The King Family

Turned on the television thinking there was a hockey game. Nope. It’s the King Family Christmas Special. Severe flashback time. Blondes everywhere, blondes with big hairdos and perfect children. Harmonies without even a tinge of funk. Alvino Rey smiling like a goofball. White people used to be way white.

Thirty six of the thirty seven members of the King Family. Where's Grandma? Behind the tree?

Thirty six of the thirty seven members of the King Family. Where’s Grandma? Behind the tree?

I was once forced to watch the Lawrence Welk Show on PBS–a fundraiser, getting old people’s money before they die–and the young singers and musicians made an obvious drug reference that went a mile or two over Lawrence’s head. A one an’ a two he said, smiling blissfully, and the accordion played and then tap dancer tapped but I knew that backstage somewhere reefer was being blown and Eddie Miller told dirty stories. That made me feel better. And we know now that no matter how happy the Andy Williams family appeared every Christmas, his wife Claudine was boinking somebody else and thinking about guns.

But the King Family? Were there secrets therein? This squarest of the squarest of the squarest of all that was good in America? Well, the King Family was actually the King Sisters, who’d sung with the big bands. Lots of big bands. Artie Shaw, Billy May, Frank Devol (aka Happy Kyne), you name it.  And big bands were full of jazz musicians. Jazz musicians with issues. Well, who knew how to have a good time, anyway.  And their good times were not fit for a King Family Christmas Special. Obviously there were dark secrets under all that blonde hair. Drunken bus rides, nights in hotels, drummers, vipers, ducking from the cops. If you could have gotten the King sisters liquored up oh the tales they could tell.

But no one ever got the King Sisters liquored up.

So here’s some facts about the King Family you never knew. When ABC cancelled Outer Limits they replaced it with the King Family. Harlan Ellison threw an extraordinary tantrum. When ABC cancelled the legendary Turn-On after one terrifying episode, they replaced it with the King Family. Timothy Leary threw an extraordinary tantrum. And when Nixon resigned the presidency he was replaced by the King Family, at least until Gerald Ford could get settled in. Pat Buchanan threw an extraordinary tantrum.

And there was a spell there around 1966 and ’67 when you got thirty minutes of Shindig! followed by thirty minutes of The King Family. It was only for a couple weeks but at one point The Who played My Generation and Keith Moon got all crazy and mere anarchy was loosed upon the world. Moments later it was the King Family. Right then and there the generations were sundered, the culture war declared, LSD dropped and girls got naked in public. Acid, incense and balloons. Not even the Four King Cousins could stem the tide.

The Four King Cousins tripping out of their minds.

The Four King Cousins tripping their brains out.

Funny how thirty seven nice white people can change the course of world history, accompanied by an accordion. OK, they didn’t. Dylan had already gone electric. Coltrane was already blowing free jazz. San Franciscans were already experimenting with LSD. And Viet Nam was already totally fucked up. The King Family had nothing to do with any of that. Nothing to do with anything, really. Though they did scar the childhood of many a kid forced to watch it with the folks. If you wanted to watch Shindig! you had to watch the King Family. And then an hour of Lawrence Welk. Before you know it you’re hanging with Charles Manson. The King Family messed with people’s minds.

And there they are on TV now, the whole King Family, and I can feel my mind going. So I change channels. Barbara Stanwyck is all over Dennis Morgan like a cheap suit, the vamp. It’s Christmas in Connecticut. Only Barbara Stanwyck could turn a sweet Christmas story into pure sex, even if only for a scene or two. She was a bad girl. She vamped and screwed for money and wore anklets. A real bad girl. Something that never comes up in essays about the King Family.

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