102.1 Dear Stolf: Remember the old “King Family Show”? How many family members were actually on it? I see all different kinds of numbers quoted on the net…what say you? …from Larry Welk IV, in Bubbleville
102.2 Dear Larry: I see what you mean…a quick web check finds estimates ranging from 35 to 41. I believe there’s a good reason to think it’s even higher. But here’s a curious fact: strictly speaking, nobody on the show had the last name of King! Now it’s true that the core King Sisters quartet used that as their professional name, but that wasn’t their family name…and they all used their married names in private life. As it turns out, King was their father’s middle name…
102.3 …and it all began on August 22, 1908 in Sanford, Colorado when professor of music and voice William King Driggs married Pearl Caroline Mortensen. Soon the babies started arriving, ultimately 2 boys and 6 girls…and they were all members of a family band, as seen at right in 1924…youngest sister Marilyn wasn’t born until 1931. They lived in various towns in Colorado and Utah (they were Mormons) and performed as “W. King Driggs and His Family of Entertainers.” Yes, the patriarch of the clan went by the name King Driggs.
102.4 With a move to California in 1931, the three oldest sisters began performing professionally as the Driggs Sisters…that’s Maxine, Luise, and Alyce. The latter 2 were born Louise and Alice…and altho I don’t know it for a fact, it’s reasonable to think the spelling changes were in honor of their idols, the swinging Boswell Sisters…leader Constance Boswell was called Connie, but spelled it “Connee.” (Apparently “Mackseen” was able to resist!)
102.5 A year later, back in Salt Lake City and singing on the radio, they were told “Driggs Sisters” didn’t sound so wonderful, and what was their father’s first name? “King” came the reply, and that was that. Needless to say, they were a hit, and began performing with big bands, first Horace Heidt then Artie Shaw. Maxine retired, and was replaced by Donna and Yvonne, as they became 4 King Sisters. In the early 1940s they were fronting Alvino Rey’s band…he eventually married Luise in 1945. Donna retired, replaced by baby sister Marilyn in 1953…thus all 6 Driggs sisters were King Sisters at one time or another, first as a trio, then a quartet.
102.6 And as an interesting sidelight, there was actually a 7th King Sister…well, sort of. When Maxine, Luise and Alyce were performing as a trio, younger sisters Donna and Yvonne formed a high school group with their friend Anita Johnston…and all would occasionally appear together as the “Six King Sisters.” To which we should add a kind of 8th King Sister…for a time in 1937, a singer named Peggy Pope formed a trio with Luise and Alyce. And not for nothing, but Alivno Rey’s last name means “king” in Spanish…funny coincidence, nothing more…he was born Alvin McBurney.
102.7 At any rate, the King Sisters quartet backed by Rey’s Orchestra were popular all thru the 1950s and early 1960s. He was famous for his “talking guitar”…check out “Rock Gently,” a very cool track from 1959, featuring his signature pedal steel. In the 1940s he had used a vocoder (as Peter Frampton would decades later) with wife Luise off-stage “singing” the parts for a guitar puppet named Stringy, but later it was all just playing skill, including wah-wah-ing with the volume control…here’s “Hindustan,” also from 1959…dig those crazy harmonics!
102.8 But to make a long story short, Yvonne got to organizing benefits for her father’s alma mater Brigham Young University in 1964, featuring not only the quartet but members of the ever-growing extended family. The idea was tried on TV’s “Hollywood Palace,” went over big, and lead to the “King Family Show,” a mid-season replacement for “The Outer Limits” of all things, debuting on January 23, 1965. Altho this show only lasted a year on the air, the King Family continued to make guest appearances and their own specials thru to the early 1980s…and there was a show on for 6 months in 1969 spotlighting the 4 King Cousins…2nd generation daughters, one of whom was Tina Cole, Robbie’s wife on “My Three Sons.”
102.9 So to answer your question, I will limit myself to the 1965 program…and our starting point will be the King Family’s official website, which counts the 6 King Sisters, Alvino Rey, who by this time was serving as the musical director for the whole ensemble, and 32 assorted relatives, altho they don’t give the names…that’s a total of 39. Based on a very comprehensive genealogy (here), I have broken down the Driggs siblings into 2 groups: the King Sisters of 1965 as Chart 347…and the other 4 siblings as Chart 348.
102.10 The numbers above the siblings indicate their birth order…the numbers below each name are their ages in 1965, where known. All family members were known by either their first name or a nickname as shown…where they went by their middle name, it is underlined. 3 individuals are “out”…the deceased first husbands of Alyce and Yvonne, and Marilyn’s husband Howard Lloyd from whom she was divorced. Assuming all the others were on the show, I count 39. But is there a definitive way of knowing for sure? Thankfully, there is…
102.11 In 1965, they released 2 LPs of songs from the show, plus a Christmas album. The above family portrait and “key” is from the back on the 1st LP…all members are listed by number and identified by name…said to be “appearing on the show and in this album.” There are 35 in the picture, plus another 5 mentioned who are “not shown.” This includes all 39 in my charts except for Maxine’s daughter (I’m assuming it’s a daughter) Jann Thomas…who turns out to be quite a mystery person, as the internet can turn up neither hide nor hair of her. That’s 38, plus new husbands Robert Wilson for Candy Conkling and Kent Larsen for Marilyn…for a total of 40.
102.12 But there’s one final mystery to untangle, since the number 41 keeps popping up. And there are 2 candidates for that slot…one is patriarch William King Driggs, who did in fact appear on several shows and is pictured in a then current group shot on the back of the 2nd LP. He died on April 6 1965, it is said having suffered a stroke on stage, but carrying on till the number was finished, then collapsing. So there’s your 40, right?
102.13 No…nothing’s ever that simple…because some sources say the family ranged in ages from “3 to 76 years”…OK, 3 would be Bill Jr.’s son Jonathan…but 76 would be a mistake, since Papa was 79 when he died…he would have been 80 in October. Other sources give the range as from “7 months to 79 years”…well, the 79 is right…and the 7 months would be Candy’s daughter and Donna’s granddaughter Kristen Yvette Wilson, born in May of 1965…who would have 7 months old in December of 1965, just as the show was ending its run. By my cyphering, that gives us 42 in all…well, that’s my number and I’m sticking to it….
102.14 But wait, I know you’re thinking…what about Mama Pearl Driggs…who BTW had a bit part in the 1959 monster movie “Hideous Sun Demon,” starring and directed by her son-in-law Robert Clarke (left) and also featuring Donna, Xandra, and Del Courtney. She died in 1970 at age 81…imdb says she occasionally joined the family on their show and specials…but she isn’t in the group photo from the first LP…so you could go out on a limb and say 43…me, I’m sticking with 42…and see you next week!
One final genealogical note: since “King” is uncommon, altho hardly unheard of, as a given name, you might think William King Driggs got his middle name from the surname of an ancestor…and you’d be wrong, but therein lies an interesting tale.
In the early 1880’s, one of his older sisters (when the dust cleared, he had 21 siblings!) Ella Olivia was engaged to a lawyer named William Henry King…one of the most influential Utah politicians of the era, who eventually went to Washington first as Congressman, then Senator. She died before they could be married and was buried in her wedding dress. 2 years later, William King Driggs was born, named in honor of his almost-brother-in-law. Very cool, sez me…
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