KING FAMILY SPECIALS                                      

 Watch our original 1967 TV Special Christmas with The King Family exclusively on getTV on Dec 2, 2015 at 10PM and Dec 16 at 8PM

“Unless there’s a power failure, there’s one thing a person can count on every holiday and that is The King Family,”
-- so wrote The Hollywood Reporter in November of 1968, on the first anniversary of the premiere broadcast of the King Family’s annual “Holiday” TV specials.


The above quote by the venerable show business trade paper is not only a testament to the King Family’s ubiquity on television, but also an indication of how their potent brand of musical showmanship had ingrained itself in popular culture. In the days before social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook instantaneously connected popular performers with their audiences; before reality TV “celebs” dominated the entertainment zeitgeist; before iTunes, YouTube, Netflix and a 500-plus TV channel  landscape – The King Family was a multi generational entertainment powerhouse, and they were seemingly everywhere. 

You could watch them making regular appearances on variety series like The Hollywood Palace, and The Ed Sullivan Show; headlining at the Hollywood Bowl or performing for tens of thousands at state fairs throughout the country where they’d share the bill with a host of acts including The Supremes, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, and even Janis Joplin; being parodied by MAD magazine, or dominating the pages of periodicals like TV Picture Life, and TV Radio Mirror -- and that was just the full family group. The individual contingents where going strong as well – The King Sisters & Alvino Rey could be found on the stages of the swankiest nightclubs from coast to coast - glamorous spots with names like Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe, the Conga Room at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, or the Westside Room at Los Angeles’ chic Century Plaza - or chatting with Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas on their respective talk shows, while Robert Clarke, actor and husband of King Sister Alyce, was essaying roles on Dragnet and Adam 12, and King Cousin Tina Cole was becoming a big star appearing for five seasons as “Katie” on My Three Sons while also recording and performing on TV and in concert with her sister Cathy and cousins Candy & Carolyn in the popular King Family spin off vocal group The Four King Cousins. 

In 1963, following nearly four decades of success during the Big Band era as popular radio, concert and recording artists with hits including “I'll Get By,” “The Hut-Sut Song,” “Mairsey Doates,” and “Nighty Night,” to the 1950's and the dawn of their updated jazz-influenced vocal style best evidenced in their definitive Grammy-nominated 1957 album Imagination; The King Sisters and Alvino Rey were asked to perform a benefit concert for their local church. The desire for a fresh concept led Vonnie to expand upon the idea and ask her entire family to join in the act -- sons, daughters, husbands, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and in-laws (many of the young cousins had served as background vocalists on recordings for Frank Sinatra and Doris Day among others). She was dumbfounded at the overwhelmingly positive, even ecstatic, reaction which that initial family concert received…a reaction which only grew over the course of two additional benefits, the last of which was staged to fund the building of a new stadium at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The student video department at BYU taped the concert and Vonnie took an edited version of that tape to ABC which, sensing the possibilities and the "nothing like it on television" quality inherent in the material, put The King Sisters and their daughters on The Hollywood Palace music variety show and then quickly signed The King Family for their first hour-long special to be broadcast August 29, 1964.  

The Four King Cousins
The King Sisters
Liza Rey

The King Family’s subsequent “Holiday” specials were developed following the run of their 1965/66 ABC-TV musical variety series The King Family Show. That series had earned a loyal and fervent following during the course of its two seasons, so much so that when it was cancelled in the middle of its second season as part of a massive mid-season program shuffle by the network, a fan-initiated letter writing campaign to save the show inundated the ABC offices and desks of entertainment editors at the nation’s top newspapers with comments like these..."I have talked to many people in different professions and walks of life and have yet to meet anyone who is not saddened with the termination of The King Family Show." It was no surprise then when just over a year later, following a busy twelve month schedule including two successful appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, a coast to coast concert tour, and three new Warner Bros. album releases (bringing their total to six for the label), Variety announced that The King Family would return to television in a series of five syndicated “Holiday” specials that the Family would produce themselves beginning with a Thanksgiving themed outing which would premiere in November of 1967.

Each special and all of its musical elements were themed to a specific holiday or season of the year, with the exception of their later stand alone outings such as Backstage with the King Family and The King Family in San Francisco. Like The King Family Show, the new specials put the emphasis on an ambitious and diverse selection of truly great music. The musical offerings ran the gamut from jazz standards featuring the King Sisters’ trademark four-part harmony, showtunes from a host of Broadway's most popular hits, ballad solos to highlight Alyce King's smoky powerhouse vocals, pop hits of the day for the swingin' King Cousins, uptempo tunes to highlight Marilyn King's natural comedic flair, the sounds of the Alvino Rey Orchestra and Alvino's virtuoso guitar solos and "talking guitar” specialties with his own invention, the electric lap pedal steel guitar, peppered with monologues by Robert Clarke, the family's resident thespian, songs and comedy for the King Kids, solos by Marilyn's husband Kent Larsen, formerly of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and producer of Kenton's 1960's era Grammy-winning albums, and even the occasional classical piano and harp solos by King Cousins Lex de Azevedo and Liza Rey. 

Many of the family members had behind-the-scenes roles as well, and thus the King's became their own brand of independent filmmakers with their previously formed company KingFam Productions. The King Sisters’ lead vocalist Yvonne, or “Vonnie” as she was affectionately known, was at the helm as a producer often joined by her sister Luise; their younger brother Bill Driggs contributed songs and occasional dialogue along with sister Donna. Alyce’s son Lex delivered first-rate arrangements, and additional relatives served as location managers, line producers, costumers and more. Vonnie’s husband Bill Burch, a TV veteran whose credits included The George Gobel Show and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, also served as producer and occasional director. Burch, a Vice President at MCA Universal's Commercial-Industrial films unit, had experience marshaling large scale productions including the annual international closed-circuit broadcasts of the Indianapolis 500. Burch's skill with outdoor production brought another unique facet to the King Family's specials as most were taped outside of a studio environment and on-location throughout California at beautifully scenic attractions including The Los Angeles County Arboretum, Descanso Gardens, Mammoth Mountain, Cal Expo, Bullock's Fashion Square Mall and more. In fact, one of the family's 1969 specials, Holiday Cruise with the King Family, became the first full-scale TV production ever to be shot entirely at sea aboard an actual cruise liner, the SS Lurline, on a voyage from Hawaii to San Francisco. The core family production team was augmented by additional TV and movie veterans including producer Del Jack (The Red Skelton Hour), director Tony Charmoli (The Dinah Shore Chevy Show) and choreographer Alex Plasschaert (Hello, Dolly!) among others on the King's creative team. 

Strong critical and ratings response to the initial round of five specials, celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day respectively, led to the May 1968 Los Angeles Times announcement that the King Family would produce seven additional syndicated monthly specials beginning with a "back-to-school" themed outing in September of that year. In 1971, those specials were joined by three new productions which took the King Family on location to San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta for musical travelogues celebrating each city. These were later followed by a second Christmas special in 1974 (bringing their grand total to seventeen) and most recently a 2009 retrospective documentary, Christmas with the King Family Reunion Special, which aired on PBS.

Most of the King Family's “Holiday” specials were re-aired annually for nearly a decade and cemented their place in the pop-culture pantheon. As time passed their brand of apple pie-all-American appeal may have fallen in and out of fashion, was occasionally labeled "corny,” and became a comedic punch line on everything from Johnny Carson's Tonight Show to The Carol Burnett Show, but their innovative and sophisticated musicality stands the test of time. These specials, largely unseen for almost four decades, are a fresh reminder of the undeniable talent, and charm that made The King Family so appealing, and of an exciting and creative era in popular entertainment. But the inherent appeal of The King Family somehow transcends the trappings of these specials, and of their own show business fame. Reporters pondered that fact even when the specials were just beginning to air. A TV Star Parade profile in May of 1968 perhaps summed it up best...“Aside from their professional talents, The King Family has touched something deep and nostalgic in the American soul. We may laugh at their sentimentality, but there is a quality in the sight of a large family singing, laughing and luxuriating in their love for one another that still has a magic for all of us."

(text © Polly O. Entertainment, LLC. - from The King Family Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 1 DVD set. All rights reserved, no reprinting with express written approval.)
The King Family specials are available for licensing. Contact Polly O. Entertainment for details

 Alyce King
 Tina Cole

1964 The Family is King 

 1967  Thanksgiving
with The King Family#
with The King Family

  1968  Valentine's Day
with The King Family
with The King Family*

 Mother's Day
with The King Family
with The King Family
aka Back-to-School*
with The King Family
aka At the Fair
 1969 January
with The King Family

Winter Carnival
 Holiday Cruise
with The King Family
with The King Family
Back Home
with The King Family
with The King Family*
 1971  The King Family
in Washington D.C.
 The King Family
 in San Francisco
 The King Family
 in Atlanta
 Home for Christmas
with The King Family#

   2009  Christmas with The King Family Reunion Special#
* Available on the DVD boxset The King Family Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 1
Available on the DVD boxset A King Family Christmas: Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 2

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