Long before the Kardashians, there were the Mandrell sisters – Barbara, Louise and Irlene – who were not only starring on TV, but using their celebrity to support a wide variety of causes and charities. The Mandrells all love shooting and hunting and are willing to stand up for all shooting sports in word and action.
In this column the spotlight focuses on Irlene, the youngest of the three Mandrell sisters, who does it all – model, actress, musician, outdoorswoman, race car driver and mother of three kids.
The Mandrell family hails originally from Corpus Christi, Texas. Irby, the father, was a musician and a police officer, and Irlene says that he taught the girls “how to get things done.”
Irlene first rose to fame at age 11 when she toured with sister Barbara’s band, the Do Rights, as a drummer/percussionist. She was recognized and that led to her being a model for Cover Girl, joining other celebrities including Sybil Shepherd and Jennifer O’Neil.
The three Mandrell girls brought their act to television with the 1980-1982 NBC variety show series Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, which won two “Best Comedy Act of the Year” awards from Music City News. Following in the footsteps of Ed Sullivan, this was the last of the variety shows on major network TV. And it was fabulously popular. The Mandrells’ show often drew as many as 40 million viewers a week. The show could have gone on a lot longer, but Barbara developed vocal strain and her doctors made her rest.
Irlene then moved on to appear on The Love Boat TV series and then the extremely popular Hee Haw TV series, which she starred in. Her TV credits continue with appearances on the Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show, several game shows, televised benefits with names such as George Lindsey, Bob Hope, and Sammy Davis Jr., and co-hosting Bright Lights & Country Nights and This Week in Country Music. Irlene also has been a model for Cover Girl Shoes, Lanne Skin Care Products, and Nine West shoes, has appeared on several outdoor shows, and is featured in “Irlene Mandrell Straight Shooter,” a segment on PBS’s Tennessee’s Wildside.
The Mandrells are a talented family, and they also passionately love the outdoors. Irlene is proficient with handgun, rifle, crossbow, and shotgun, and has hunted extensively in North America, as well as Africa and South America . When we spoke recently she crooned about her new Beretta shotgun that she uses when she teaches sporting clays classes, as well as for hunting.
Some celebrities just want to be celebrities and soak up the goodies. Others like to use their celebrity to promote worthy causes. Irlene is an active member of Quail Unlimited, Buckmasters, NRA, Safari Club International, and the National Wild Turkey Federation and has served several years at the Sportsmen Against Hunger banquet.
I got to know Irlene during the 14 years that she hosted the annual Irlene Mandrell Celebrity Shoot, which contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Wish-Upon-A-Star and Boy Scouts of America. Barbara and Louise joined Irlene’s shooters nearly every year, along with Nashville musicians such as Blake Shelton and T.J. Klay; Hollywood actors Tim Abell, Leslie Easterbrook, Johnny DiSanti, John D’Acquino, Marshall and Lindy Teague, Marty Kove, Anne Lockhart, Scott Beringer, and yah, yours truly; outdoor TV hosts Jeff and Sherol Engel, and Mike Rogers; custom knife makers Chuck Stapel and Ross Tyson; and artist/actor Ray Kelly, etc. The last celebrity shoot was in 2010, and it honored her father, Irby, who passed away at age 84 in 2009 (pdf).
Irlene says that she won’t endorse anything unless she tries it out first. She has been a spokesman for outdoor sports companies, including Smith & Wesson, CZ-USA, She Safari, Horton Crossbows, DRT Ammo, Wild Ride Beef Jerky, and Deerassic.
When we talked she was very enthusiastic about the frangible rifle and pistol ammunition made by DRT (Dynamic Research Technologies): bullets that break apart on penetration of organic targets and return to their original powder form, yet still have potent effects on the target. Used by the military and law enforcement since 2005, the high density bullets have another important value: if they hit a hard substance like rock or steel, they disintegrate, which reduces risk of ricochet.
Using DRT cartridges, Irlene has taken gemsbok, kudu, wildebeest, and Coues deer. In testing DRT ammo, Irlene said that she was amazed at how accurate it can be, even with windy conditions. She enjoys long distance shooting and has made bulls-eyes out to 750 yards with DRT. Others, she said, have made incredible shots out to 1000 yards with DRT.
Irlene is a busy lady with a lot of irons in the fire. She is also excited about a new reality show being developed featuring her and her three kids: daughters Vanessa (who has taken an aoudad at 200 yards with DRT) and Christine (who is skilled at handguns) and her son Deric, who she says recently beat her at shooting.
What’s the new show about? Irlene says proudly, “It is about us, love of family, working, performing — one night dressing in four-inch heels going on the red carpet and the next day going out and shooting a round of sporting clays. It’s about life and experiencing the best of everything.”
If you’d like to keep track of Irlene and her kids, they have a new website that’s under construction where you can sign up to stay tuned to the show and other activities for Irlene and the whole Mandrell clan.
Have you seen any of the Kardashians break clay pigeons, or the Housewives of Beverly Hills go hunting in Africa? Hooray for the Mandrells!