Sonny & Cher: The songs, the laughs, their hit variety TV show, and their marriage

Sonny and Cher years on TV

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Sonny & Cher: The husband and wife singing-comedy duo (1974)

‘Sonny & Cher, the dynamically talented husband and wife singing-comedy duo, the most talked-about couple in the entertainment industry today, riding the crest of their highly successful vid-series, will bring their unique vocal and comedic talents to __________ when they appear in concert at ___________. – Sonny & Cher publicity sheet

By Bob Kerwin – The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) September 9, 1973

The big question on everybody’s mind is whether Sonny and Cher are happy or not. Are they getting along? Or are they going split? TV viewers just can’t figure it out.

There are the newspaper items: how Cher recently walked out on Sonny during a show, told Sonny publicly that if he didn’t like it, he knew what he could do: a single, call it “The Sonny Show.” See how far he’d get.

The rumors fly hot, then cool. We’re kept hanging in suspense. When things seem worst, we turn on the TV and there are Sonny and Cher still together –laughing, ribbing, holding hands, singing “I Got You, Babe.”

Will Cher move out of their Bel-Air mansion? Will Sonny? Will the act come to an end?

Sonny and Cher - 1973

People want to know. People are tired of rumors, hints, innuendo. People want a solid look at Sonny and Cher in the flesh, in order to come to their own conclusions, find out for themselves what is really going on.

At Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Sonny and Cher are doing two days — first public appearance since rumor time — and the response has been insane.

When it was first announced publicly that Sonny and Cher were booked, 80,000 phone calls came into the house in 24 hours. Immediate sellout for the five shows that they’ll do Friday and Saturday, and the room holds 6500.

Early afternoon Friday, a four-abreast line winds from show reservations office past the slot machines and dice and roulette tables, past the, Keno, out the door and around the corner. Three-hour wait, just to be put on the cancellation list.

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Early Sonny and Cher - I Got You Babe

In the show room, rehearsing, are what it’s all about: Sonny and Cher in the flesh — who were picked up at Los Angeles this morning and flown by private jet to Reno, from where they were transported through the snowy Sierra in a new black Cadillac limousine.

Cher has on an expensive silk pants suit and chews bubble gum as she paces through numbers while the band and technicians get the act together. Cher dominates the room, the scene.

She is star quality. She looks better than on TV. A beautiful woman with waist-long blue-black hair, beautiful eyes and bones, a long slim beautiful body. Cher moves. Cher wins. Cher’s got it. Nobody can take eyes off her.

Sonny is wearing a green sweatshirt, a vest and teeth caps. He’s worried, hoping the rehearsal and show come together. Sonny’s a pro; he got the act to the top and wants to keep it there. Sonny cares.

They’re doing a straight run-through for tonight’s opening, made up solely of perennial Sonny-Cher material: togetherness stuff. As long as you got me, babe, and I got you, babe, we got nothing to worry about, babe.

That’s the act: togetherness laced with insult and sarcasm, a running repartee concerned with incompatibility: Cher against Sonny, Sonny against Cher. Just like on your prime time television, in your living room.

Sonny and Cher - Vintage portrait

The director calls a break, and onlookers below stop what they’re doing, and watch to see how Sonny and Cher treat each other offstage, out of their theater personalities and into their real ones.

Sonny chats privately with the band-leader, then slouches downstage, worried, and sits hunched on the apron, looking out over the expanse of table settings. Cher sits on the apron, too, about six feet from Sonny.

Her face is expressionless, preoccupied, turned obliquely away from Sonny’s. Cher, too, looks out over the vast empty room. They say nothing to each other. Or to anybody else. Through 15 minutes of break, they sit, staring blankly. Rehearsal resumes, they’re up again, the show goes on. “All I Ever Need Is You.” “United We Stand.” “I Love You Babe.”

When you’re hot you’re hot. Sonny & Cher are on fire! Just about every national magazine has made them the subject of a feature story and entertainment writers are literally beating down the doors to get an interview with the dynamic duo. 

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Rehearsal ends. Sonny stays above, gives final instructions to the musical director. Cher puts on a floor-length mink coat, climbs off stage, and stands chewing bubble gum.

They said no interviews; you’re not supposed to go near them; nothing has been granted — but I smile hello to Cher and ask her how she is.

Up close, Cher is even more beautiful. More mature-looking. Cherilyn Sarkisian. The Cherokee is there; and the French, the Armenian, the Turkish. It’s all there; Cher has the best of each, combined.

Cher blows a bubble which breaks and sticks to her lips. She returns the hello, then comments about the altitude here. “Makes me heady,” she says. “And since I came up I got nothing but crusties in my nose.”

Onstage, they’re trying for a special effect with an electric guitar. It’s not happening. The musical director looks to Sonny: “He’s not getting it, Sonny. What’ll we do?”

“If he’s not getting it,” Sonny says aloud, “make him do it over and over and over again until he does get it.”

Sonny climbs down, shakes hands, says “It’s got to be the climate. We brought our own four backup men with us, and the stuff still isn’t coming together. But I like this set-up here. Beats s lot of clubs. Dressing rooms are fantastic; they’ve got saunas and everything. Make you feel like something when you go on — like talent.

Most places you got to take the service elevator and go through the kitchen, make you feel inferior. It’s not good for your performance. You’re standing around a sloppy kitchen in gowns and suits, waiters are bumping into you carrying trays of dirty dishes, then the next second you’re through a door and out there on the stage and you’re supposed to sparkle. It doesn’t come that easy. These places should treat talent more like talent.”

Sonny says, “Nice to see you,” then goes to the technicians to give them some of his ideas. When Cher leaves, it’s as if the place closes, the party over, the house dark. It all goes out the door with Cher.

Sonny follows — off to Harrah’s mansion on the lake, where they’ll stay, ringed by quiet snow peaks, deep water, tall old fir trees.

Sonny and Cher - They're what's happening baby - 1966

“The reason no interviews,” explains their manager, a young mod guy in sweater and Levi’s, “is that media people keep asking the same boring questions. Sonny and Cher get plenty of exposure, anyway, from weekly TV.

“Been with them 10 years, can tell you everything about them. Except how much they make. Can’t do that. The revenue people get it wrong and come after us. For this engagement, I can tell you it’s in the neighborhood of twenty, twenty-five thousand for the two-night stand.

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“Sonny and Cher have been an act 11 years, have all kinds of hit records, million-sellers, now are the fifth-rated TV show in the country. They’ll stay with TV until the public doesn’t want them or the network cancels.

“They tape a show a week, do one personal appearance a month. Beginning April, they’ll do 10 straight weeks of appearances.

“We’re talking years ago — Sonny was promoting records for a living, writing songs on the side. He came up with ‘Needles And Pins’ — remember that one? The Searchers, the English group who isn’t together anymore, they put it on the map. The biggest break Sonny ever had was when he wrote ‘I Got You Babe’ and it went wild all over the world.

“This is years ago — they met on a blind date, and Sonny liked Cher right away, but she didn’t like his haircut, and thought he was a kook.

“Cher was 16 then, and Sonny said that she looked like the kind of girl who didn’t know what she was doing or where she was at. They dated around, were married a year later.

“They have one hobby — cooking. Italian dinners. That’s it. No sports, no fads, no health foods, no special activities at all. What they are, they’re just folks.”

1976 TV Guide Sonny and Cher

I think if Cher and I lose our humor, we’re in big trouble. We’ve found in our marriage that humor always offsets a tough situation. Rather than cry, we make jokes.

That’s the alternative, and it was a big saving factor for us and for our marriage. We like to rib each other. We know we’re playing. We know it’s fun and it just sorta takes an edge off life for us, so it turned into our show style. – Sonny

At night, for the show, made up and costumed, they’re the same Sonny and Cher from TV: smiling, moving, dancing, beating tambourines, whipping microphone cords, Cher tossing her hair, Sonny in straw hat slapping his thigh.

Same material, but in person, more intense, more risque in the husband-wife repartee. Not so much your crooked nose or your ignorant Italian mother, but here it’s into sex: your impotency, our incompatibility, your performance, my technique. Insults back and forth, each trying to catch the other; each out to show the audience: See, I won.

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The audience laps it up. Sonny and Cher take them to the brink of Splitsville, then do a Togetherness song, then return again to the brink. The rumors, the items, the divorce mystique is worked into the act.

Introducing songs, Sonny teases, takes the audience into his confidence: “You see, folks,” he tiptoes downstage, leans over the apron, says softly: “just to be serious for a minute, I know you’ve all heard the rumors, read the gossip items about us, but let me tell it to you honest and straight, folks. It’s really true. It really is; the columnists are right (long pause)… I am a better singer than Cher ever thought of being, it’s true.”

In one of the show’s highlight numbers, Sonny’s intro is play and tease: I know there are rumors, that people are talking … Then he launches into a serious singing of “A Song For You.”

Sonny and Cher 1971 (1)

Lights go off, except for the spot haloing Sonny’s head, and at the side a curtain rises revealing a screen on which is rolled — behind Sonny’s voice — a color film — just. like television, folks — a film of a virginal-looking, Eve-like Cher, in nature’s own wedding garb, a classic Grecian costume, garlands of flowers in her hair.

Cher, in slow motion, floating through natural greenness; Cher’s face, mistily, through bowers of daffodils; Cher levitating down rows of natural hedge, under flowered arches, amidst birds and pretty flowers.

Sonny keeps singing “A Song For You.” The film keeps rolling. There on screen is little Chastity. Sonny and Cher’s daughter — in slow motion, too, chasing, running, following her Mommy who is up ahead.

Toward film’s end Sonny appears in the misty naturalness, in slow motion, too, clumsily floating after Chastity and Cher, first scooping little Chastity in his arms, then catching Cher, then all of them together, all bodies and arms around each other, leaping, all heads and faces and cheeks joined, and it’s one big happy family that’s going to stay together, and everything’s going to be OK, everybody.

The audience goes ape, and Sonny heads into his next number, “You Better Sit Down, Kids,” which is a sad one but right on target. Father telling the children to obey their Mom, he won’t be around anymore, I can’t tell you why kids, but someday when you’re older, you’ll understand. But always remember — I love you.

Sonny sells this one. He’s into it. He’s lived it. He wrote it. “You Better Sit Down, Kids” is the most moving number of the night.

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The song is Sonny, and he’s genuinely sad as he sings it. He knows divorce. He was divorced from his first wife. Cher’s parents are divorced. Many friends are separated and divorced, a lot of people they know in the business.

After “You Better Sit Down, Kids,” the night’s high point, Cher… comes out all in white, with a long Cherokee headdress, and bangs the tambourine while Sonny bangs the piano, then together they do “I Got You Babe,” and the show is over.

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They receive an ovation, and though Sonny wants to do encores, Cher doesn’t feel like it, and takes off frowning, running for the wing, a perplexed and irritated Sonny chasing after.

Going out, people are asking the same questions they were asking coming in: Do you think they’re happy? Will they stay together? Are they going split? Is it all an act, do you think? Are they putting on the whole world?

It’s like soap opera; we’ve been teased, but we know no more than we knew yesterday. Tune in tomorrow, folks — same time, same station.

There is no doubt that Sonny & Cher have captured the public eye. So, for a real eyeful don’t miss them at — If you’ve never seen them in person you are in for a very special evening . . . Sonny & Cher are what show business is all about! – Sonny & Cher publicity sheet

Real-life drama unfolds during Sonny & Cher’s five years on TV (1976)

By Austin Philips – Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana) December 26, 1976

Not many couples raise a child, get divorced, and reunite as professional partners in front of 20 million television viewers. Yet this real-life drama has unfolded throughout the five years that Sonny Bono and Cher have been a Sunday night ritual for television viewers throughout the country over CBS.

The Sonny and Cher Show - Sonny Bono and Cher - 1970s

The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974)

By now everyone knows the Sonny and Cher story. The couple has gone through many changes both as individuals and as an act. They have surmised the many transformations of the music world, having been one of the first acts to make the successful transition from rock performers to television stars.

They spent many years behind the scenes, and in the mid ’60s, burst forth with hit after hit, establishing themselves as top performers.

Then, as the musical tastes of their audiences switched to hard rock, Sonny and Cher turned to television, and to everyone’s surprise, became the hit of the 1971 season, paving the way for many other successful musical variety shows on television.

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The Sonny & Cher Show (1976-1977)

Emmy-winning producer Nick Vanoff, who came of semi-retirement to act as executive producer of The Sonny and Cher Show, says he feels the fifth season of the show is perhaps the best yet.

“We kept the best of what we had, and added much that’s new. We still have the upbeat, fast-paced comedy, spectacular costumes by Bob Mackie, and the rich staging for the musical numbers and comedy sketches.

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“Also certain characters created by Sony and Cher are back on the air, including Cher’s ‘Laverne’ and Sonny’s ‘Alvin.’ Laverne and Alvin are still sitting in a bar watching The Sonny and Cher Show as regular Ted Zeigler pours drinks and puts up with their particular brand of lunacy.”

Sonny and Cher TV Guide 1974

But this year Alvin and Laverne reach a new stage in their lives — they’re going to get married — on January 23.

It will be a very special event indeed. They will be wed in the bar where they met and fell in love. Zeigler, the bartender, will be the best man, and the admiral of the Seventh Fleet will give the bride away.

Guest star John Davidson will be the preacher who presides over the whole shindig. Mackie has designed a wedding gown that fits the occasion.

Since Sonny and Cher are about as predictable as the weather in the Great Lakes area, something new is always cropping up on the show.

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For instance: Cher plays Mother Goose as only Cher could portray her. In each of these sketches, a well-known Mother Goose rhyme is updated in typical Sonny and Cher fashion so it tells a story of America today.

There are also sketches which are on almost every week. “The Not So Grand Hotel” is a crazy Marx Brothers-like takeoff on other eras in the world of show business and “The Morbid Manor” is a kind of monster soap opera.

Real-life drama unfolds during Sonny and Cher's years on TV (1976)

Bright new additions to The Sonny and Cher Show on TV

One of the brightest additions to the 1976-77 season is the husband-and-wife team of Shields and Yarnell.

In recent months, the two have captivated millions on The Mac Davis Show, and have brought audiences to their feet in Las Vegas.

Now as regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, they will continue to bring their “space-age vaudeville” to an ever-growing group of devoted followers.

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As in the past, guest appearances on Sonny & Cher by top stars are a continuing feature. Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Dinah Shore, Donny and Marie Osmond, The Sylvers, Jack Albertson, and Steve Lawrence are a few of the stars who have already appeared this year.

Redd Foxx, Tom Jones, John Davidson, George Gobel, Don Knotts, Andy Griffith, Twiggy and David Steinberg are some of the personalities who will lend their diverse talents to the show during the remainder of the season.

Sonny and Cher with the Jacksons

Aiding and abetting Vanoff are coproducers Frank Pepiatt and Phil Hahn. Tim Kiley is the director, Jaime Rogers creates the choreography, and Harold Battiste is the musical director.

“Putting on a variety show is murderous,” says Cher. “I was really lonely doing the show all by myself at the beginning of last year. In many ways, Sonny and I have grown up together, and we can see many things with the same eyes. We’ve got to keep changing and trying new things — that keeps it fun.

“We really have a good time when we work together, and we try to get that across.”

Vanoff obviously feels the same way: “We have something working for us that no other show in the world has… the magic of Sonny and Cher.

“If I had to describe the series in a few words, I’d say it’s a lot of fun, and a lot of love.”

Sonny and Cher with child Chastity - Chaz Bono - 1974

Surprise! Sonny & Cher’s third anniversary party

From Ladies Home Journal – October 1967

Sonny and Cher 3rd anniversary party - 1967 (2)
Well-wishers, from left: William Friedkin, director of their film Good Times, pop singer Lulu, actress Yvette Mimieux, and Harvey Kresky. // On cue with Sonny & Cher’s arrival, the phonograph spun out their first big hit, “I Got You, Babe,” a very fitting choice for the occasion.

Not corny, if you make it candy. Candy’s a symbol for a third wedding anniversary. So, we helped Harvey [Kresky, their co-manager] plan his surprise party for the young rock singers around a candy theme.

Sonny and Cher 3rd anniversary party - 1967 (1)

We dreamed up candy centerpieces made from giant lollipops, and created an anniversary cake decorated with a gumdrop garden of bright flowers and “grass,” continued the confection colors on vinyl tablecloths strewn with glued-on three-dimensional felt flowers.

Our sweetheart of a drink, served outdoors by the pool with hot hors d’oeuvres, was Loving Cup — guests helped themselves to a split of champagne, poured it over ice into giant burgundy glasses, added a dash of Grand Marnier and a few strawberries.

Our buffet was served indoors, on wildly flowered platters big enough to take seconds the first time around.

Sonny and Cher 3rd anniversary party - 1967 (4)
Cher is the genius behind all the great costumes the singers appear in everywhere, from recording sessions to parties.
Sonny and Cher 3rd anniversary party - 1967 (3)
All the guests adored the idea of using platters for dinner plates, and no one was the least bit shy about the heaping helpings.

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