Donny Osmond is ticked off. “Because I don’t take drugs or drink, I’m considered a square,” he fumes. “People make fun of my smile. I get tired of that. I’m not a goody-goody.” Riding in his limousine, he jabs his finger at a bus filled with schoolchildren. “If I got on that bus I would be ridiculed like crazy,” he goes on. “Some of the girls might think I was cool, but the guys would snigger.” An angry flush blooms on his cheeks. “I get aggravated.”
Yes, despite 10 solo albums (he cut his first gold LP at age 13), a long-running TV variety show and teenage sainthood, Donny Osmond feels a reluctant kinship to Rodney Dangerfield: He can’t get no respect. That explains in part why Donny is risking his reputation on a Broadway-bound musical. Of course, the gamble is hedged a bit by the nature of the property. It’s not Oh! Calcutta! that caught Donny’s fancy but George M. Cohan’s flag-waving 1904 musical Little Johnny Jones, featuring such can’t-miss showstoppers as Give My Regards to Broadway and Yankee Doodle Boy.
The show opened Jan. 10 at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center and is headed for New York in late February. So far Donny has won respectful notices for his ebullient singing and dancing, but that’s not all he’s after. At 24, Donny sees the show as a major step in his transition from teen idol to “sophisticated entertainer.” “I want to be accepted by my peers,” he says. He still smarts from the days when, as a teenager in Provo, he was sometimes humiliated by other kids his age. “Thugs threw dirt clods and apple cores at me,” he winces. “That hurts, both emotionally and literally.”
Even more painful are persistent rumors that his career trajectory—and that of the family as a whole—has flattened. The Osmond empire has undeniably suffered a few jolts recently. Donny hasn’t made a solo album in four years. The Osmond-produced film Goin’ Coconuts fizzled at the box office in 1978, and ever since ABC canceled The Osmond Family Show a year later, there has been speculation that the family’s $9 million studio complex in Orem, Utah could turn out to be a gigantic white elephant. Last year the Osmonds sold off the distribution arm of their entertainment conglomerate. At one point they also reportedly considered offers to sell part of the studio itself. “There was a big uproar in the company,” admits Donny. “But we hung onto the studio facilities and our name. That’s the most important thing for us.”
Now, Donny attests, “I’ve got my own life to live,” which he shares with the former Debra Glenn, 22. They were married three and a half years ago and have two children. “I can’t take my problems to my mother and father anymore,” says Donny, the third youngest of the nine Osmond offspring. “Now my wife and I have to work them out.”
A high school cheerleader and the daughter of a Provo, Utah educator, Debbie never was a special fan of Donny’s. She actually had another boyfriend when Donnny drifted into her life in 1975. His big brother Jay and Debbie began double-dating with Donny and his casual girlfriends. “I ribbed and teased Donny a lot,” Debbie recalls. “I was interested in him.” Soon he got the message and switched over. Debbie’s pal Charlotte Brady recalls, “It was pretty exciting. Donny would call long-distance at 2 or 3 in the morning, and once he came over and threw a cream pie in her face for fun.” After high school Debbie enrolled at Brigham Young University to study interior design, but she knew what her career was going to be: “Mothering is a full-time job, and if I don’t raise my kids, who will?” In April 1978 she flew to Hawaii, where Donny and his sister, Marie, were filming Goin’ Coconuts. Though nervous that “his girl fans would hate my guts,” Debbie became an Osmond in a ceremony at the Salt Lake City Temple two weeks later. Their honeymoon was in Las Vegas—where Donny had a gig. Though Debbie miscarried her first pregnancy, she bore Donald Clark Jr. in 1979 and Jeremy last year. Still to come, she hopes, are “a couple of girls to help me.” Donny has become an ardent Reagan supporter, and at a televised pre-inaugural gala he and Marie sang Ronnie Be Good, adapted from Chuck Berry’s rock classic Johnny B. Goode. He took over the late Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve chores on CBS and, of course, started rehearsals for the Cohan musical in December.
For all his protestations, however, Donny has hardly shaken his old image. In his natty camel’s hair coat and black penny loafers, he looks every inch a prosperous young executive. He is unfailingly courteous and even deferential. On outings, his disguise of glasses and a hat rarely fools the fans—”I don’t know if it’s the teeth or the hair,” Debbie shrugs. When Little Johnny Jones opens on Broadway, the Osmonds will be ensconced not in sybaritic Manhattan but in a rented triplex across the Hudson in suburban Engle-wood, N.J. Their city wheels will be Debbie’s Subaru station wagon (in which she will explore the area’s discount dress shops). She plans to handle child care and housework herself because “we don’t have enough privacy as it is, so I don’t want someone else around all the time.”
“We could be high rollers if we wanted to,” says Donny, “but we feel it would be detrimental to our children.” Instead, he and Debbie are relentless homebodies; in addition to entertaining friends and kin (Marie will be in New York soon to study acting with Lee Strasberg), Donny, an electronics buff, would like nothing better than to buy a home computer and master it.
Debbie has had little trouble adjusting to life within the Osmond clan. “Our families are so much alike,” Debbie observes. “We’re both LDS [Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons].” She was also pleased to discover that the Osmonds “aren’t robots. It’s not a dictatorship. I was surprised how they got along so well, living and working together.” Debbie passed the scrutiny of matriarch Olive Osmond, who says that anyone marrying into the clan must “be congenial. We’re a very busy group.” Adds Marie Osmond: “Debbie is perfect for my brother. When I get married, I hope my husband loves me as much as he loves her.”
Debbie is comfortable with a patriarchal Mormon marriage. “If I disagree with something, Donny doesn’t do it,” she explains, “but that means I give him honor and respect.” Says he, “I never treat her as less than an equal.” But when Debbie is asked about the campaign for ERA, Donny jokingly interjects, “Oh, you mean Earned Run Average. She’s not up on baseball.”
Both of them recognize the pressures of a showbiz marriage. “I’ve had bad days,” she says. “There are tears sometimes.” She admits to having “a complex about my looks. I don’t feel as pretty as a lot of women.” Reckons Donny: “We have our share of problems. I’m away a lot. We talk and analyze and look at other marriages—and we struggle to have quality time. Every day, I tell her I love her.”