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Showbiz ties deep for Lewis, Osmond

Does it seem a bit strange to find Jimmy Osmond at the helm of a PBS documentary about Jerry Lewis?

Only to those of us who grew up in the TV variety era, sprouting a Pavlovian grin of incredulity anytime the word “Osmond” comes up in any sentence.

But the ninth, and last, Osmond sibling – the one whose brief run at teen idol-dom came on Donny’s coattails as “Little Jimmy” – grew up to produce 1,100 hours of television programming through Osmond Enterprises.

For business logistics alone, he’s well-qualified to film Lewis performing with an orchestra today at The Orleans. The show for a ticketed audience will be combined with interview footage for a PBS pledge-drive special, set to run around the time of the legend’s 87th birthday on March 16.

But their ties run deeper than that.

“I kind of grew up the old-Hollywood way. … Maybe I’m too nostalgic but it was my life,” Osmond says with a laugh. The 49-year-old was part of the “Donny and Marie” show as a teen. “I kind of understand that world a little bit.

“These are the people who were our mentors.”

Osmond’s older siblings got their big break on “The Andy Williams Show,” so “it really shook me to the core when we lost him,” he says. “This is the last of that whole culture. How many people would just give anything to see Elvis again?”

Some are surprised that you can still buy a ticket to see Lewis still occasionally perform live. Osmond says he once asked Williams why he kept going.

“Because Jimmy, this is what I do,” was the answer. “When I was golfing every day, I felt like I was a concert pianist and my hands were cut off. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Jerry definitely is the same way,” Osmond says. “He is alive when he’s in front of an audience. He’s at his happiest.” And since Osmond still performs with brothers Merrill and Jay in exotic places such as Laughlin and Mesquite, that’s another connection.

Of course, you can’t always be sure Lewis is having fun. There was, for instance, that time in 2005 when he was on a panel for The Comedy Festival, playfully smacking moderator Larry King with rolled-up paper and then not so playfully walking off the panel.

How do you direct the man who invented the “video assist” as a film director?

“I’d loved to get bossed around by the boss,” Osmond says. “All of his instincts are so right-on still. You cannot change the man, nor would you want to. That’s what makes it so fun. You never know what he’s going to do or say.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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