Even if you were a little tyke in the mid-1970s as I was, you still probably remember watching “The Sonny Cher Comedy Hour” through three-quarters of that decade. It was one of the first shows I remember watching when already a year old and continued to watch it weekly with my family until it finally left the air in 1977 so Cher could ascend to superstardom and Sonny could become U.S. Senator from California (with career-lowering forays to “Fantasy Island” beforehand). One thing I remember my parents always agreeing on when watching those goofy sketches on the show was that Cher was a good actress; a really good actress. In fact, she was obviously too good to be playing stupid characters on a comedy variety show with her and her husband’s name on it.
While you can buy the old episodes of Sonny and Cher’s variety show on DVD now, it’s too bad they disappeared from the airwaves of TV Land who showed reruns of the show for a long time during the ‘90s and early 2000s. It somehow disappeared from that network to make way for the reality show era of TV Land and renaming themselves “Hi, I’m George Foreman!” Land. Now a new generation who may be seeing Cher playing an older Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to “The Dark Knight” in another year needs to see Cher’s early work on TV to see the kind of natural talent she had from the get-go.
Of course, if you manage to see reruns of the old variety show (the last variety show produced to date for the most part), you’ll notice that Sonny Bono was very much in control of the show and tried to put himself in the leads of sketches that fell flat without Cher’s input. Then again, it seemed to be done that way intentionally so Cher could put Sonny down as a way to show self-deprecation that Sonny wasn’t a comedian or really good at anything other than being personable and writing simple pop songs with good hooks.
It’s no wonder then that Cher, once she divorced Sonny in 1974, briefly had her own solo show called “Cher” on ABC for one season before she and Sonny reunited as just a working team for one more season of “Sonny and Cher” back on CBS where the first variety show aired successfully for several seasons prior. By that time, you could clearly see that Cher’s talent was exploding and made Sonny look like he wasn’t needed anymore.
All you need to see are some of those famous sketches Cher played in regularly to see how she could embody a character and make it her own. One character she used to play in a recurring sketch was a small-town hairdresser that could have made an interesting independent film on its own thanks to Cher making her creation funny, yet still interesting. You wouldn’t even know it was Cher in a wig and glasses (while doing the obligatory smacking of gum as all hairdressers used to do) as she delivered lines that weren’t really all that funny, yet delivered in a way that made you pay attention.
It’s ironic that Christopher Nolan, who is adamant about getting Cher for Catwoman in his “Dark Knight” follow-up, mentioned Cher playing Catwoman as a vamp. If you remember the earliest days of “Sonny Cher”, you’ll remember Cher doing a recurring and popular musical number called “V-A-M-P” with her sitting on top of an upright piano and warbling away as Sonny accompanies. Cher sang a catchy vaudevillian theme song under the same name while dressed as…well, a sexy vamp with a feather boa wrapped around her. That was one of the highlight musical numbers of the show each week that gave Cher a chance to not only show her singing chops but also her acting ability all at the same time breathtaking, that she learned from local acting programs. And those 30-second jokes thrown periodically in-between the theme song proved she could deliver the corniest of lines and make them work.
When people saw that Nolan wanted Cher to play Catwoman as a vamp, I’m sure there were some who thought back to that famous musical sketch on her variety show and placed the connective strings.
It’s ironic, though, that Cher is old enough now to play a vamp. And having this role will probably get her acting career back into order after an extended hiatus from the movies for reasons that are only assumed. Apparently Cher made a fortune at real estate and made some bad movies after “Moonstruck”–hence perhaps putting a dent in her acting career that could have merited more Oscar noms had she tried a little harder. At least she became financially stable enough where she didn’t have to be forced into taking bad movie roles and could allow time to refresh herself in newer projects.
For those who’ve never seen the old “Sonny Cher” variety show from the ‘70s, I’d recommend giving it a watch on DVD before you see Cher play Catwoman in another year. The show will seem like a completely different galaxy compared to the prestige of playing a major role in a major superhero franchise today. Nevertheless, you’ll have a chance to see the foundations of Cher’s acting talent and where she honed her natural gifts to make any character compelling.
I think it’s perfectly safe to say that she’s always been a much better actress than a singer, despite her chart hits seeming to prove otherwise…