SALT LAKE CITY — I never met George and Olive Osmond. But I met their kids, which I have a pretty good idea amounts to the same thing.
Looking back on the stories I wrote in 2018, a highlight for me was the series about the Osmonds. It dates back to early last summer when I read a news item about the long-running Las Vegas show of Donny & Marie. That got me to thinking, I wonder what the rest of the Osmonds are up to?
I went to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and learned that two of the original Osmond Brothers, Alan and Wayne, aren’t performing anymore because of health issues, Alan with multiple sclerosis and Wayne with deafness the result of brain cancer surgery. I hadn’t known that. What else didn’t I know about Utah’s first family of music? I decided to try and find out.
Tracking down famous or used-to-be-famous people isn’t as easy as you’d think. Years of the public clamoring for your attention builds up self-defense barriers that take some effort to break. But eventually I talked to someone who knew someone who knew how to reach Jay Osmond, at 63 the youngest of the original Osmond Brothers.
Once he deduced I wasn’t trying to sell him anything, we had a pleasant conversation.
So began a journey that extended to personally meeting each of the singing Osmonds, with the exception of Wayne, who because of his hearing problem preferred to talk on the phone.
I met Jay and Merrill, the two originals who are still performing, at a homemade recording studio in Provo where they were cutting a Christmas album (in July). I met Alan at his home in Orem. I met Donny and Marie backstage at the showroom in the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas that bears their name. I met little brother Jimmy at Riverside Country Club in Provo.
I chronicled what they told me in the 6,000 words that appeared in the Deseret News over the Christmas holidays, and at that I feel like it hardly scratched the surface. Some stories can deservedly be accused of overplay and hype, but in my opinion not this one: how kids from a penniless family in Utah with zero connections started singing to buy hearing aids for their two older brothers who were born deaf and wound up selling 100 million records while turning their surname into a household word around the world.
And that’s only part of the story. The part that intrigued me, the part that goes largely untold because it’s so boring, is how fame and fortune failed to unmoor the Osmonds from their roots.
To be sure, the rocky ship of life has not bypassed the Osmonds; on top of popular acclaim, they’ve seen their fair share of divorce, financial setbacks, illnesses, family dysfunction, you name it. But no one dwelled on any of that. The common theme that ran through every interview I conducted was family loyalty and solidarity. No one has turned their back on where they came from. I asked Jay if everyone is still the same church-going kid they were raised to be. “Well, yeah, I think so,” he said.
My impression is that it wasn’t easy becoming — or being — an Osmond. His children describe George Osmond as both a loving father and a demanding taskmaster who ran a very tight ship, something of a benevolent tyrant — a Captain von Trapp.
As for their mother, they describe Olive Osmond as a Maria von Trapp — the consummate caretaker, saintlike in her nurturing. But beyond that, one who was absolutely unyielding when it came to her offspring living G-rated standards — a demanding taskmaster in her own right.
Try juggling a show business career around that.
The hardest interview to get was with Jimmy, the youngest and most independent of the siblings. Why? Because he didn’t want to take any credit or acclaim away from his big brothers. He agreed to talk only on the condition that I’d make it clear he owed everything to the brothers and Marie paving the way.12 comments on this story
When I interviewed Marie, she talked about a concert she was doing with Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay — the original Osmond Brothers, all now in their 60s — in Hawaii. I couldn’t understand why Marie would want Alan, dealing with his MS, and Wayne, dealing with his deafness, to come out of retirement. Then her manager clued me in: She was doing it so her brothers, not exactly in the lap of luxury these days like she is, could have a nice payday just before Christmas.
Hollywood isn’t likely to film a biopic about it, but 60 years since they sang their first song, the Osmonds are still standing on their principles.
They’re still George and Olive’s kids.