Music: Kings of Bubble Gum – The Osmonds

Original Publication: Newsweek – September 3, 1973.

What has 150 gleaming white teeth, shakes, rattles and rolls, feeds on milk and Hunza stew – and unicycles backward? Answer: the Osmond Brothers, culture phenomenon and commercial empire – the current kings of bubble-gum rock and one of the cleanest-living acts in the histroy of show business.

In 1972 the Osmonds broke the mark, held by Elvis and the Beatles, for selling the most gold records in a year – eleven. “Osmondmania” even spread to England, where the Queen commanded a performance. Today thousands of pubescent girls dedicate good parts of their lives to the cherubic Osmonds (especially 15-year-old heartthrob Donny), sending them 65,000 fan letters a week, reading about them in the official Osmond magazine – where Mother Osmond recalls her courting days and Father Osmond issued the top Teen Commandments – and even converting to the Osmonds’ strict Mormon religion. “It’s bad to live your life around them,” sighed one 16-year-old, “but I can’t help it, I’ve tried.”

Not only have these swooning hordes bought close to 50 million Osmond records, they also shell out for everything from Osmond Sweet Dreams Pillowcases – “Choose your favorite brother” – to the Osmond Brothers’ Mother’s Cookbook to an ordinary Frisbee that has been rechristened an Osmond “Zoom-O.” The official Osmond T shirt reads: “I’m sweet and innocent.”

Spangled: The Utah-bred Osmond Brothers, who ranged in age from 24 to 15, are only five out of nine children. Their little brother, Jimmy, 10, already has two hit records in Japan – he sings phonetically in Japanese—and sister Marie, 13, has just released her first country-music single, “Paper Roses.” Two older brothers, who were born with hearing impediments, now handle the Osmond fan club. The Osmonds are strictly a family affair. Father Osmond works the lights for every show, Marie irons their $1,500 spangled suits and Mother Osmond counts the gate. Nobody smokes, drinks, or takes stimulants of any kind, including coffee, tea or Coke, and part of their income goes to the church. “They sure are a good example,” said one mother who brought her daughters to a recent concert. “I’m so tired of those stringy-looking meatheads I could die.”

It was the Osmonds’ church-inspired “Family Nights” that got the boys performing together. Once a week they’d perform for each other, and were soon practicing barbershop harmonies and getting standing ovations at local civic clubs. “It was really neat,” says Alan, the oldest singing Osmond. “We could see the reward for our labors.” The family motto is “There’s no such thing as can’t,” and Mr. and Mrs. Osmond encouraged the kids by providing all sorts of lessons. They learned how to juggle and ride a unicycle,” Mr. Osmond told NEWSWEEK’s Eleanor Clift. “And if there was a good hoofer around I’d give him a few bucks and have him teach them a few licks.” Mrs. Osmond had each child pick a color and put desks in those colors in a special schoolroom built onto the house. Even today she provides the boys with “Busy Boxes” filled with schoolbooks, the Book of Mormon, cassette recorder and foreign-language tapes.

After being turned down by Lawrence Welk the Osmonds were discovered by Andy Williams’s father during a visit to Disneyland. From 1962 to 1969 they appeared as wholesome backup singers to Williams. In 1971 they made it big on their own, with Donny’s falsetto, singing “One Bad Apple,” and in six months had a pair of Top 5 singles twice. Donny, who does not yet date or even get an allowance, has always had a mesmerizing appeal, but he’s embarrassed about being a sex symbol. “It’s just the age group,” he shrugs.

Jam: Today the Osmonds gross at least $50,000 a night and put on one of show business’s flashiest performances, featuring everything from karate to little Jimmy dressed as Batman. To warm up for a show, they meow like cats and have a family prayer. “Instead of coming out in concert with jeans and long dirty hair,” explains Donny, “We like to come out looking classy.” But sometimes life can get sticky for bubble-gum kings. On tour recently Wayne was rudely awakened by the screams of girls peering into his motel room, and Alan got so revved up at one show he accidentally karate-chopped Jay in the face, breaking Jay’s nose and requiring six stiches in his own hand.  Greyhound will no longer charger buses for Osmond travel since fans spray-paint love notes on the buses. Many hotels bar the Osmonds because their fans jam elevators and gobble up all the Cokes and hamburgers. 

In spite of their fans’ mania, the Osmonds are determined to make an artistic contribution. A new album, “The Plan,” written by the brothers and two years in the making, eschews puppy-love lyrics for a self-conscious imitation of the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper.” “There are some people who think you never grow up,” scoffs Wayne. “We’ve changed too. We want to be remembered like the Beatles as contributors to music.”

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

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