THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE DONNY & MARIE SHOW – THE ‘STAR WARS’ EPISODE”

It is difficult to comprehend this today, but three decades ago Donny & Marie Osmond were so popular that the U.S. Postal Service gave them their own zip code to absorb the volumes of fan mail they were receiving. The toothy siblings were such major stars that even George Lucas was in awe of their power and reach.

Donny & Marie and George Lucas? In concept, that pairing sounds very wrong. In reality, it was excessively wrong. Lucas allowed the characters from “Star Wars” to make their first TV appearance on “The Donny & Marie Show” when that weekly variety program opened its third season on September 23, 1977. And compared to this outing, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” looks like “The Empire Strikes Back”!

Viewed today, it is difficult to understand why anyone liked “The Donny & Marie Show.” The comedy was weak, the music was wobbly, and the stars had very little in the way of genuine chemistry. Donny may have claimed that he was “a little bit rock-n-roll,” but that was a vast overstatement – he had no rock soul whatsoever. Marie was a little bit country, to be honest, and she had the ability to put over a nice Nashville ballad. But she was no dancer and not a natural comedian. But then again, it was the 1970s and that was the decade where good taste was in very short supply.

“The Donny & Marie Show” in question here was a transitional one. The program’s first two seasons were produced by Sid & Marty Krofft (yes, the “H.R. Pufnstuf” folks), but this season found the show being produced by the Osmond Family itself. There wasn’t a marked improvement, by any stretch, but it showed that even the wholesome Osmond clan was not immune to that ultimate show biz flaw: taking one’s self too seriously.

For this particular episode, the Osmonds decided to welcome the “Star War” creations with some entertainers who clearly came from another galaxy far, far away. There was Redd Foxx, who had major problems hiding his boredom at the whole affair (he did a pool-playing skit with Donny & Marie which was remarkable for its total absence of laughs). And there was Kris Kristofferson, in poor voice and poor concentration (the man literally seemed out of it, for whatever reason). And then there was Paul Lynde, whose very presence was in direct violation of several tenets of Mormon decency. Lynde did get a few laughs in a skit where he played a Hollywood unemployment agency clerk talking on the telephone with Ed McMahon. Lynde snarled in the phone when hearing about McMahon’s job on “The Tonight Show” and asked: “You mean you get paid for doing that?”

There is a squad of ice skating ladies called the Ice Angels who do a couple of klutzy numbers. The older Osmond Brothers were also present for a musical number, but mercifully the emetic and talentless younger bro Jimmy Osmond was absent. Inexplicably, an all-black marching band comes on to perform the theme for the show’s most popular segment, “I’m a Little Bit Country/I’m a Little Bit Rock-n-Roll.”

But it is the last 10 minutes of the show, in its big finale, where the historic interest comes in. After some footage from “Star Wars” mixed with some low-tech outer space effects, the fun begins. Imagine Donny Osmond as Luke Skywalker and Marie Osmond as Princess Leia. (Did Lucas get the lost sibling plot twist from this show?) They run on stage, in costume, and the dialogue goes like this:

Luke (singing): Princess Leia our goose is cooked unless we lift off of this star.

Leia (singing): Luke I know you’re right, but we’ve got to hang five before they find out where we are.

Both (singing): Darth will keep searching up and down, until they find our hiding place. Before very long, they’ll know we’re gone. We’ve got to get lost in space. Riders to the stars, we are flying, we are falling and I can see the clouds rolling by. Riders to the stars we are sailing we are soaring. The only thing we can do is try to get the first available flight out of sight. We are Riders to the stars!

Kinda makes you nostalgic for Bea Arthur singing in the cantina, no? Any way, who should turn up by C3PO and R2D2? Why they turn up is not clear. Princess Leia wishes that “Okey Ben Pinocchi” was there, and suddenly there’s a cutaway to Redd Foxx dressed up in Alec Guinness’ costume. Foxx is no more engaged here than he was in the pool skit, but he points out a chance for the heroes to escape via Han Solo.

Is Harrison Ford there? Nah, just Kris Kristofferson wearing his costume, plus dark sunglasses (huh?). This Han Solo flies a Millennium Falcon that looks like a cardboard rocket ship. Donny’s Luke yells “Hey, taxi!” and Chewbacca emerges from the cardboard rocket.

The rocket takes off via grainy NASA stock footage, then the scene cuts to Darth Vader’s HQ where Paul Lynde is an Imperial Officer along the lines of Peter Cushing in the Lucas film – except with more camp and swish. The Ice Angels are dressed like Stormtroopers, if Bob Mackie designed the Stroomtrooper uniforms. Then Darth Vader shows up, but this is clearly not the same actor from the movie. In fact, this Darth Vader is conspicuously shorter – he almost resembles Rick Moranis in “Spaceballs.” Vader’s voice is done by someone doing a very bad James Earl Jones imitation.

Vader uses the darker side of the Force to bring back the escaping rocket (an effect achieved by running the stock footage in reverse). The heroes emerge in confusion, realizing they are back where they started. Then the real Stormtroopers come out…singing!

And what do they sing? This: “We’re Darth Vader’s raiders and we can’t believe the things that you do. We never met a troupe that play hide and seek the way that you do. But Fe Fi Foe Fum, look out people cause here we come. We know just what to do with you, so get ready, get ready! Cause you’re though when we’re through with you, so get ready, get ready. Here we come!”

Darth Vader and Paul Lynde enter. (Hey, honestly – did you EVER imagine seeing Darth Vader and Paul Lynde mentioned in the same sentence?) The dialogue goes like this:

LYNDE: You thought you’d get away? Don’t you know you’ll never escape from the Farce?

VADER: That’s the Force!

LYNDE: Oh, don’t bother me with grammar at a time like this!

Chewbacca grabs Lynde and he yells: “Get your big ape hands off me!” (Yeah, I know, he’s quoting the wrong movie.) Vader just walks away (can you blame him?) and Redd Foxx comes back to say: “The Force can’t touch me. I come from a planet 10 million light years away. Uh, shorter if the lights are with you.”

Lynde is taken by Chewbacca on the cardboard rocket and everyone sings: “You’re leaving on a jet plane, Don’t know when you’ll be back again!” Then the cast sings another song: “Up we go, into the wild blue yonder, striding high into the sky. Riders to the stars, we are flying, we are falling and I can see the clouds rolling away. Riders to the stars we are sailing we are soaring into a brand new brighter day. We are riders to the stars!”

Redd Foxx has the last laugh(?) when he deadpans: “Can you imagine trying to find your luggage when this trip ends?” And Darth Vader shows up, points to the camera, and says: “I vow by the power of my Force, I shall return.”

The full transcript of the “Star Wars” skit (but not the full show itself) can be found here: http://www.timewarptv.com/Default.aspx?tabid=144

The show ends with Donny & Marie emerging, still in costume, to announce next week’s show and its tribute to “The Wizard of Oz” with Ray Bolger reprising his Scarecrow role and Lucille Ball as the Tin Man. Lucille Ball as…WHAT? Well, if Paul Lynde manhandled by Chewbacca, why shouldn’t Lucy be in Jack Haley’s tin trousers?

This episode was broadcast during the 1977-78 season and then vanished. It has never been officially seen in its entirety since, but bootlegs taken from its original airing can be found via private collectors. For any “Star Wars” completist, this is a must-have. Not because it is great. But because it fits the Donny & Marie modus operandi: it’s a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll, and completely ludicrious.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on August 26, 2005 in Features by
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