You may not know this but in show business, all roads lead to the Hudson Brothers. It’s true — or at least it has seemed that way as I’ve wended through the sea of celebrities in working on this blog. Their aunt Sharley Hudson was married to Keenan Wynn. One of the trio, Bill, was married first to Goldie Hawn (and is the father of Kate Hudson), and his second wife was Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley. That’s everybody in show business, right?
The three brothers are Bill, Mark and Brett, and I was quite into their television show(s) of 1974-1975. As usual, my memory hasn’t failed me, and it’s almost disturbing the stuff I remember from television from that time period…many shows that were only on for a handful of weeks but have always felt like a much bigger deal to me (because a few weeks IS a big deal to a nine or ten year old). When I was looking them up on IMDB, I was like “That can’t be right” — it only lists their Saturday morning kids’ show The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, which ran from September 1974 to August 1975. But I distinctly remembered that they had a PRIME-TIME show prior to this. Lo and behold, it is mentioned in their Wiki entry: it ran on CBS for one month, August 1974. It was a comedy/ variety series, very much modeled on Sonny and Cher’s, alternating the group’s musical interludes with wacky comedy sketches.
The insane thing is, I look at the chronology now…and their only hit records occurred AFTER their tv show was on the air. They are very lackluster outings: “So You are a Star” reached #21, “Rendezvous” reached #26, and I swear I never heard these tunes before although I almost certainly did. But my question is, if they weren’t already stars, HOW DID THEY GET THEIR OWN TV SHOW??? What the heck? They had been slaving away since 1967 under a variety of names without chart success, a kind of lesser Three Dog Night. All the sudden, they get to star in their own tv show?
After years of wondering about this, I finally uncovered the answer in an August 1974 issue of TV Guide. It turns out they auditioned. Circa 1972 they invited producer Chris Bearde, then hard at work on the The Sonny and Cher Hour, to a party, where they performed for about 45 minutes: songs and comedy shtick. They also presented Bearde and his producing partner Allan Blye with a tape of their original music. The combination of comedy and music impressed the producers so much that they kept them in mind. Like the Monkees, but easier because the act was ready-made. When Sonny and Cher split up in ’74, The Hudson Brothers were one of the acts booked as a summer replacement. Strange but true. At any rate, after one month in prime time, the Brothers switched over to the kids slot on Saturday mornings where they remained popular for a year.
After this show, they had a sit-com in England in 1978 called Bonkers! and they starred in their own movie in 1983 called Hysterical. In the aftermath of their brief 70s successes, brother Mark ended up faring the best in the business. He co-starred with Gena Davis in the 1985 sit-com Sara, and was the band-leader on Joan Rivers’ 1986 talk show on Fox. In the nineties and beyond he became a songwriter and producer for acts like Aerosmith, Ozzie Osbourne, and Ringo Starr. Most intriguingly he produced Harry Nilsson’s last album in 1994, which remains unreleased. You can see him (and his famously multi-colored beard) in the awesome documentary Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him?)
To find out more about the history of the variety arts (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc