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Starting on The Sonny & Cher Show and Misty Water-Colored Memories

DefaultI’ve started to work on the last leg of our major project. It’s hard to believe but I made the first post on the first Comedy Hour show all the way back on January 15, 2019! At this rate, I should be finished in late spring of next year (minus a sprinkling of TV specials we can do).

I’m actually happiest reviewing these post-divorce shows. These are the shows I remember watching in 1976 and 1977. After we moved to St. Louis from Albuquerque, our time zone changed and Sonny & Cher tv now fell after a pretty strict bedtime of 8 pm. At the time I petitioned for and was granted a weekly exception, an exception that lingered after the cancellation of the show and enabled me to watch Solid Gold every Friday night with the delightful Marilyn McCoo.

To watch Sonny & Cher, I would go back into my brother Andrew’s bedroom (I didn’t yet have a TV in my own room) to watch the show all alone. He had a little color portable green TV my mother once received as a work bonus. I remember the hour would go by incredibly fast. Sonny & Cher always looked so good, I thought.

This was also right around the time my family staged an intervention on my Cher obsession. It happened at the kitchen table one night (and this is going to turn shortly into a sentimental story about my Dad).

I recall sitting at the table while one of my brothers, my mother and  grandfather Stevens all tried to talk me out of liking Cher so much. My Dad was sitting at the far end of the table, but I don’t remember him saying a single word that night.

I do remember my mother telling me I shouldn’t like Cher because her teeth were crooked. And by the way, you can always ID an old Cher fan because we invariably say things like we prefer Cher’s old teeth. I’m sure I immediately dismissed this argument as beside the point. Then my grandfather said I didn’t even know what political party she belonged to!

This was not a surprising tactic on his part because he pretty much had his own two singular obsessions, (possibly this is a genetic problem), which were (1) extoling the greatness of British shipping history and (2) notifying anybody and everybody about the tragic demise of American labor unions. (As an aside, when he found out I was interested in poetry, he told me I should read the 1930s labor poets and I was like I don’t even know where I would find those people and he said go to the library and I said well, that’s not gonna happen. Fast-forward to today and I found those people and am reading them as we speak.)

But his suggestion that I know Cher’s political affiliation was completely disingenuous anyway because the current opening segment schtick for The Sonny & Cher Show was an argument about Cher supporting Jimmy Carter in the impending presidential election and Sonny still supporting Gerald Ford. This might even have been when Sonny “came out” as a conservative. My family should have known this. And in fact, Ford’s eventual loss to Carter was all the more misfortune in Sonny’s slow slide into the shadow of Cher’s phoenix-rising and his own impending designation as a “flash-in-the pan.”

But at that moment my only response to my grandfather was “I dunno” because I didn’t even know what the political parties were…and that was because I was seven years old.

Yes people, this all happened when I was seven!

So anyway, my Dad is sitting at the table conspicuously not saying anything during this completely shocking intervention and so this leads me into a story I’ve been meaning to tell for quite some time, (me wanting to tell it while my Dad is still with us).

So fast forward 33 years later and it’s my wedding. Now my Dad is not someone who wants to be doing anything in front of a crowd of people. So a speech from the father-of-the-bride was right away just not going to happen And honestly, a lot of the wedding traditions I felt very ambivalent about, but the one thing I had fantasized about for many, many years was the father-daughter dance. And I remember in early conversations my Dad was not wanting to do this. He kept saying he wasn’t a big dancer.

It took some working from my mother to convince him to even consider doing a father-daughter dance and even then there was a separate round of negotiations around what that song would be. My first choice was “Take It To the Limit” because my Dad was a late-adopting but relatively new fan of the Eagles and the song kind of reminded me of him in a distantly, Western kind of way. But then my brother Randy convinced him that the song was essentially a love song (an interpretation I still disagree with) but then as it turns out my Dad would never want me to ‘take it to the limit’ anyway so the whole thing was a moot point. Bad idea on my part. As was the, in hindsight, misguided suggestion to use Lee Ann Womak’s “I Hope You Dance.” There is probably not a single line in that song my Dad would agree with. Not a single line.

So after months of back and forth and finding nothing, I suggested the song “Turn Around” and I sent him Cher’s version with the caveat that I didn’t like it. I rather preferred the Harry Belafonte version or the version that was on that Kodak commercial in the 1960s. Unfortunately in 2009 other versions of the song were nowhere online or in new or used record stores that I scoured for weeks. And that ended up being a moot point too because my Dad said he was only interested in dancing to the Cher version. End stop.

I was surprised by this, kind of moved and also a little dismayed (it’s really not a great version; Cher’s barely had time to “turn around” herself). But that was just too bad, because that was the only song he would consider. And as I recall he still didn’t commit to anything fully until pretty much right before the event, the night before which we spent with my former-dance-teacher mother showing us a simple waltz.

0230_McCray-LoRes-WEB_20091114And we did the father-daughter dance to Cher singing “Turn Around” and it went off without a hitch.

Later, my wedding reception was basically a mix-tape project with the DJ and I organized slow-dance numbers in two-song blocks because haven’t we all been at weddings where you find yourself in the bathroom when a slow song comes up and by the time you find your date and drag him out to the dance floor it’s all over?

And I didn’t use many other Cher songs at the wedding. I used the instrumental version of “I Got You Babe” as part of the arrivals mix and a fun radio mix of “Song for the Lonely” as part of the dancing reception…

…and my favorite version of “I Got You Babe” during one of the slow-dance two-fers (the Westside Room version to which I edited out all of Sonny’s preambles because what poor guests need to hear that?).

And when that particular song started playing my own date was off hobnobbing with some of our guests and I was a little disappointed (missing a dance to “I Got You Babe” during my own wedding and all). But then I turned around and my Dad was standing there and he said, “I’ll dance this song with you.”

Oh my.

This was one of the unforgettable moments of my life, I have to tell you. I don’t even know why really. Probably it was his willingness to dance to this iconic Sonny & Cher song with me at that moment. To this day it gets me very verklempt. I mean after all the protracted negotiations about dancing at all and then the history of my family vis-à-vis the Cher thing. And now I cannot extricate my memory of my Dad and me dancing from this version of the song itself, which every time I hear it has come to mean a sort of moment of acceptance and connection. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably pick this song for the father-daughter dance in the first place. It was probably the real one, unbeknownst to anyone there, which is just like the most awesome thing.

 I mean.

The other slow song I paired with it was Wilco and Billy Bragg’s cover of Woody Guthrie's “California Stars,” a cover which my Dad really liked by then too and so…

 …we kept on dancing.


"Good night everybody. God bless you. Thank you for being so cool. Good night and thank you very much."

Cher Shows Completed

Fashionweek2022Cher just made a big splash (or two) at Fashion Week in Paris:

Rolling Stone
The Guardian


I’ve been keeping my nose in projects lately. On top of that, ICANN had a meeting in Kuala Lumpur so it was the nightshift for me last week. And now cleaning furiously for a visit next week from my friend Natalie (the real Lion in this story) is visiting and we’re taking a scenic train trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic from Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. We’ve been trying to plan this trip since Covid started. Sigh.

And I’ve been continuing to work diligently documenting Cher TV shows. Recently I finished the tour through the solo show. As part of that I watched the Bob Mackie interview in the Cher TimeLife DVD set. Here's a summary of that:

Mackie said he started working with Cher when she would ask for him whenever Sonny & Cher did early 1970s TV specials and Cher liked working with him because he was young. She was intimidated by old people in show biz, Mackie said. “I’ll never be older than 30,” she told him. “I’d be old then.” Mackie added, “look as us now.” Turns out death is kind of more intimidating that old age.

Anyway, Mackie says he saw S&C as a novelty group back then and that after the Beatles arrived they weren’t really getting booked anymore so they transitioned to a nightclub act.

He acknowledges Sonny & Cher were the same height, but that Cher had “a tall look.” He said for the first season of their variety show the network gave them no money and so Mackie had to recycle Carol Burnett dresses (they are the same size and measurements) and keep using the same basic white dress made over with embellishments. He said Cher always looked better than the models in his clothes. He said Sonny and Cher had a good PR agent and Cher was getting a lot of magazine covers.

Mackie says he was there for the first variety show planning session and he remembers the writers didn’t really know what to do with Cher. Was she like Keely Smith? No. Mackie could see Cher had something nobody else had. “She looks like nobody in show business.” Was she American Indian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic? He reiterates that he thinks her armpits are her best feature. He said she had a nice “soft six pack.” He said once the censors saw the show’s huge ratings, they relented on the belly button thing.

Mackie says they were always running late and pulling all-nighters on sewing outfits. Dresses would be hand-beaded and take hundreds of hours to finish. Cher was always very happy with bugle beads, crystals, feathers and rhinestones. Mackie’s favorite dress was the Time Magazine/Met Gala dress. “It looked like you could see something but you couldn’t.”

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He says Cher outfits have been experiencing Internet nostalgia recently and he sees copies of his dresses on young celebrities and drag queens everywhere.

He says their outfits were never vulgar, never trying too hard. Cher was “never posey” and could rock a t-shirt and jeans as easily as a historical costume dress. He said she was fearless with outfits and unlike other glamour girls wasn’t afraid to look silly. He said Cher was really laid back and easy and full of energy.

As we know, Mackie was doing the full suite of costumes for The Carol Burnett Show and only had the bandwidth to do Cher’s outfits on all her variety shows. Ret Turner took over, working with Mackie, on the rest of the cast including Sonny and Chastity. Turner and Mackie had worked together on lots of shows, Mackie said.

Of the Tina Turner, Kate Smith, Cher Beatles medley, Mackie says, “you will never see that again” and “you have to see it to believe it.”

He says the Laverne character is the complete opposite of Cher. He says he worked with Teri Garr earlier when she was a dancer on Hullabaloo. He said the 1970s was the Golden Age of Variety (which surprised all of us, Mackie said, “because we thought were at the end of the road.”) But never again would networks spend that kind of money on a big orchestra, couture-level costumes, sets and all-around glamour.

Mackie said in the recent Broadway show think-tank sessions Cher’s likeability kept coming up as a phenomenon. Cher wins you over, Mackie says, and people have an “odd fascination” with her. People “always wanted to know what Cher was doing.” He said it was “tough for the girls playing her. Nobody’s quite like her.”

ChershowI really enjoyed re-evaluating the Cher episodes in chronological order this year and I came to have more respect for what the show was doing: more overt feminism, trying to present Cher in her own right, a stronger focus on musical guests. There were a few cringy moments but there were just as many, if not more, really fabulous, history-making moments the show doesn’t get nearly enough credit for. It’s the show I was probably the least familiar with going into the project, having never seen any episodes before VH-1 re-aired some in the 1990s. I definitely could see a continuation of the cultural work the Comedy Hour was doing but with a bigger bang.

In some sense, the next incarnation of the Cher TV with Sonny would seem like a regression. But it wasn’t. After sweating it out on her solo show, Cher could now hold her own side-by-side with Sonny and it shows.

And any tension underscoring their post-divorce reunion may have turned America off (as the show’s ratings didn’t stay high), but looking back the show was nonetheless interesting in some entirely new ways.