Cher’s life an career through the mid-1970s is what the book Strong Enough is about. It goes into the struggles the Sonny & Cher had from 1973 to 1975, including the fact that Cher grew up and Sonny’s fatal flaw was not recognizing the changes. Josiah Howard interviews witnesses to speak on how Sonny was behaving with everyone and the strain on the whole staff. He talks about their cancelled shows, what the tabloids were saying, the bloat (in many senses, including the title’s) of their last record album Mama Was A Rock and Roll Singer…
I appreciated how the book slowed down to really detail:
- Cher’s appearances on award shows
- Cher’s Emmy and Grammy nominations and wins
- Details on their divorce (Cher used Lucy’s divorce lawyer) and how they behaved with each other at concerts
- How CBS and MCA responded to the drama
- How the lawsuits settled out
- Cher’s outings to concerts and parties
- Which major magazines she appeared on the cover of while she was a “newsstand staple.” We also learn how the tabloid The Star built itself on Cher stories around this time.
Cher's love life after leaving Sonny has been covered extensively through the years but this book goes into Sonny’s relationships with “models and dancers” and his long term affair with “secretary” Connie Foreman, how it was Sonny on his dates with Connie that actually blew open the story about his split with Cher. (See tabloid photos of Sonny & Connie)
The book also goes into more detail than I’ve ever seen about Sonny’s solo show and the press surrounding it. How they unfortunately tried to spin him as Chaplinesque. We also learn about Cher’s real reaction to the show. This biography is also the first one to deal with Sonny’s Mimi Machu scandal. And the first Cher biography to track more fully the struggles she had with her father at this time, although I felt there was a lot more to tell here. Did he work for Sonny & Cher (I heard he did), did he really try to make money off of his connection to Cher?
The book combs through all the starting players of Cher’s solo show, called simply Cher and not The Cher Show: George Schlatter, Art Fisher (and his affair with Sally Struthers), the head writer and the writing staff, set designer Robert Kelly (remember the Cher logo and the tongue set stage?), musical director Jimmy Dale, choreographers Tony Charmoli and Dee Dee Wood (I just saw that she did that unforgettable choreography for Mary Poppins), Ben Nye II doing makeup, her PR photographer John Engstead, producer Lee Miller, her unusual dressing room, the rock and roll guests she wanted on the show and who was unavailable, her sponsors. The book details the excitement at CBS during the first few shows with other stars and dancers dropping in.
We learn again more about the beauty regimen: about her skin problems at the time (due to pancake makeup, Kleig lights, stress and bad eating), her Christina Smith eye lashes, lighting tricks used to hide acne, her hair darkenings (from warm Armenian brown to black), her Minnie Smith manicures, Jim Ortel hair and Renata Leuschner (Rena) wigs.
The book also confirms CeeCee Bloom’s character from Beaches was based on staff-writer Iris Rainer’s experiences working with Cher.
We learn about all the skits (in fine detail), what skits never aired, which were “banked,” and how the show fared in the ratings and with the press as the weeks progressed. I found it ironic that CBS typically cut songs for original airings (famously for Raquel Welch, Bette Midler, The Spinners) and when the show finally re-aired on VH-1, the majority of the skits were cut out.
One thing I could never get used to was Cher’s move from the cut-up bitch on her show with Sonny to the hip-talking, ingratiating nice girl on her solo show. "Far out man." "That’s cool!” This slangy, wanting-to-be-liked was ironically unlikable. Everyone seemed to prefer the stoic tough broad.
From the start, the show seemed to have dysfunctions built in: staff fighting, the star’s missed rehearsals and troubled private life encroaching on the schedule, inconsistent material, the show always suffered a lack of a strong point of view. Either because of this or encouraging the sense of something missing, often tapings occurred without a live audience.
Although her femme fatal characters were mostly gone, the show did profess power to the gals with memes such as “Girls are smarter,” women behind the men, and “Trashy Ladys” skits.
The book talks about how variety Shows were starting to decline around this time as detective shows were on the rise.
This is why I find it interesting each time I hear a Cher reference on The Rockford Files (a show which I watch obsessively when I can):
I’ve seen two Cher references so far since I’ve been re-watching them on ME TV: one episode was about the cut-throat LA real estate business. A real estate agent tells Rockford that he just sold a house to “Cher and Gregg.” Interesting that viewers would know what that meant. Would they today? The other episode was about tabloid journalism and Rockford was hiding out at a tabloid on a private investigation on a burglary. Rockford bemoans the potential lack of privacy in hospital records and warns about the dangers of coming across “Cher’s last physical.” The tabloid office eventually burns down.
Sonny & Cher presenting Best Original Song at the 1973 Ocsars; watch them present pretending to be couple-y.