January 6th, 2010

Freezing cold winter days like this remind me of the time I was almost killed by Marie Osmond. Or was it the other way around?

As I recall, it was just a few days before Christmas, 1977. Utah was frozen solid, but the Osmond family was hot, hot, hot. In particular, Donny and Marie were hot, although preteens in Japan were inexplicably grooving to the musical stylings of little brother Jimmy. In this country, love struck girls were painting themselves purple—reputedly Donny’s favorite color. And then there was Olive and George’s charming daughter Marie, whose signature overbite was a precursor to the insanely popular vampire novels of her fellow Mormon Stephanie Meyer.

The only downside was that the Donny and Marie Show originated from Los Angeles, a place many Utahns regard as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. In hopes of safeguarding the clan’s spotless reputation, a full production studio was built in Orem, smack dab in the most conservative county in the most conservative state in the union. Thereafter, an appearance on the Donny and Marie Show was a lot like going into rehab. Deprived of worldly temptations, guest stars would presumably emerge from Orem cleansed of sin, stone sober, substance-free, with fixed toothy grins like Mr. Sardonicus.

So how did grumpy old me get involved? Well, there was this holiday special in the works and I’d been hired by Snow Goer Magazine to shoot some pictures of the Osmonds dashing through the woods on snowmobiles. I was broke as usual and thus pleased to land the assignment—but as ill-luck would have it, just before the big shoot I got sick. The day of the shoot, my temperature had soared to 104. I should have checked into a hospital; instead, I reported to a parking lot east of Kamas, Utah, where I was directed to a snowmobile with my name on it. I didn’t dare confess I was too jacked up on Robitussin to operate machinery. Instead, I explained that I needed both hands free to operate my camera. So I was assigned to the pillion seat of another snowmobile.

I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to travel far, but no! Evidently the director had scouted a location deep in the Ashley National Forest, and by the time we finally got there, icicles had formed on my nose and eyebrows. My core temperature had dropped, but not because I had shaken the fever. My temperature had dropped because I was now hypothermic.

In those days I didn’t have much in the way of cold weather gear. Just a pair of faded jeans, rubber boots, an old parka and a knit stocking cap. My threadbare down-filled parka was apparently molting, so that whenever I sneezed I discharged a blizzard of goose feathers, which can be seen in this picture.Donny_and_Marie

My standard operating procedure is to remain as inconspicuous as possible, but that’s not so easy to do on an Osmond set when you exude feathers and resemble Ratso Rizzo. Lucky for me, security was lax; otherwise, I’d have been taken in for questioning.

I was also lucky in that all eyes were focused on the radiant Marie—at any rate, mine were. What a lovely young girl! And what a trouper! Train a camera on her and she lights up; turn the camera away and she continues to glow. I reached out in hopes of warming my frostbitten fingers, but alas, they stayed frozen. Hers is an inner glow, evidently.

Hours later we returned to the parking lot, me slung crosswise over the saddle of a Polaris snowmobile like Stonewall Torrey following his fatal encounter with the gunfighter Jack Wilson. I was pretty much dead, but at least I had completed my assignment. Or so I thought.

Turns out there was more torture to come. An open-air, nighttime songfest at the Sundance Ski Resort—what used to be known as Timp Haven until it was bought by Robert Redford, who—like the Osmonds—had a vision that Hollywood could somehow be transplanted to Utah. Today that vision has become reality, as each January movie stars bid farewell to the Southern California sun, dress up like Eskimos and converge on Park City to participate in the annual Sundance Film Festival. Don’t ask me why.

Sundance sits on the eastern slope of Mount Timpanogos at an elevation of eight thousand feet. Now I was not only hypothermic; I was faint from lack of oxygen. I sniffled, I wheezed, I sneezed, I coughed, I clapped, and lastly offered thanks to God when finally the director shouted “Cut!”Donny_and_Marie_3

The stage went dark, the crowd dispersed, and I began to shuffle toward the distant parking lot, head bowed like an emperor penguin against the biting wind, trailing behind a wake of snot and goose feathers. By and by a pickup truck came along and stopped. “Can I give you a lift?” the driver asked. I accepted, of course.

In the cab was a second passenger who to my great surprise turned out to be none other than Marie Osmond. I couldn’t believe it! I mean, there next to me sat America’s sweetheart, our thighs nearly touching. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and in any event it didn’t matter because by now I had lost my voice to laryngitis. And even if I could speak, it occurred to me that I had better keep my mouth shut, lest I let loose a bacterial barrage that would surely land poor Marie in intensive care, perhaps even bring down the entire Osmond Empire!

I pinched my nose, I held my breath, I buried my face in my sleeve—and it’s very fortunate for Marie Osmond that I did so. Otherwise, her stellar career would not have continued as it has to this day. And for that she has me to thank, whether she knows it or not.

-Richard Menzies