by Charles Witbeck
HOLLYWOOD - Mark Twain derided the conception of Heaven where men stood around in nightgowns and sang harmony, because he believed humans were unable to tolerate the results for over three minutes here on earth.
For once, Twain was wrong. Judging from the success of family singing groups like the Lennon Sisters, the King Family, the Stonemans and the Osmond Brothers.
Now from Newport, Rhode Island, comes a unit of seven, The Cowsills, with a half-hour pilot called A Family Thing, on NBC and if there are not Twains in the audience, chances are The Cowsills will soon conduct a weekly tribal gathering on the tube.
Cowsill, a good English name, belongs to the great grandson of a gentleman who got kicked out of Oxford, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer whose kinds have inherited a talent for natural harmony probably from wife Barbara's side of the family, since Bud Cowsilll's musical bent is limited to whistling. But Bud makes up for the deficiency with initiative drive, a feeling for logistics and positive thinking.
The problem as Bud sees it is that people don't take the Cowsills seriously. Doors used to slam in his face when he sought bookage for his four sons including an 8-year-old on the drums, and a 16-year-old on bass guitar. Sill, the kids performed at universities like Princeton, Rutgers and Brown, facing cold stares for 20 minutes followed by applause from the toughest audience in the world.
With the addition of son John, Susan, age 8, and wife, Barbara, the group broke the ice in '67 with guestspots on Ed Sullivan, a song called The Rain, the Park and Other Things which has sold over a million records plus live good singles with titles like The Path Of Love, We Can Fly, Indian Lake and Poor Baby. Four days after the special they appeared on The Jonathan Winters show. They'll make two Hollywood Palace appearances and join the cast for January's special, The World of Pizazz, as Bud's problem now is to maintain sanity and follow his own head whenever possible
"Everyone told me to keep the wife and daughter out of the act," says Cowsill, "and they're become our biggest draws, so I don't listen to people anymore."
Listening to Bud and Barbara talk about the kids musical beginnings life is a 23-room Newport mansion and the dark days when mother waited on tables earning good tips from the Australians in town for the America's Cup yacht race while Bud and sons were painting houses for a living, it seemed the family functions best pushing along without outside advice.
The kids are self-taught musically with the oldest boy passing on information to the younger who watched for mistakes and makes detours. Barbara, one of nine, ran the house when Bud was on destroyer duty in the .....