I have been meaning to post this for a bit--it was written for my Baby Boomer Book blog, but it belongs here as well, since it is full of Los Angeles history. The Lennons grew up on the Westside, and one of them still lives in the Valley.
So here we go:
Are the Lennon Sisters our idols or ideals? (anyone remember Eric von Zipper and Beach Blanket Bingo?)
Anyway, the Lennon Sisters. Everyone's parents and grandparents watched The Lawrence Welk Show, and the Lennon Sister was as close as that show came to youth. Who were they and where are they now?
Fortunately, there are websites that answer those very questions!
DeeDee, Peggy, Kathy, and Janet (in order of oldest to youngest) were four of six Lennon girls, and they had five brothers as well. All of them lived happily in a two-bedroom house in Venice. Crowded, but happy--can you imagine the Lennon family not being happy?
Lawrence Welk's son, Larry, went to St. Monica High School, the same school as the oldest Lennon girl, Diane/DeeDee. He brought the girls to his home to sing for his father one day, when Dad was sick in bed. Welk Senior loved their sound and so on Christmas Eve, 1955, the sister act debuted on the Lawrence Welk Show. They sang "He," a capella.
How you remember the Lennons may depend on your age. DeeDee, who was 16 when they first started appearing on TV, married and left the show in 1960. She returned in 1964. All the Lennons left the show in 1968, and the quartet had their own show the next year: Jimmy Durante Presents the Lennon Sisters. Through the years, their little sister Mimi and other family members--including their Dad and his brothers--performed with them.
Remember their big hit, "Tonight you belong to me" in 1956? Belong was a three syllable word there. Very cute song. "Sad movies make me cry" was another.
Kathy Lennon (far left in the picture below,) has been married twice, first to a saxophone player in Welk's orchestra. Janet (in the red sweater) is now married to the Lawrence Welk's Orchestra Bandleader in Branson, John Bahler. DeeDee (far right ) is retired. That's Barbara Boylan next to her.
Peggy Lennon (pictured alone) also married a member of Welk's orchestra, and after his death she remarried and now lives in Northridge, CA. When Peggy retired in 1999, sister Mimi took her place. When DeeDee retired, the group became a trio.
All the singing sisters except Peggy live in Branson.
Here's a link to a YouTube video from the early days: Lennon Sisters Remember Their TV Debut. Through much of the 1990s and 2000s , the Lennon Sisters performed at the Welk Champagne Theater in Branson, MO. Today they're still in Branson, but at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater.
Do you remember having a Janet Lennon adventure book? There were lunchboxes too. In a recent (well, 2006) interview, Janet Lennon said she had to wear braids on the show to look younger until she was in high school. "II have nightmares of braids, I really, really do."
The Lennons left The Lawrence Welk Show to pursue an offer in Vegas. They were all adults by them, some with children, and the Vegas offer gave them as much for 16 weeks of work as they got for a year with Welk. Not that the Welk show was grueling or cheap--it was a big extended family--but the chance to have 2/3 of the year off was pretty attractive.
The Lennon Sisters Page of the Welk Music Family site has tons of information and pictures. Other sites are LennonSisters.com, devoted to their 55th anniversary, and their Facebook page, where they are dolled out in slinky gowns that look downright sexy.
Now comes the sad part, but first I'll mention that the final picture was taken at Andy WIlliams' memorial service and shows left to right, Kathy, Janet, Mimi, and DeeDee.
You may remember that William Lennon, the father of the Lennon Sisters was killed in the late 1960s. It happened just before their show with Durante premiered. Since the murder occurred only days after the gruesome Tate-LaBianca killing spree of Charles Manson and his followers, people thought that William Lennon's murder must be connected. It wasn't, unless (possibly) hearing about the other murders set the man off--a possibility, but who knows?
Very soon--within a week of the shooting--police identified a suspect in Lennon's murder who had been writing threatening, insane letters to the family for months, possibly years. Today we might compare the killing to that of John Lennon (eerie coincidence) or Rebecca Shaeffer: a crazed fan who believed Peggy Lennon was really married to him and that William Lennon was keeping him from his bride. The man--Chet Young--had spent time in a mental hospital. He stalked and killed William Lennon at a local golf course.
Even after the suspect was id'd, the police couldn't find him. He'd fled to the Sierra Nevada mountains. The sisters--some of whom were married and had kids--pretty much moved home with their mother for the next two months. They wanted the heavy police protection that was provided at her home, but which couldn't be extended to the entire family at different addresses.
Two months later the stalker/murderer killed himself, leaving a written confession behind--a confession in which he showed no remorse, but insisted that the murder was "justifiable."
Recalling those days in 1969 kinda takes sweetness out of nostalgia, huh? But it is what happened.