Remember the movie magazine headlines? The Lennon Sisters, gathered in a Watergate Hotel Room, remember them:
"WHAT KATHY LENNON CANTEACH JACKIE AND LIZ ABOUT MEN!" says Peggy.
"THE NIGHT JANET LENNON BECAME A WOMEN!" says Dianne.
Imagine it, talking like that about the four oldest of 11 brothers and sisters, a good Catholic family back in Venice, Calif., who auditioned in Lawrence Welk's bedroom . . .
AUDITIONED IN LAWRENCE WELK'S BEDROOM?
NO, NO, it that's what you were thinking, Mr. Dirt-for-brains.
Lawrence Welk had a cold that Sunday, so they went over to his house and sang and he sprang them on America on Christmas Eve, 1954, which was back when Christmas Eve was Christmas Eve and the Lennon Sisters were the Lennon Sisters. And 1954 was 1954.
It isn't, anymore. But they're still cute, spunky, modest, forthright, hardworking, peppy, petite, pert, patriotic and pretty. Healthy, real good shape, even, yes, sexy -- lest anyone imagine them as drab vestals tending the flame of the Eisenhower years, that era which succeeded in both having its girls-next-door and putting them on pedestals.
There may have been a lot of water under the bridge for the rest of us since then, but for them the only problem was "foam on the runaway," as they say.
"We had a lot of bad experiences in airplanes," says Janet. "We decided to work only in places we could drive to."
"It's our first trip east of the Rockies in 12 years," they keep saying. They all have a tendency to talk at once and they move around the hotel room very fast . . . or, as we said in 1954, "bouncy."
They are: Kathy, 40, recently separated; Peggy, 39, three sons and three daughters; Dianne, 36, two daughters and a son; and Janet, 34, three sons and two daughters.
"In our first flight was Mr. Welk we got into a tornado over Wichita," says Peggy. They always refer to him as "Mr. Welk."
"We were with him for 12 years, doing the television show, tours and every state and county fair. Finally, we decided we'd only work at places we could drie to from Los Angeles."
Vegas. Tahor. Reno. San Francisco. Phoenix. They're still playing them, but only when they all want to, and it doesn't interfere with "family." They do Barry Manilow songs, they sing "Scarborough Fair." Popular favorites. Also, they've been doing "Hollywood Squares" this year, two of them on each side of Paul Lynde.
"We get him mad, and then he's really funny," says Peggy.
Anyhow, they flew, the Lennon sisters actually flew for the first time in 12 years to appear at the show for the Olympic athletes at the Kennedy Center tonight.
"All they got was white knuckles for being here," says Sheldon A. Saltman, who put this package together: Andy Gibb, Patty LaBelle, Jamie Farr, Leonard Nimoy, Irene Cara and "the girls," as everybody calls them.
They're "Mom and the flag and apple pie, the whole bit" as Kathy puts it, to which Janet adds: "Which is fine, as long as you don't think we're shallow." And, as Peggy says, "It just fell into our laps."
Listen to the All-American success story.
"In 1954, our church, St. Mark's Catholic Church of Venice, California, put on a benefit," says Dianne. "Everybody had to do something, so we sang."
"Our dad and his brothers used to sing with bands like Paul Whiteman and Freddy Martin, so we just picked up the harmony from them," says Kathy.
"At the benefit, the head of the Lion's Club was in the audience." The way she says it, you can tell what it meant, back there, then, when somebody was the head of the Lion's Club.
"He asked us to sing at other things, dinners, service functions. We'd make $10," says Peggy. "Our dad said maybe we could take the money and build a dormitory for us on the back of the house. Well, we didn't add a dormitory, we bought a whole house. Six bedrooms for $19,000. We were terrified we couldn't make that payments. Mom still lives there with three of the kids." (The youngest is 20.)
It seemed that Diane went to high school with Lawrence Welk Jr. who got them into his dad's bedroom that Sunday when he had a cold, and then they sang over the phone to his musical director.
Bang. Like that. Six bedrooms. Like an Andy Hardy movie: Who, what if us kids got together and put on a show . . .
"Right!" says Kathy. "That's exactly what it was!"
They toured with Mr. Welk till 1967, had their own TV show in 1968, and joined Andy Williams in 1969, for both TV spots and appearances at Caesar's Palace, in Las Vegas.
They are asked what their most famous song was.
"We didn't have one," says Kathy. "We didnt have any big single hits."
It was enough to be the Lennon Sisters.
None of them ever tried a solo career.
"We don't have the drive," says Janet.
"We don't even have the drive to be the Lennon Sisters!" says Peggy, meaning that they didn't have to hustle and hassle, pay the dues and sing the blues.
N-O, no. Virtue, hard work and luck collided. Isn't that they way it's supposed to be?
Y-E-S, yes, but in the intervening decades there have been some complaints from every possible permutation and combination of the oppressed, depressed and un-caressed in our midst, saying that it doesn't work out that way, that it's a sham and a delusion.
Nevertheless: "On our way here we stopped in Kansas City to perform at a theme park called Worlds of Fun," says Kathy. "People were coming up and saying 'You were like my children,' and little kids, only this high, were screaming. It's amazing the popularity that continues."
They're having such a good time here.
Peggy went to see the Lincoln Memorial and got tears in her eyes reading Lincoln's Second Inaugural, and Kathy's going back again, and they all check out the Smithsonian earlier in the day and suddenly they're all talking at once, saying where they went: History and Technology, Jefferson Memorial, and that's the spot where the burglars broke into the Democratic offices, right out the window there.
They are very excited.
Somebody with the Olympic committee asks the Lennon Sisters what their ultimate goals in life are. They don't mind the question one bit.
Says Peggy, in a tone that suggests that she's said it before and people don't listen or don't agree or don't understand:
"We all would like to be . . . just . . housewives!"