Monday, April 22, 2013

Wunnerful, Wunnerful! The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk

In March of 2010 I read Wunnerful, Wunnerful! The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk by Lawrence Welk with Bernice McGeehan. I am a huge fan of "The Lawrence Welk Show", and have been for about twenty-five years, when I turned on a Christmas rerun and was hooked by the bouncy music. I watch classic rerun episodes every weekend on PBS and I am proud owner of about a dozen CD's by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, plus others by members of the Welk musical family, including the Lennon Sisters and pianist Jo Ann Castle. Welk's four-LP Christmas box set gets annual turntable play at my house, since many of these vinyl cuts have never been issued on CD.

Welk wrote this book at the height of his popularity in 1971. He had by then a ten-year string of hits on the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the number one "Calcutta" in 1961. Throughout this autobiography Welk bemoans his lack of proficient English as he claims to have spoken only German at home and in school. While many immigrant families spoke the language of the old country at home, and even in school where Welk's teachers themselves had English as a second language, I doubt his claim that he didn't learn English until the age of 21--this is a Welk myth that I think even he has been misled to believe. Nevertheless I doubt that Welk had much part in actually writing this autobiography. It was a rapid read which carried more like a very long interview session with the coauthor McGeehan.

Lawrence Welk was a religious man who lived his life according to Catholic principles. He had profound faith and seemed almost naïve in his trust in people. He was not afraid to tell of the many times people took advantage of him as he was building his career, and even after he had "made it" in Hollywood. In spite of these run-ins with scammers and rip-off artists, Welk never lost his faith in people and he could only joke about lessons he had learned the hard way.

Welk addresses some items of show gossip (take it from me, a Welk fan would want to know the truth behind these things) such as the real reasons Champagne Lady Alice Lon left, and why the Lennon Sisters left the show under supposedly acrimonious circumstances.

Wunnerful has plenty of history of the American midwest musical scene, and Welk has a great memory for capturing every detail of the old dance palaces of the 1930's and 40's. I can hear him right now playing the accordion as he dances around the stage. Music was Welk's first passion and his love for it is easily translated to the written page.

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