During the month of July, this series has introduced you to five incredible artists who represent the women who perform in theaters and showrooms in Las Vegas every night. From the comic to the showgirl, these women have given you a window on their lives on-stage and off. The series closes today with a look at the remarkable life of Marie Osmond — the sweetheart of Las Vegas’ First Family, who in her five decades of performing has set the standard for Las Vegas headliners.
It’s uncommon enough for a child star to remain popular as an adult, but Marie Osmond has also managed to be glamorous without descending into scandal or entitlement. Though many of the Strip’s most illustrious stars stand on her proverbial shoulders, she’s not a diva. Elvis Presley used to send her mother flowers every time the Osmond family came to town, but Marie is not jaded by fame.
Her parents grew up during the Great Depression, and though she and her brothers were stars before they could even drive, Marie was taught to work hard and to embrace “real life.”
She recorded her first No. 1 hit, “Paper Roses,” at age 12. By 15, she was a TV host. She worked 17-hour days on the original “Donny and Marie Show,” but she says that when she came home at night, her mother still made her do her chores.
“My mom would say, ‘Come on. Do the dishes. You’ve got bread to make. And then clean the toilets.’” Marie recalls. “… That’s real life. And I thought she was the meanest human being on the planet.”
Like any teenager, Marie resisted doing housework.
“I was like, ‘Do you not see that I’m tired?’” she says.
But her mother never let the Osmond kids forget their responsibilities to their family.
“I love her for that,” Marie says. And she has raised her own eight children the same way.
Before Marie and I talked on the phone yesterday, I did some research. I hadn’t even finished typing in her last name before Google suggested that I was searching for “Marie Osmond net worth.” You can search for yourself if you really care how much money she has, but suffice it to say a lifetime of recording music and performing on stage has brought Marie wealth as well as happiness.
She does not believe the two are the same.
“You can’t buy a child self-esteem,” she says, recalling telling one of her kids that, yes, they could have an iPhone — if they got a job and worked for it.
“I put my kids to work,” Marie says. “I make sure they learn a hard work ethic.”
Her 15-year-old daughter works backstage at “Donny and Marie” at the Flamingo, helping Mom with costume changes.
“Mostly, I love being with them,” Marie says. “So it’s fun to all go to work together.”
Hard work is the key to Marie’s remarkable groundedness.
“I’m the same person you are,” she tells me. “We all get up every morning and go to work.”
That sense of connectedness and shared experience is a key ingredient in everything Marie does, especially as a performer and public figure.
Even as other headliners have taken to giving arena-style concerts in Las Vegas venues, Marie has held fast to the values of what she calls “that wonderful era of real entertainment.” She explains that she and Donny work every night to make their show better and better — a skill she remembers Sammy Davis Jr. had mastered.
“I think the biggest problem is when people believe their own press,” Marie says. “You have to keep working. You have to keep reinventing. You can’t just rely on your last success and your laurels. You have to keep being good at what you do.”
Marie is doing anything and everything besides resting on her laurels. Four days a week, she meets with guests outside the Flamingo showroom, then gets on plane and flies to Los Angeles. She gets up at 5 a.m. to record her talk show, “Marie,” which airs on the Hallmark Channel. Then she flies back home to Las Vegas in time to do “Donny and Marie” again.
She spends the daytime with her family.
Marie and her husband, Steve, have been together for 25 years. They were divorced, but got back together and married each other again. Marie calls Steve the love of her life.
Marie has a line of dolls, and there’s even a pair that depict her and Steve.
“You have to have a great team,” she says. “You have to believe in each other in order to be successful. Especially as a woman. You really do. You need a great husband.”
Marie’s experience as a woman, a wife and a mother are central to her ability to connect with her guests on “Marie.”
“I think they feel safe,” she says. “I think know that I relate to things and I understand it.”
Marie is recognized as the first American celebrity to write about her challenges with postpartum depression. She has talked publicly about her divorce and isn’t shy about sharing the value she places on family. She says that she teaches her children that there are ups and downs in life and that rather than feeling sorry for themselves when they face challenges, they should press on with a strong will to succeed.
“Selfishness breeds entitlement,” she says. “It’s that circle you see throughout history.”
That’s one of the big reasons Marie believes in charity. She and her long-time friend John Schneider (who is performing with her this week in place of Donny) started the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals charity 30 years ago.
CMNH raises money for medical research, education and care and distributes aid to more than 170 children’s hospitals. It’s the largest charity of its kind in the world, and Marie says that 100 percent of the almost $5 billion it has raised has gone help the children the charity reaches.
Marie says that being charitable to others helps individuals tackle the challenges in their own lives.
“In order to quit feeling sorry for yourself, you need to think about other people,” she says. “It’s a great eternal principle, and I believe it.”
She cites Matthew 7:16 from the Bible — “‘By their fruits you shall know them.’” — to explain that she sees selflessness as an important measure of an individual.
Marie remembers a time when as a woman, she wasn’t always measured by the same standard as men in the entertainment industry.
“I grew up in the ’70s, where women were not considered viable,” she said. “It was a man’s world.”
She says that she chose to record country music as a young girl partly because while men dominated the airwaves in most other genres, women singers were valued in country circles.
“I loved country because they were very accepting and very true and faithful to women,” she says. “… Now, women are dominating the radio and television and theater and every place else.”
Marie has watched from the inside for decades as the Las Vegas entertainment industry has evolved. She remembers when Ann-Margret, Mae West and Barbra Streisand performed on the Strip.
“Vegas has proven that strong women can headline,” she says. She names a few more examples: Cher. Bette Midler. Celine Dion.
True to her characteristic modesty, Marie speaks about these women as her forebearers and role models. But she herself set the stage for much of the way Las Vegas thinks about headliners today.
Celine Dion’s first resident show in Las Vegas opened in 2003. Cher and Bette Midler both established residencies in 2008 — the same year “Donny and Marie” opened. But Marie has performed in Las Vegas with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. since she was a child.
She has seen the city and its entertainment industry change, and unlike so many headliners who stop in for a few weeks, Marie calls Las Vegas home.
She says she has always loved the town, so she and her family put down roots here, where her children could find community.
She also stands out in that perhaps more than any other performer of her caliber, Marie has embraced traditional roles of womanhood while dominating in her professional life as well.
I ask Marie to pick out a few women who perform in Las Vegas whose shows she enjoys. All the others I have interviewed for this series have been eager to talk about how much they love to see their friends in other shows, so, knowing that she has decades of performers to choose from, I’m excited to hear what Marie will say.
“Can I be honest?” she asks. She says that she spends her free time with her family, not watching other shows.
“You sure appreciate each other,” she says. “You realize that all of this around us is just wonderful entertainment and fun, but at the core of success is to find peace in your life.”
“And we’ve found peace,” she says. “It’s been wonderful.”