"LISTEN could we just say I'm Switzerland on that one? I'd rather remain neutral, publicly." That was Donny Osmond's response when I asked him how he felt about a Mormon candidate for president--Mitt Romney--and would the fact of Romney's faith affect Donny's vote in November? (Osmond is famously Mormon himself.) But, that was just about the only time Donny went to Switzerland. He is one of the most open, gregarious, amusing men I've ever met. I'd interviewed him twice before our phoner over the weekend. Once solo, once with his beautiful sister, Marie. I'd expected the former teen idol to be uptight and cheesy and unforthcoming. Shows how wrong you can be. (Marie was quite a pistol herself!)
When we spoke of his family, I expressed surprise that he had only five children, I was sure he had more. "I know" he said. "I'm a terrible Mormon. Only five. I think they should kick us out." I said, "Well, I'm sure your wife thinks five is enough." Donny cackled and said, "My wife? Which one?" (Donny's had but one wife, but he obviously has a sense of humor about his religions old polygamy customs.) He has four grandchildren. Donny has traveled the long road from teen idol to faded teen idol, to failed Broadway star ("Little Johnny Jones") to successful stage star ("Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") to revitalized pop singer, to "Dancing With the Stars" winner to Las Vegas phenomenon to radio disc jockey. And at fifty-four, he is looking for new adventures in the only world he has ever known--show biz. (He and his siblings all began working as toddlers.)
We joked that "50 is the new 30." And Donny said, "Well, that must mean 30 is the new 10!" He refers to his and Marie's Las Vegas gig as "The show that just won't die!" It's been going since 2008. ("Right after I won 'Dancing With the Stars' which I never let Marie forget!") He'll soon be putting out his 60th album. That's right, 60th! Doesn't he ever want to slow down? "I'm like everybody else. I get tired sometimes. But, really, this is what I do. I've been doing since it I was five years old. And at this pace. Slowing down doesn't feel right." Keeping up the pace feels better than ever now that Donny is promoting a vitamin/dietary supplement called Protandim. He swears it has reversed signs of aging. ("I can avoid the plastic surgeon for a few more years!") And has revitalized his already boundless energy. He says, "It was recommended to me, I loved the results and I went to them to ask if I could talk about and promote it on my website." Donny then said, "I'm sorry to sound like this and use your time and column, but I honestly believe in it." (You can get more info on Donny.com or chat with him on Twitter, @donnyosmond.) Has Marie jumped on this bandwagon? Donny said, "Marie can be a stubborn woman, I haven't convinced her yet. But I keep leaving it around for her to try."
We talked about Donny's love for the radio, and how many of his memories came from radio rather than TV. "Television is finite. The audio and visual is presented and that's how you recall it. But radio allows you ownership of your imagination and no distraction. You can hear a radio debate and not think about somebody's hair. And it's the same with videos. You know, I love Katy Perry's song "Wide Awake" and she made a good video. But I'd much rather simply listen to the song. The video wasn't necessary. Not for me, anyway." We also discussed concerts and artists who resist playing their old music. "Years ago, I was performing, and people kept calling out for 'Puppy Love' and I just didn't want to. Then I thought I'd have some fun, so we did this insane heavy metal version of it. The applause was polite. I didn't think anything of it until after the show when a woman approached me and said 'Why did you do that to 'Puppy Love?' I said, 'Look, it's my song'. And she said, 'Mr. Osmond, you sang it. But it is a part of my memories. And I don't think you should mess around with your fans memories.' And I never did again. Give the fans the hits, and don't mess around with them, either." (Donny and I agreed that the fabulous Cher probably embodies this ethic with the most glamour and humor.)
So, is there anything Donny Osmond hasn't done that he'd like to try? "Sure, lots of things. But right now, you know what I'd really like to do? I'd like to work with Justin Bieber. He's talented and he's so young. I know what he's going through. I've lived what he's living through right now. Working with him would complete a circle of sorts for me. And he might find it a worthwhile experience himself." I'm sure Justin would, if he could ever stop flooring the gas pedal of his various automobiles. He should slow down and drive on over to Donny Osmond's place. Donny knows the score. And he has survived to tell the tale.
- IF I could be pardoned for a personal look-back I'd like to add to the list of those who have abandoned us here on Planet Earth and gone to their rewards. And there have been so many of the famous of late. For instance, when I came home from the Gore Vidal memorial, my office had dug out a letter to me from the great writer in answer to my condolences over the loss of his life companion Howard Austen. This is what Gore wrote in 2003. "My dear Liz: Thanks for the kind words about Howard. He was sometimes too little valued - never by me-- and it is nice to read, you know! We have a plot together in Rock Creek Cemetery near Henry and Clover Adams, so, if you're ever passing through briefly, pay us a call. Alice Longworth will direct you...A couple of months ago he asked me how old he was. I said, 74? 75? He frowned: 'But that's when people die, isn't it?' I assured him not always. 'I didn't. You won't.' He thought a bit, then: 'Didn't that 75 years go by awfully fast?' So it did. Dear Liz, all our love. GORE. "
- And even more personal is the loss of a friend who was my bridesmaid at my first wedding in 1945. The delightful Nancy Foley Prothro had lived in San Rafael, California ever after World II. We often visited coast to coast. She leaves two daughters, Jody and Bryan, and son Robert, and was buried in the Napoleonville, Louisiana cemetery. There she is on the end of my bridal photo, opposite my father and brother. So, everybody can't be famous but I will miss Nancy, especially at Christmas, when she became annually a fruitcake expert, like every other nice Southern girl.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Donny Osmond has three grandchildren. He has four.