The Boob Tube #11: Tony Orlando & Dawn

I'm going to shock you with what I'm about to say, so get ready.

Besides Sinatra, Elvis and James Brown, I consider Tony Orlando to be the greatest entertainer of all time.
If you need to read this again, go ahead. I'll wait.

I'm sure you're thinking, "Yeah, I remember Tony Orlando & Dawn's variety show, and he was a pretty good entertainer... but among the best of all time? You're an idiot. No way."

To which I say: "Yes way".

I highly recommend you check out his variety show on DVD if you doubt me. Refresh your memory and see how the man worked the crowd like nobody's business. At the end of each show Tony interacts with the audience, and within minutes everyone is laughing, singing, clapping and just plain happy. You can tell it's unscripted - Tony is there simply to have fun and invites everyone, young and old, to let their guard down and come along for the ride.

In the 1970's, guest stars would come on variety shows usually due to some contractual obligation. You could tell they just wanted to get it over with and get the hell out of there. But not on Tony's watch - he made them have a good time in spite of themselves. You can watch Gleason go from tentative to having a blast in a matter of seconds. Dean Martin had a similar ability to put guests at ease.

Do you see Ted Knight in the image below? Look me in the eyes and tell me he's not having the time of his life.

Need more convincing that guests let their hair down when they came on Tony's show? The woman in the image below is Ruth Buzzi. 'Nuff said.

One special guest I won't show you is Freddie Prinze, because it makes me too sad. You could tell these two were amigos - that there was a real love between them. Knowing that tragedy was just around the corner for Freddie (and Tony who was at his bedside in his final hours), I couldn't enjoy this episode as audiences did when it first aired. Regardless, these two really were consummate entertainers who played off each other brilliantly.

...Hold on. What exactly are you looking at, Telma?

Anyway, I don't mean to shortchange Dawn. They were incredible singers and fit perfectly with Tony (as opposed to say, Pink Lady and Jeff). In fact, I've gushed before about my love and affection for Joyce Vincent Wilson. Orlando was the flamboyant crowd pleaser, Telma Hopkins was sassy (many may remember her from Gimme a Break), and Joyce Vincent Wilson was just quiet and nice. I liked Joyce, and still do. Her peaceful easy attitude, winning smile, and beautiful voice sooth me. The world needs more Joyce.

Well, I could go on and on listing reason after reason Tony Orlando is the greatest. But I think I've made my point. His ability to work a crowd, make them forget themselves and fill them full of joy is a rare gift - one that is in short supply these days. In this cynical age we're tempted to call his variety show cheesy and lame. I call it entertainment at its best.


  1. 1st concert I ever saw and still one of the best. As I recall Tony and Freddie only became friends when casual fans kept mistaking one for the other. Once they met, sadly Freddie's "habits" were a bad influence on Tony which, along with his death, was what caused Tony to have the breakdown that stalled his successful career. He looks and sounds fantastic again these days from some recent clips I've seen! Thanks for eveything, Tony!!

  2. I know what Telma's lookin' at...
    Btw, their initials spell TOAD... i always got a kick out of that one.

  3. Booksteve - I'm envious you got to see him live and in his prime.

    The whole Freddie Prinz thing is just sad. He was genuinely funny and extremely likeable. It was pathetic that they tried to keep "Chico & the Man" going without him.

    Joe - Telma's looking at his shiny belt buckle? What?

    As to the TOAD thing, you were obviously easily amused as a child. :-) Speaking of anagrams, I thought KISS stood for "Kings in Satan's Service" as a child... I wonder how widespread that urban legend was.

    1. I'd heard that it stood for " Knights In Satan's Service ." myself .

  4. What was the song about tying a yellow ribbon 'round his woody?

  5. How weird is this? I just woke up this morning with "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" going through my head. I have no idea why, I haven't heard it in a couple years. We used to watch this show all the time.

    Silly Gil, KISS stands for "KNIGHTS in Satanic Service."

  6. I saw Tony on some infomercial a while back selling some CDs. It made me feel kinda sad to see him like that.

  7. Hairball - At least he's not humiliating himself on a reality show...

    and actually I think he has a big concert hall in Branson where he's doing quite well. Maybe I just made this up, I'm not sure.

  8. Hey Gil. I'm a huge fan of Tony Orlando. I think he's awesome. I grew up with his music in my house. My parents both were really into him. They loved his show. Great post.

  9. Boy, you're really just putting it all out there--the Monroe/rape recovered memory, this bold declaration of Tony Orlando as one of the greatest entertainers ever--Gilligan, ya got balls, my son.

  10. I've never seen his show, but I'll admit I like his music. Who doesn't like to sing along to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree"?

    Orlando greatly admired and was inspired by the man who is actually my favorite entertainer of all time, Bobby Darin. I wouldn't be surprised if some of that stardust rubbed off on Orlando.

  11. i enjoyed watching tony orlando and dawn as a kid - and he is definately a great entertainer. but in that list of all time great entertainers - u should have mentioned dean martin - who tony orlando said had a great influence on him.

  12. My favorite group of all time. Love them!

  13. I have a couple of his tunes on my ipod, but no nothing about him. I'm going to check him out right now!