If you had told me when I was on the cusp of becoming a teenybopper that I would one day meet heartthrob Donny Osmond, I would have looked you in the eye and glared. “Meet him? I’m going to marry him.” Such was my unwavering optimism, just as I anticipated one day developing breasts.
I grew up in North Bay, a mid-sized town about four hours north of Toronto, in a modest bungalow next to a wooded area. In the early ’70s, Denise, my best friend who lived next door, and I were at that bipolar time in girlhood when we could spend the morning building forts and climbing trees only to find ourselves after lunch holed up in my family’s pop-up trailer parked next to our house, imagining what it would be like to kiss a boy. One minute we’d be slurping pink Popsicles, the next “smoking” the sticks. Usually, we merely held them between our fingers like cigarettes, but I remember on more than one occasion lighting them up.
In our race to adolescence, Denise was always the frontrunner. Unlike me, sandwiched between a little sister and a brother barely a year older, she had two younger and three older siblings, the latter of whom were all in high school. From these shaggy-haired androgynous creatures, Denise absorbed all things cool – from how to swear to what to wear – but, most importantly, what real teenagers listened to. With access to a stereo system and milk crates full of albums, Denise was soaking up David Bowie while I, with my plastic record player and paltry collection of 45s, was singing along with David Cassidy. When I was in my Donny Osmond phase, needless to say, I was on my own. I used to kick my little sister out of our shared bedroom (think ruffled bedspreads with matching curtains), close the door and, with the stereo cranked full blast, slow dance with my pillow.
And they called it puppy love … Just because we’re in our teens …
As I swayed around the room, my tender cheek nestled against the scratchy sham, I was certain every word Donny sang was intended for me. When he hit the best part of the song, that heartbreaking point at which his voice cracks and he begs for mercy – Someone, help me, help me, help me pleeeease … – my scabby knees would buckle, and I’d clutch Pillow Fellow even tighter. In retrospect, this may have been the beginning of my weakness for needy men. Which, I am happy to report I got over, as I did Donny. But during a trip to Las Vegas, when I was presented with the opportunity to see him perform with his sister, Marie, at the Flamingo, I jumped at the chance. Heck, I even signed up for the meet-and-greet afterward, thinking that finally, after all these years, Donny and I would come face to face!
I am an intelligent woman and accept that I’m not the centre of the universe, yet, while watching the then 51-year-old artist croon “Puppy Love,” I confess I expected him to make eye contact with me. It was as if that girlish irrefutable belief in happy endings kicked in, booting out years of experience that suggested otherwise. I’m here, Donny, I tried to communicate telepathically, leaning towards the stage. Look at me, I’m here.
He didn’t. No matter, my deluded state continued at the meet-and-greet. I don’t know what I was envisioning – did I think Donny and I would go out for dinner? But I was shocked when, after the show, I was forced to stand in a lineup composed mostly of middle-aged women who, like myself, clutched the separate portraits of Donny and Marie we’d been given, with sticky notes on which a public relations person had scrawled our names. I fumed as I watched these fans, one by one, shake hands and chat with the brother-sister duo, eating up Donny’s and my valuable time. One woman actually had the nerve to give Donny her cellphone and coerced him into recording her voice-mail greeting. Hi, this is Donny Osmond, and you’ve reached Sue (or whatever her name was). Damn it, why didn’t I think of that?
Finally, it was my turn. I sucked in my gut, thrust out my chest and approached Donny with my most come-hither smile. Marie tried to intercept by greeting me first, but I blew her off.
“Hello, Donny,” I said, placing my hand in his. If he felt the zing, he didn’t show it. Instead, he seemed intent on signing that photograph and I thought, oh doesn’t this man know who I am? “Donny,” I blurted out, four decades of pent-up anguish flooding my vocal chords. “When I was 10, I was in love with you and I always thought you were singing ‘Puppy Love’ to me. Who were you singing it to?”
He looked up. “I dunno. I guess it was … ,” he began, but then he paused. “Actually,” he said, staring into my eyes. “I was singing it to you, Rebecca. I had your picture on my music stand.”
Finally, there was order in my universe. But it was not to end there. As a follow-up to this story, I convinced Donny’s PR people to have him call me. The call was to come on a Friday night at 9:30 several weeks after my Vegas trip. As I sat at my kitchen table staring at the phone, I couldn’t help but recall the many nights I’d spent throughout the ’70s waiting for some boy to call.
Twenty minutes later and finally a ring – but it was just his assistant postponing the interview. Apparently the president of the Flamingo had just walked into Donny’s dressing room, blah, blah, blah. She called again later and postponed until Monday evening. Again, on Monday I waited, and again the assistant rescheduled for some undetermined time later in the week. Donny Osmond is standing me up, I couldn’t help thinking. And so the next night when the phone rang and I was busy making dinner, I didn’t bother to answer. A telemarketer, I figured, as I tested the pasta. Shortly thereafter, it rang again.
“Hello?” I said, a little gruffly.
Just like that. Donny. He apologized for not calling the previous times, and I said something idiotic like, “Hey, I’ve been waiting 37 years. What are a few days more?” He laughed, and we quickly eased into a conversation.
“What was it like to be a teenage boy and know that millions of girls were crazy about you?” I asked. “Do you think it made you more confident, arrogant or were you insecure or …”
“It’s a great question, Rebecca,” he said (be still my beating heart). “Because I guess anybody else in that situation, they probably would have indulged, but I was completely isolated from it. So yes, I knew that there were a lot of girls out there, but that was mainly in concerts and they were screaming for this guy on stage. But that’s where my life was a little challenging because I would go from that adulation to the hotel room with complete silence. And, you know, I was a good little Mormon boy.”
And I was a geek, I thought. We were made for each other! But before I could point this out, he started telling me about how he fell in love with Debbie, his wife of 31 years. “I was about 16 years old and I dated her secretly. I mean I dated a lot of girls – but I really got serious with her when I was about 18. But I couldn’t let anybody know. I couldn’t even let my family know.”
Back then, he explained, getting married was a death knell for teen idols. Donny’s career virtually ended when he and Debbie tied the knot when he was 20.
“What’s funny – Debbie and I can laugh about it now – but the amount of hate mail that she got and the tailspin that my career went into right after that was pretty phenomenal. Fans wrote in to me, sending me pictures of Donny Osmond record-burning parties. They would pile all my records and burn them. And that’s what they would send to Debbie, and that’s what this poor little 19-year-old went through when we first got married.”
During our half-hour telephone call, Donny was open and affable. He wrapped things up with a second apology for making me wait. “I’m sorry about the mess-up,” he said. “But we got it done.”
Yes, Donny, we did. I hung up the phone – a boomer in the throes of puppy love.
This articles was published in Zoomer - July 2011 to read the full article please Click here for PDF version