there. But all the advertisers at that point were saying we want the young audience, and the Welk show drew an older audience.
It's not like today where there's a glut of programming. I mean, at that point, they didn't have anything to put in the slot. Welk got a prime-time shot on Saturday night and so did -- "Hee-Haw" was cancelled at the same time.
KING: Now there's no variety, right? The only variety now, Larry, is late at night.
WELK III: Yes. It's tough. You know, my wife talks about how her and her sisters and her cousins, they had to watch the show, but they used to dress up like the stars of the Welk show and do the show. And I think that that was part of the appeal, was that kids got into it.
They actually -- the stars on the show were like people next door. They were like the average person.
ENGLISH: Can I tell one story?
ENGLISH: I did a thing in Canada last year. And this -- came through the autograph line this mother and a 12-year-old. And the mother says, I have to tell you that when she was three years old, we were flipping through the channels and she said she made us stop on the "Lawrence Welk Show" and the whole family has been watching the "Lawrence Welk Show" ever since. What a story. I mean, that's how it's gone.
KING: Did he think he had a language problem?
LENNON: I don't think that he did, because I can remember us asking him one time or asking your mom, who had even a thicker accent. Neither of them thought they had an accent.
KING: Bobby, it was strange, wasn't it? I don't think anyone I've ever heard spoke like that.
BURGESS: I really think it was Stan Freeberg, back in the early '50s who kind of set it all off.
BURGESS: At first, Lawrence was mad. He didn't like being made fun of. And then all of a sudden he realized, hey, I'll run with it. And he started saying, a one and a two and when he kicked off that band, instead of wonderful, wonderful. And those kinds of things.
KING: Can you imagine him now and "Saturday Night Live?" They would have gone.
KING: Now, when you were growing up, that speech pattern was in your house, right? WELK JR.: It was with my dad. But I mean, when I was growing up as a young child, he was on the road all the time. I mean we...
KING: Absent father?
WELK JR.: Yeah. We lived in a suburb of Chicago, and my dad was on the road almost continually. I mean, he was at -- he would come into Chicago and play the Aragon Ballroom (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the Chicago Theater, and then we'd travel with him during the summer. So it wasn't like I -- everybody I talked to spoke regular English.
KING: By the way, it's the 50th anniversary. And as this shows airs, you'll already have been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Congratulations.
LENNON: Oh, I'm so thrilled, thank you. Along with 15 other groups like the Bee Gees and the Oakridge Boys and the McGwire Sisters. And we have like one distinction of all the 15.
LENNON: Those are friends of yours too, I think. One distinction is that we are the only famous singing sisters, and maybe even singing group, that became popular through television and not through records. People saw us every week on TV. We never really had any hit records. We've sold a billion albums, but never really had a hit record.
KING: Did Lawrence Welk do albums?
BURGESS: I won a dance contest dancing to "Calcutta." That was his big, big hit in 1961.
KING: Yeah, that was a hit, I remember that. That was a good song.
BURGESS: But I mean, he had me do it over and over and over. But then I thought, gee, now that's it. I did the show once and now -- then he opened at the Hollywood Palladium, and I stood in the front row with my dancing partner. We were all dressed and ready. And he says, come up and dance "Calcutta." And I said, no, Mr. Welk, I have a new dance routine to "Yellow Bird," your new hit. He says, come up and do that. And I did lifts, and he invited me on the show, and every week I'd go behind the scenes and say, hey, I can do an English quick step to that whispering number you just played at the Palladium. How do you do that? And I'd bounce around his dressing room.
And he always told people that I created a dance job for myself, because six months later on TV he said I was a regular.
KING: Did he have an regular arranger or did he arrange them?
WELK JR.: Oh, no, he had several arrangers.
KING: True that he'd write personal Christmas cards to fans?
WELK JR.: Yes, he would.
WELK JR.: Well, he started doing it that way, and then it got to the point where every year he'd send out probably...
BURGESS: A quarter of a million.
WELK JR.: A quarter of a million, yeah, Christmas cards.
BURGESS: See, 250,000 Christmas cards is a lot of Christmas cards. He loved his fans.
KING: What was he like on the road? I mean, personally? He napped a lot, right?
LENNON: He napped a lot. And there was always a seat next to him on the airplane. We called it the confessional seat. And if he'd call you up there, it was like, uh-oh, I might be in trouble. But he was great on the road. Like I said, he was so charming when he was actually off of the television shows. Just light and fun and...
KING: Did he like people like Count Bassey (ph)?
WELK JR.: Oh, he loved them. I remember, in fact, one of the things, and this probably is part of his success, is he never really played a lot of the music that he liked the best. And he always used to say that I play the music my audience likes the best. But I remember going to clubs and listening to, with, like, having him listen to Count Bassey (ph), Woody Herman (ph). I mean...
WELK JR.: Oh, jazz and dixie was his favorite.
KING: He once dressed in a hippie wig and costume?
ENGLISH: Yes, he did. And he fooled -- this agent was standing next to him. We were waiting to go on. We were at a fair (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Bill Daly (ph), the old agent, was standing, talking to somebody and kind of ragging on Lawrence, saying, you know, and here comes Lawrence...
BURGESS: In disguise.
ENGLISH: Dark wig with this thing with the chains, and he's standing there with glasses. And Lawrence kind of joins in with Bill and starts saying, yeah, he's a real -- he starts agreeing with Bill about himself. And then all of a sudden, and I'm standing there looking at this, you know, just breaking up, but he finally -- Bill finally realized who it was and was just...
KING: What did he die of?
WELK JR.: You know, eventually it was pneumonia.
KING: How old was he?
WELK JR.: He was 89.
KING: That's good lines. The wife's still going?
WELK JR.: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
KING: Where were you when he died?
WELK III: I was working when he died.
WELK JR.: I was with him. I was actually driving home from the resort in Escondido, and I was on the freeway probably not more than 10 minutes from his house, and I got a call on the cell phone saying you better come by here. So I was actually with him.
KING: He die well?
WELK JR.: He died well.
KING: They say you die as you live.
WELK JR.: He did -- it was absolutely the best thing. He'd lost pretty much his eyesight earlier and he was a little -- had a little bit of dementia, and he just didn't have the ability to enjoy life like you would have liked.
KING: Where were you?
LENNON: I was at home when I heard about it. But his wake was such a celebration. We all sang. They played dixie music walking to the gravesite. It was...
KING: Where is he buried? In North Dakota or here?
BURGESS: Around the gravesite, we all linked arms and sang the good night song to him as he was lowered in. Yeah.
ENGLISH: It was incredible. They had a dixieland band was playing out in front of the Holy Cross Chapel as everybody was walking in. And the press wasn't there. Nobody knew about it. And there were just about 150 people there, and 100 or so of us actually walked down the aisle to take communion together. It was unbelievable.
KING: Do you remember the song?
LENNON, BURGESS, ENGLISH (singing): Good night, good night, until we meet again. Adios, au revoir, aufwederzeen (ph), and now until we meet again. Adios, au revoir. Good night. KING: Janet Lennon, Bobby Burgess, Ralna English, Larry Welk Jr. and Larry Welk II, and our tribute to the champagne man himself. Lawrence Welk is still going, 50 years anniversary. What a show. Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you for joining us. Good night.
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(This special tribute edition of "Larry King Live" was taped in Hollywood on Labor Day, September 3, 2001. It was pre-empted due to the terriorist attacks and aired FRIDAY, APRIL 5 at 9 p.m. (ET) and 12 midnight (ET) and 3 a.m. (ET).