Here's a terrific and in-depth interview with Kathy and Janet from the current issue of HomeArts magazine. I love that the interviewer is clearly a big Lennon Sisters fan. Just great stuff.
Lennon Sisters Interview
Julie Stephani, HomeArts Editor
The Lennon Sisters are an American institution. Glamorous, yet unpretentious. Sophisticated, yet down to earth. Famous, yet approachable. No wonder America remains fascinated by The Lennon Sisters. America fell in love with them as the girls next door. For 13 years on The Lawrence Welk Show, The Lennon Sisters charmed the nation with their sweet voiced harmonies. The combination of their extraordinary natural vocal talents, hard working professionalism, striking looks, unassuming personalities and strong family values has earned them a place in the hearts of millions of fans.
JS: Thank you for joining me to chat about your amazing careers and what it has been like for you to be singing performers recognized throughout the world. First, I have to tell you, I really enjoyed your autobiography, Same Song, Different Voices.
KL: Thank you! We were so proud of that! We wrote every single word ourselves
JL: We were really, really proud. It took us ten or twelve years to write it because every time we got together, we just wanted to play.
JS: I kind of caught that in reading your book. (laughter)
KL: Really, you always end up talking about your kids, and talking about what you saw at a store, and then it’s like, “Wait, we’ve got to get back to work!” The truth is that everyone should write their story, because your story is unique, and it’s always special whether you pass it on to your children or grandchildren. People are very interested in others’ lives, so you absolutely should do it.
JS: Right. And did you find when you were getting together and talking about your memories that some of them were a little bit different from each other?
JL: Oh, definitely!
JS: So you were wondering if the same thing happened. (laughter)
KL: Very different perspectives. When we first started, Janet was only nine, and DeeDee was almost sixteen, so you look at things quite differently. At Easter time Janet could dance around a little toadstool and sing "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," but when you’re skipping around at sixteen years old, your friends are making fun of you in high school.
JS: I did catch that for your careers, for your fans, they wanted to keep you young.
KL: Oh yes.
JL: Right. I wore braids until I was thirteen or something. It was humiliating.
JS: As I was reading your story, there were so many parallels in our lives. My three sisters and I are about the same ages as the four of you, and we called ourselves the Olson Sisters—but we couldn’t sing. Janet, I used to wear braids, too (laughs), but I think I had mine cut off in 5th grade. But then nobody was holding me back on that. Did you save your braid Janet?
JL: I didn’t. I don’t think I ever cut them off. First of all, I have the world’s thinnest hair. It’s so fine and so thin that if I’d have saved them, it would have just looked like a little, wiglet that you’d put in your hair. You saved your braids?
JS: Yes. When I cut them off, they were long. It was during 5th grade, and that’s when the big ducktails came in so I got a really short boy cut.
JL: With a great ducktail in the back?
JS: Yes, I did! (laughter)
KL: We were never allowed to have a ducktail. That was racy. You were a really racy girl!
JS: No, not in 5th grade, I wasn’t. (laughter) With the image of the Lennon Sisters, I’m sure you always had to make sure that everything was the way that it needed to be.
KL: We pretty much WERE the people that people perceived us to be. We were from a very loving, sheltered home. We didn’t really go out much or do much because we loved being at home. And we loved working at ABC Studios where we were sheltered by a wonderful crew of people and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. It was just a great life! We really had no chance to really grow up and be jaded in any way, so we were just happy kids.
JS: It really comes out in your book, too–the wonderful life that you lived. My goodness. What is one of the most important life lessons you learned from your remarkable parents? They really were something special.
KL: They really were. Go ahead, Janet.
JL: I remember one of the things Mom and Dad said to us when we first knew we were going to be very popular after the first few months of being on the Welk show. They sat us down, and made a promise that we were never going to have to go to a Hollywood professional school–that we could stay in our same school and be with our same friends, which was wonderful. But my dad mentioned something in that meeting that really stuck with us, for whatever reason, and that all of us have lived by, and that is, “You are going to meet so many people in your life, and every single person that you meet, you leave for better or for worse, and that is your choice.” And we always remembered that. We have always signed after every show we’ve done, and we’ve been there till the last audience member was there to take a picture or to as us to sign an autograph. Every time I talk with anybody who comes up to get the autograph, I think of what Daddy said. “Put yourself in that position. If you went up to somebody that you really admired and said ’I’d like to say hello’ or ’can I have your autograph?’… how would you want them to treat you?” And I think that stuck with us and served us very well.
JS: I think your sincerity is what everybody has loved about all of you for so many years. You’ve been popular and you have these multi-talents, yet you are who you are.
KL: We are. And we can really tribute our parents for the love they gave us, for the love they gave each other. They set such a beautiful example. They had such a strong belief in God, and that’s the strength that held the family together. Nobody is a saint here, but it was about loving, about being fair rather than necessarily being right, being at peace. We just had such a beautiful, sheltered life. And it did not help us to realize that the world was not that way. There was no arguing in our house, there was no fighting. I know that’s really difficult for people to believe, but Mom came from a very broken home. She went to 34 different grammar schools, that’s how often she moved.
JL: She lived with cousins and aunts, her father was an alcoholic, and she just went through a lot of trauma and a difficult childhood. When she met Daddy, who was one of nine children, she said “I want a large family also, I want a lotta lotta children, and I don’t want any arguing or fighting in our home.” And that’s exactly what she got. If we’d just start, you know, to bicker about anything, she’d say, “Wait a minute!” and she would stop us. “This is your sister” or “This is your brother. You need to love them. Let’s work this out.” And she just had a way of making things positive instead of negative. It was always the half-full glass and not half-empty. And so the sincerity really comes from our parents–and how they were with each other and how they were with us. They respected us as individuals. Now we come from a family of 11 children, and each one of us thought we were their favorite. (laugh)
JS: Oh, that’s a skill in itself.
JL: But I think, and Kathy has said this before, because of our upbringing and because we have such a strong foundation, our career has never defined us as people. If we never had to perform again, it wouldn’t enter into our psyche that it has defined us as people because we are so solid, you know? So that’s a good thing, too.
JS: Well, you have such a solid foundation.
JL/KL: Oh gosh, yes!
JS: There are so many lessons to learn from reading your book–lessons and experiences you had, how your parents handled them, how you internalized things, and how you came through the experiences yourself.
KL: Well, thank you. I know that people just think we lived in la-la land, and we did not. After reading the book, you know that we went through many, many tragedies in our lives with the death of our little sister and then the death of our father due to a Lennon Sister demented fan. After the loss of Daddy, Mom still had seven children at home under 18. And we went on. We looked at her, and she was just this rock who said “And we go on.” We had families and children and Mom was there for us to admire, to follow, and to respect her attitude and the loving memory of Daddy. And he lives on in every one of our spirits, and in every one of our children and grandchildren now. I can just see Daddy in every one of them. And it was a tragedy beyond words.
JS: When I was reading the book, I knew he was a larger than life person. You could see that in everything that he did and how he kept a watch over all of you in the family. Yet you didn’t dwell on his death. When it happened, you dealt with it and you went on. JL/KL: That’s good. That’s what we wanted to show. Because that’s what we’d done.
JS: Knowing that your families are so important to you, can you explain to our readers how you did this balance between your performing and your families–because your families have always been number one.
JL: To the detriment of the Lennon Sisters!(laughs). Our families have always been number one. When we were young and not married yet, we pretty much strictly worked the Lawrence Welk Show during our school years. And that would be a Thursday afternoon rehearsal, a Friday afternoon rehearsal, and all day Saturday. The show was live for the first eight years, but after that it was taped live. So Saturdays were pretty taken, but other than that, our weeks were normal. We went to normal schools. We’d come home from the show and change our brothers’ and sisters’ diapers, and do the dishes, and take the trash out like every child. So our life was pretty normal that way. And then when we were old enough to get married and start our own families, that’s when we decided to leave the Lawrence Welk Show. It took up a lot of our time since we had been going on the road a lot as the Lennon Sisters. We then decided the best thing when we were raising children would be to work where we could bring them along. We had been asked to work in Las Vegas with Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Glen Campbell, and with some other stars. By performing in Vegas, we could pack up our kids, drive from L.A., and have them in with us in our hotel rooms. And for several weeks, we would kind of camp out at Caesar’s Palace or wherever we were performing. That was the way we raised our children. All of our children–the cousins, there are 14 of them–sort of had this common upbringing. They learned to roller skate in the halls of Caesar’s Palace, and their aunt Kathy taught them to swim in the swimming pool there.
KL: That’s what we did. We couldn’t put our career on hold, but we took the jobs where we could be with our families the most.
JS: Maybe that was why it was easy for so many of them to become involved when you finally got to Branson, too. They understood what you were doing and knew whether they wanted to be involved in it or not.
JL: Well, the first few years, most of them performed with us on stage.
KL: Almost seven years, incredible!
KL: They still do. We’ll be performing our 14th year in Branson, Missouri at the Welk Resort, and we do six weeks at Christmas time. It’s The Lennon Sisters and the Gatlin Brothers, so we put on a great family holiday show. Janet’s little granddaughters come on stage and sing Christmas songs with us, we bring out our little Best Pals rag dolls, and we share our story. People just love it. Of course, we love it, because we get to be with our family every day, and they are just a hoot. They enjoy the Gatlins and the Gatlins just LOVE them. And so it’s a wonderful family backstage, also.
JS: Well, I have all the Gatlin Brothers tapes. (laugh) I love them, too.
JL: They are so wonderful.
JS: Now when you went to Branson, you all were there to start–even DeeDee and Peggy?
JS: And then eventually they went back to California?
KL: We first moved to Branson in 1994, Peggy’s husband Cathcart, who had been on the Lawrence Welk Show, died in November. He had been very sick for a couple of years. When we moved to Branson, she said ’oh, I’m so ready for a new start,’ so she and her six children came to Branson. A few years later, she met this wonderful doctor from California, and they fell in love. They got married and she worked one more year in Branson with him coming back and forth. Finally she said, ’You know what. I need to go to California.’ She called our younger sister Mimi, who is nine years younger than Janet, and said ’Would you consider taking my place in Branson? I’m going to retire.’ Mimi had always been our relief pitcher. She performed at Caesar’s Palace, she’d do a television show, she’d go to Tahoe, and she’d always fill in whenever anyone was out having a baby. So when Peggy called her she said. “I would love that!” So Mimi joined us and DeeDee retired the following year. So now it’s just Janet, Mimi, and me performing in Branson.
JL: It’s the same exact sound. Mimi sounds exactly like Peggy and she sings Peggy’s part. It hasn’t changed at all over the years.
JS: Didn’t two of you share the harmonies at one time?
JL: Two of us used to sing lead together instead of having vocal arrangements done in four-part harmony. I would sing with DeeDee, particularly when I was little because I didn’t have the strongest voice in the world then.
KL: Janet was with DeeDee and then she went into four-part harmony for awhile. Then we went back down to our three-part harmony, which is the real Lennon Sisters sound that you hear all the time now. And it’s still just the same!
JS: I had to laugh when you mentioned the costumes you wore. You sometimes felt you just had to put with them while all of us loved seeing you in the costumes. We couldn’t wait to see what you were wearing on the next show.
JL: When the ’60s came in, we wanted to wear mini dresses so badly, and Mr. Welk wouldn’t let us wear them. That was a hard time. We did the Jerry Lewis show, and we have these fabulous pink mini dresses on with these pink heels with the ice-cube heels, you know? Remember when that was in? We had such a good time, and I think we sang "Sunny.". When we came back to the Welk show the following week, he was so upset!
JS: Oh, no!
KL: The janitor had told him that he had seen the show and that our dresses were too short, and we got in trouble. It’s just such a perfect story! The janitor thought that they were really just too short, and that’s a perfect Mr. Welk story–always listening to his audience. As if our dad would ever let us wear anything that short anyway! It was really difficult. Those were the changing times when the Beatles were in. Janet and I were in high school and wanting so badly to wear those clothes. We did end up wearing all the hairdos that everybody wore…
JL: …the bubblehead…
KL: … and wiglets, and, oh my gosh. We have all those pictures of that.
JS: Oh, yes! And it’s so much fun to see you in your glam outfits from Las Vegas —wow!
KL: Oh, those were wonderful!
JL: I think Bob Mackie helped make them, but Rhett Turner would put our basic form on us in muslin to begin with. Then Bob Mackie would come in with a pencil and draw designs all over the muslin of where he wanted the beads to go. Then the muslin would go off and become the dress with beads. And it was so much fun–such a great time. We were just poor girls from Venice and didn’t go around with stars or anything, but going to get our dresses made, we’d walk out Cher would be in the waiting room or Diana Ross. It was so much fun.
JS: What exciting adventures you have had! My gosh! All the people you’ve met and all the people you’ve sung with. Are there people that who are your favorites?
KL: Oh, the stories of what we’ve done! I mean, singing for seven presidents has been a highlight in our career. And getting our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was a wonderful, wonderful tribute. We always feel it’s a tribute to Mom and Dad. But the stars we sang with, from Perry Como to… Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and George Burns. We came in on the great days of variety and vaudeville. We were kids and they people were older, but we got to work with them.
KL: We had a show with Jimmy Durante and, appeared on shows with Perry Como Andy Williams, and Glen Campbell. We looked up to all of these people we were able to work with, and it was just so much fun. It seems that the bigger they were the nicer they were. We had great experiences with Sammy Davis, Jr.
JL: We loved him.
KL: We just loved him, and we just couldn’t believe that they’d really know us. They’d know us by name. We were still these four little kids from Venice, and it was like, ’oh my gosh! Dean Martin is in our dressing room!’ Rosemary Clooney was a dear, dear friend as well as Patti Page. Actually, we are looking forward to working with her again. The Lennon Sisters are going on a five concert tour in March, and we haven’t done that in 14 years.
JS: What cities are you going to hit?
KL: Four in southern California, and we’ll do one in Arizona with, Patti Page. We worked with her many years ago and still admire her–her sound and her wonderful way of harmonizing with herself. We did a lot of her songs so we’re excited. It’s always exciting to work with people like that.
JS: Well, I think because you still are excited about working with all of these other great singers, we get to enjoy that vicariously through you.
JL: Thank you!
JS: Because we know that you are “real” people and you’ve never gotten caught up in all that.
KL: Mom wouldn’t have it.
JL: Mom’s wooden spoon wouldn’t let us.
JS: Oh, she had one too?
JL: Oh, yes! All we had to do was hear the sound of that drawer opening and we were up those stairs doing what we needed to do!
JS: (laughter) Oh, that’s funny! When you have time on your own, when you really have time for yourself, what do each of you like to do most?
KL: For me, I love antiquing, flea markets, junk stores, and finding that wonderful salt and pepper shaker or that wonderful old doll–and someone doesn’t know that it’s really a collector’s item. I’m just a real flea market and antique junkie.
JL: You’re a traveler, too.
KL: My husband and I do travel. We love to go to Carmel. We just travel a lot and on the way we always say, “Quick! Stop! There’s this flea market that looks cute. Let’s go!” And maybe we find just one little thing but have a wonderful time looking.
JS: Gives you a good reason to be on the road, looking for all that stuff.
JL: I have a huge family. My husband and I have a Brady Bunch of five children, and they all live here in Branson. We have six grandchildren that live here in Branson also, so we have family dinner every Sunday night. I love to cook. I just love, love, love to cook! Wish I could do that for a living. I just love spending time with the grandchildren. Even my ex-husband moved here to be with our children, and he and his wife come for dinner every Sunday night, too.
JS: Oh my gosh! That’s neat.
KL: Janet is an incredible cook. I mean she could open a restaurant. She’s incredible!
JS: I heard that about you, Janet. Your reputation already precedes you.
JS: You’re not just a singer!
KL: But our homes right now have been turned into warehouses. I mean we have Best Pals rag dolls, CDs, and all of the product we are signing and sending out. We always have our dining room or living room filled with the new product prototypes, so our homes have been, really, turned into…
JL: Sweatshops! (laughs)
KL: Yes, sweatshops!
JS: Talking about your business, how did the whole thing come together? When you decided you were going to start this company together, was it your Best Pals dolls that started the whole thing?
JL: When we were little, we were inseparable. Our whole life we’ve always called each other best pals. Well, we said later on in life we’d like to have a little business together, and we thought it might be antiques, collectibles, or something like that. But several years ago we were talking about our childhood and how fabulous it was and what best pals we were, and the thing that we loved to do the most when we were little was to sit in our little matching red rockers and sing to our dolls. And so we decided to record a Best Pals children’s CD with all of our favorite songs from childhood–the ones we had learned from Mom and Dad, our grandparents, and actually even our sisters DeeDee and Peg. So we recorded this CD and then Kath said, ’why don’t we try to recreate these dolls our favorite dolls?’ Kath, you can explain what our favorite dolls are.
KL: When we were little, Janet was three and I was six, Mom and our grandmother, whom we called Nana, made us rag dolls. They were 16" tall handmade rag dolls with yarn hair and embroidered eyes and these wonderful rag dolls had darling little dresses on them. Janet and I loved these dolls, and we took them everywhere with us. When we started on the Lawrence Welk Show, we would take them on the road with us, too, because it was kind of taking a little bit of home with us. When it was time to go to bed, we’d put them in little nighties. So they traveled with us, and we still have them to this day. They’re like the Velveteen Rabbit–they’re just loved and rubbed off and a little bit dirty on the face…one’s missing a foot (laughs). They’re the most loved dolls! So after we did this CD, we said, “You know, there is a hole in the toy industry right now that we feel we can fill.” There’s always room for the trendy toys and there’s always room for the techno-toys. I mean that’s what’s popular now, but there’s a hole in the market that will give little girls an option to stay little girls for a little longer. We decided to recreate our original rag dolls right down to the vintage fabric of the dolls and the dresses. They’re exact replicas of what Mom and Nana made for us. And we were so thrilled! It took us a couple of years to really get it right. We kept looking at the prototypes coming in throughout the year and we’d say, “Oh no. We have to be proud of them. We have to see tem up on a shelf and say, ’Oh my gosh. That’s exactly right’–they’re so cute.’” And it happened. When we launched these dolls at Mall of America in August, we had only seen the prototypes but finally we had the dolls in our hands. Well, the first dolls that came from the factory went to the Mall of America, so when we went in there and there’s thousands of dolls in baskets and they’re our dolls–we just started crying! It happened. We feel the dolls take us to a simpler time that brings a little home back, and it shares some of our family history with our incredible loyal fans.
JS: I saw your original dolls, too, and you have to look closely to see that yours are worn to see the difference between them.
JL: We just came back from two doll shows: the International Doll Exposition in Orlando, and Toy Fair in New York a few weeks ago. We displayed our original dolls that Mom made right next to the new dolls, and you really have to look hard to figure out which one is which.
KL: And I told Janet, “Gosh, when you’re five years old a child doesn’t want put a doll up on a shelf, and these dolls can really be played with. You can hold on to it by the braid and love it and take it to bed. It’s not going to scratch you. It’s totally safe for every age. And all the little clothes we had made for the dolls because one thing little girls love to –and Janet and I used to LOVE to do–is change their clothes. And everything on this little doll comes off: the little stockings, the little shoes, the little unders, the little slip, the little dress, and the bows come off the braids. You can unbraid the hair, put it in ponytails instead, and we just made sure it was exactly like we used to do when we were little.
JS: I bought my own dolls and right now they have their dresses and nightgowns. Are you planning on adding to their wardrobes?
JL: Well, we have a whole new line of prototypes which should be out by next fall. We have three new dolls coming: one will have an Oriental coloring, with pale skin, black eyes, and black hair; one will have the Latin coloring, with light brown skin, dark brown eyes, and dark brown hair; and one will be more like an African-American with brown skin, black eyes, and black hair. And they all so adorable–we absolutely love them! And the thing that’s so fun, is that they come in braids, but you can take them out and put their hair in one big high ponytail with a big bow, or two ponytails that you can put half up and half down. Every time you fix their hair, they look like a different character. They’re so cute! We also have little mini-dolls that are 5 1/2" tall and are exact replicas of the two sets of dolls that we put out last year. And we’ll have Christmas dolls that people can hang on their trees if they want. They’re so cute.
JS: The mini-dolls will be the ornaments?
JL: The Christmas ones. They’re in the red and green dresses, exactly like the other ones, and they’re in braids. And we’ll be coming out with a little tin tea set like the ones we had in the ’50s when we were little. The little tea set will have our logo on it, and that’ll be very, very cute. And then we’ll have a bunch of new clothes that we’re going to sell separately.
KL: Darling clothes, like a little plaid dress that we had in first grade, and a little denim jumper. So we’re really adding to our Best Pals line, and we’re so excited about our ethnic dolls, just so excited.
JS: So there’s a doll for everybody.
KL: It’s our original rag doll, exactly the same, only in different colors.
JS: It sounds really wonderful. Now every little girl can have a doll that’s really going to be just for her.
KL: We know that our mama’s spirit is in every one of them. Mom died last year — oh Jan, it’s almost two years!
JL: I know!
KL: She watched us create these replicas and get them back, and she’d say, “Have the braids more like this” or “watch the little eyebrow.” Mom was so specific that the eyebrows could not be real thick. They’re little teeny eyebrows, and that’s what makes the face so sweet. When we had the dolls finished finally, it was after Mom had died. And even though we know she’s not totally aware of what these dolls are, we just know that her spirit and Nana’s spirits live on in these dolls.
JS: Now, when your mom and Nana made the original dolls, did they just come up with them on their own? Was it one or the other that designed them?
KL: What they had was a pattern of a gingerbread rag doll kind of thing.
JL: That’s exactly what they had.
KL: And then they created their faces. They created their faces in the yarn and put the little thumb in, and did the little feet differently, so they just had an idea and then they did their own.
JS: And then they took it from there.
JS: And now you’ve got another tape out, too–your Christmas tape?
JL: Yes, for Christmas.
JS: That’s the second tape that you did?
JL: That’s our second, and we’re going to be recording a new one. So we’re going to be putting out more, because we’re basically music-driven. That’s how we started, and we still have voices that can continue to sing in harmony that is the Lennon sound. We know that children react to our music and have been very comforted and soothed.
JS: Yes, your voices are very soothing. The harmony is very soothing.
JL: Plus we’re planning to put together a children’s cookbook and a children’s storybook which we’ll be doing when we get back from our tour from L.A. We’ve got a lot of work to do!
KL: You brought up the Christmas CD. Janet’s grandchildren sing on the CD with us. It’s so adorable.
JS: If we get any questions or requests about that, we can just send our readers to your website, too.
JL: Everything is available on our Best Pals.net website. Just go to the gift shop.
JS: When you’re away from Branson, the two of you and Mimi, who is performing the theater?
JL: The Welk Theater used to have the Welk Show all year long. There is no Welk Show anymore, so we have a magician named Darren Romeo, who’s a singing magician and he’s fabulous.
JL: And he’s there from spring until fall. Then on certain weekends, they have big circuits come in–the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and BB King. They also have these weekend concerts, too. And in the fall, the Tillis family will be there–Mel Tillis and Pam Tillis and her brother and sister. That’ll be a great show. And for Christmas, it’ll be the Gatlin Brothers and the Lennon Sisters.
JS: I know that two of my sisters are already planning on seeing you, so I guess I have to get my act together.
KL: You’ll sing with the Olson Sisters!
JS: We’ll make sure we never sing in front of you! (laughs) I just meant getting my act together to get my tickets and reservations!
KL: We actually open on October 29th and we go through December 7th–and we work Monday through Friday.
JS: Okay, that’s good to know.
KL: There is something we could do for you. Jan, should we sing “Pure Imagination” for her?
JL: We can try to, but we’re long distance, so I’m not sure if we’ll cancel each other out, Kathy.
KL: Well, let’s see what we can do, and you can let us know if you can hear both harmonies. I think you can, if we can sing at the same time.
JS: I’m holding my heart before you even start. This is a thrill. (laughter)
JL/KL: (eight bars of “Pure Imagination”)
JS: (applause) You’re making me cry. That was so pretty! Thank you. That’s really made my day!
KL: Our Christmas CD opens with “Pure Imagination,” and we really love that album.
JS: That was really something. To get back to your grandchildren, they are on the first CD and on the Christmas one?
JL: At the very end of our first Best Pals CD, we sing a song called “All The Pretty Little Ponies,” (singing) “Hushabye, don’t you cry…” It’s a beautiful little song, and when we recorded it several years ago, my oldest granddaughter was 2 ½. She loved that song so much, and she came into the studio one day and started to sing it. She had this baby little voice singing, “Hushabye….” It was the cutest thing, so we just tacked it on to the end of our song,. At the very end of our first CD, you hear this little teeny voice singing “Hushabye” and then she says, “I love you, Gramma!” It’s the cutest.
KL: On our Christmas CD, in one spot they actually kind of giggle and laugh, which is kind of cute because it’s this song about children looking through Christmas windows. Then we do a song called “The Friendly Beasts” singing about the baby Jesus, and the girls Lia and Anna actually sing with us and sing most of the song themselves. It’s so cute. The Christmas CD is pretty special because they are on it. On our next album, we want to have them do even more than that.
JS: Your entire careers have been a family affair.
KL: We also took Janet’s little voice from when she was nine, and we sang against it on the songs “Shake Me, I Rattle” and “I’m a Little Doll (That’s Been Dropped and Broken),” so it’s so sweet. It is so sweet.
JS: I’m writing a little note so I will be sure to listen for your little voice, Janet.
JL: I’m still very shy, and I was very shy at nine years old and because I was the youngest. Mr. Welk always wanted me to do these little solos, but I just was terrified. I would break out in hives, and just feel like crying. Mom would be so sweet and give me a glass of water and say, “Calm down.” I still feel the same way, only I’m all grown up so I can’t throw a tantrum. (laughter)
JS: I know you have all this memorabilia, do you ever get a chance to put things together in your albums? Do you ever get to do anything like that?
KL: Oh gosh. First of all, we have SO many albums and so many pictures. I’m pretty much the historian, so I have them now, basically, in files, from before Lawrence Welk–our baby photos, da da da. I am dying to put a book together with all of that. We have been very fortunate that so many of our loyal fans have brought scrapbooks to us and said, “I did this when I was a teenager, and we want you to have them, because we figure that your children would want to have them or your grandchildren.”
JS: Oh, how nice!
KL: And they bring them to us in Branson. After the shows in Branson, we always go out in the audience and out in the lobby. We sign pictures, and take pictures, sign autographs, and they bring us scrapbooks. We look back on these movie magazines when we were on them for years, and some of the titles … we just laugh! “What the Lennons have that the Beatles want” or a rabbi comparing the Catholic girls with Jewish girls. I mean, they’re phenomenal, just incredible! So these fans give us movie magazines, their scrapbooks, and, when they’ve been to antique stores, they’ll bring us our old novelette books, like "Janet Lennon at Camp Calamity.[Julie note: I have this one!] We had these Nancy Drew type books when we were in the ’60s–and paper dolls and coloring books. They’ll say, “Oh, I found this at an antique store, and I thought maybe you’d want to give this to your grandkids.” So fans collect these things, too! After our 50th anniversary, we decided to recreate the original paper dolls that we now have on our LennonSisters.com website. So many fans came up after the show with their paper dolls-or with stories about their paper dolls.
You were talking about all the pictures we have. We have put together a 50th anniversary anthology that has three CD packages of songs that we recorded from 1956 through 2006. There’s 66 songs of our recordings and a photo album–I think there’s 40 pictures in it. It’s a beautiful black package with gold ribbon–it’s really lovely. That’s probably as far as we’ve gone with doing a scrapbook. We just don’t have the time at this point, but boy, do we have enough to put in one.
JS: I think you do!
KL: In fact, we’re going to send it all to you and you get to do it.
JS: Well, I sure would enjoy it! (laughter) By the way, I have my own paper doll story. When we moved from one town to another, my sisters were cleaning out the attic and they threw out my paper dolls of you–and my childhood teddy bear Amy. I never forgave them for it, and they heard my whining about it ever since. So this summer when we came to see you, I reminded them that I had to get your paper dolls. I have them now and all is forgiven. I had to actually cut them out again, just for old times’ sake.
JL: You know, when we autograph after the show, people bring their paper dolls for us to sign. One lady who came obviously had our paper doll package in her hand, and she said, “I really want you to sign these, but before I take the dolls out I just have to tell you something. The last time I played with them was with my little sister. We had an argument and she got mad at me and ripped all your heads off …"
JS: Oh, no!
JL: “…but would you sign the bodies anyway?” (laughter)
JS: In one of the pictures, it looks like you have small Lennon Sisters dolls.
JL: Those are our collectibles.
KL: They were made by the Effenbee Toy Company and were a limited edition sold just at Branson. I think there are only a few left.
JS: I’m sure the dolls are very valuable by now.
KL: They wore outfits that we wore, and they were very sweet.
JS: Well, I think I have all of my questions asked. Is there anything you would just like to share with your fans? So many of our readers have been fans right from the very beginning.
JL: Oh gosh. We can ask if there’s anyone who wants to do our scrapbooks to let us know! (laughter)
JS: You might get a lot of offers.
KL: We actually do our own. For years I’ve been a total collector of stickers, ribbons, and lots of other stuff. I was never blessed with children, so my nieces and nephews have been everything to me. When I do their birthday cards or I put picture albums together for them I use my stickers and everything else I’ve collected. So I did my own scrapbooking before it became really the thing to do. It’s just so fascinating, and I wish I had the time to just sit down and do a complete Lennon Sisters scrapbook, but I’ll probably be in my 80’s by then!
JS: I just keep collecting all this material for when I’m in my 80’s, too. They have so much you can choose from. I’ve scrapbooked since high school, but now they have all these wonderful things you can use for your scrapbooking. My pages look much better today–and it’s more fun to do, too.
JL: Oh I know! I love to go into the scrapbooking stores and it just looks like so much fun! It’s like, “Oh look at this little paper” and “I just want to do this.” I can see us eventually doing a Best Pals sticker scrapbook. We would love to do that.
KL: I think that would be really fun, so that people can get all the elements to make up their pages, but do it as a Best Pals. I just know we could do something like that.
JS: Well, maybe I’ll retire the same time you will, and then I’ll do them for you. But I’ve got a few more years before that . . .
KL: I hope your readers will check out our two websites. At Lennonsisters.com we have music they can listen to and they can get the CDs in the gift shop. There are lots of pictures and they can get information about what we’ve done and what we’re doing now. And Janet’s husband actually puts the web and the gift shop together, so it’s kind of a family endeavor.
JS: And Janet, besides your husband being a conductor of all the music, he’s a photographer, too!
JL: Oh gosh! When the road show closed here, he just decided he’s loved photography for so long, it’s his second passion, that he would just stop the whole music thing for awhile and start doing photography. He has a wonderful business here in Branson doing all our publicity photos, taking beautiful shots of families, weddings, and all sorts of things. Branson is a great place to be a photographer because there are so many reunions, and they call him to take pictures. He’s so talented. When we do our CDs, he’s the one who sits in the booth and takes care of everything.
KL: He produces our tapes.
JL: And with our concert tour coming up for the Lennon Sisters in California, we got him out of retirement, and he’s going to be conducting for us.
JS: Oh he is! Now, when you say “the Lennon Sisters,” it’s you two and Mimi
KL: Right. The dates and where we’re going to be performing is on both of our websites.
JS: Okay, we will make sure to tell our readers to check that out. Thank you so much for chatting with me today. You are just as sweet and real as everyone thinks you are. It has been such a pleasure getting to more about you and all of the exciting things you are doing now. I’ll always be one of your biggest fans.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Here's a terrific and in-depth interview with Kathy and Janet from the current issue of HomeArts magazine. I love that the interviewer is clearly a big Lennon Sisters fan. Just great stuff.