Welk’s Success Awes Hollywood

Middle-Aged Love his 'Mickey Mouse' Tunes

Bacon, James. "Welk's Success Awes Hollywood." n.d.

Lawrence Welk-
critics swallow jibes

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. That “ah-one-ah, ah-two-ah,” uttered when Lawrence Welk downbeats his orchestra, are the golden words of television.

To those who should know-the hard sell boys of the big advertising agencies-it’s a verbal trademark that outsells the “away we go” of a Jackie Gleason; the casual “hi” of a Perry Como or even that straightforward, “Folks, we have a really big one tonight, really big one” of an Ed Sullivan.

That fact, long suspected, got strong documentation in an informal survey of some 50 agency toppers, none of them connected with the Welk show. Welk polled more than the other top TV stars combined.

One advertising executive, admitting his musical taste is strongly anti-Welk, summed up:

When A Big sponsor is so pleased with a star that he bankrolls a second hour-long show a week over the same network, we must look upon him with awe, if not reverence.”

What Liberace is to older women and what Elvis Presley is to younger girls, Welk is to the middle-aged married couples-the income group that buys most automobiles. Welk’s sponsor, of course is automotive.

Many in the trade have tried to analyze Welk’s phenomenal success since he first appeared on a television station here five years ago. Sophisticated critics made fun on him; so did musicians of the so-called progressive school of modern jazz.

Welk, his critics said, played Mickey Mouse music. Translated that means corny. No one liked him, it seemed, but the people.

An executive in the advertising agency which handled Welk’s debut recalled:

“We had one man in the agency handling Welk then. Now we have 25.”

Others Say a shrewd business head is behind his sincere way with an audience.

Welk denies he is a sharp businessman and cites his record stay at Aragon ball-room in suburban Ocean Park. His band has been playing there five nights a week to crowds ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 a night since 1951.

Welk, a top bandleader for more than a quarter-century, believes that the decline of the big name band era began when musicians started playing only for themselves.

“I’ll interrupt any arrangement to play ‘Happy Birthday’ for someone in the audience,” says Welk. And he will talk to anyone who dances by the bandstand.

Possibly his greatest commercial asset is the self-identification appeal.

When he appears before the TV audience, there’s still a little of his father’s Strasburg, N.D., farm on him. He is shy, stammers a little, and has a slight accent.

Welk’s national TV success comes as no surprise to anyone who ever lived in the Midwest. For years, he was a great favorite of Chicago’s twin ballrooms-the Aragon and Trianon. In that huge center of Polish, Hungarian, Czech and other central European groups, Welk’s way with a polka was little short of sensational.

Now that most of that dance hall crowd has grown up and settled down before the living room TV set, they help account for his ratings.

Welk keys his music to them. He admits he plays strictly to older folks on his Saturday night show. His new Monday show over ABC-TV is geared to a younger crowd.

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