Monday, February 14, 2011

The Andrew Sisters

How many of you even know who these three ladies are or what they stood for during WWII?

I am getting ready to make some musical tins for the Jazz festival here in Coos Bay next month and I ran across this information. I didn't know the youngest Andrew sister's name is Patricia Marie....That is my name. I remember hearing my Mother listen to their music.

The sisters were born in Minnesota to a Greek immigrant father and a Norwegian American mother,Olga "Ollie" (née Sollie) Andrews (1886–1948) and Peter Andreas, who took the name of Andrews (1884–1949).

Patty, the youngest and the lead singer of the group, was only seven when the group was formed, and just 12 when they won first prize at a talent contest at the local Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, where LaVerne played piano accompaniment for the silent film showings in exchange for free dancing lessons for herself and her sisters. Once the sisters found fame and settled in California, their parents lived with them in a Brentwood estate in Los Angeles until their deaths. Several cousins from Minnesota followed them west. The sisters returned to Minneapolis at least once a year to visit family and friends and/or to perform.

Career

They started their career as imitators of an earlier successful singing group, the Boswell Sisters. After singing with various dance bands and touring in vaudeville with the likes of Ted Mack, Leon Belasco, and comic bandleader Larry Rich, they first came to national attention with their recordings and radio broadcasts in 1937, most notably via their major Decca record hit, Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (translation: To me, you are beautiful), originally a Yiddish tune, the lyrics of which Sammy Cahn had translated to English and which the girls harmonized to perfection. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by 1940.

World War II

During World War II, they entertained the Allied forces extensively in America, Africa and Italy, visiting Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases, war zones, hospitals, and munitions factories. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchase war bonds with their rendition of Irving Berlin's song Any Bonds Today?. They also helped actors Bette Davis and John Garfield found California's famous Hollywood Canteen, a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their personal time to sing for and dance with soldiers, sailors and Marines (they did the same at New York City's Stage Door Canteen during the war). While touring, they often treated three random servicemen to dinner when they were dining out. They recorded a series of Victory Discs (V-Discs) for distribution to Allied fighting forces only, again volunteering their time for studio sessions for the Music Branch, Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces, and they were dubbed the "Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service" for their many appearances on shows like "Command Performance", "Mail Call", and "G.I. Journal." Perhaps only Bob Hope and his troupe did more to entertain the troops.

Career interruption

The Andrews Sisters broke up in 1953, the main catalyst being Patty's decision to go solo, with her husband acting as her agent. When Maxene and LaVerne learned of Patty's decision from newspaper gossip columns rather than from their own sister, it caused a bitter two-year separation, especially when Patty decided to worsen matters by suing LaVerne for a larger share of their parents' estate. Maxene and LaVerne tried to continue the act as a duo and met with good press during a 10-day tour of Australia, but a reported suicide attempt by Maxene in December, 1954 put a halt to any further tours (Maxene spent a short time in hospital after swallowing 18 sleeping pills, an occurrence that LaVerne told reporters was an accident).

The trio reunited in 1956. They signed a new recording contract with Capitol Records (for whom Patty had become a featured soloist) and released a dozen singles through 1959, some rock-and-roll flavored and not very well received, and three hi-fi albums, including a vibrant LP of songs from the dancing 1920s with Billy May's orchestra. In 1962, they signed with Dot Records and recorded a series of stereo albums over five years, both re-recordings of earlier hits, as well as new material, including "I Left My Heart In San Francisco", "Still", "The End of the World", "Puff the Magic Dragon", "Sailor", "Satin Doll", the theme from Come September, and the theme from A Man and a Woman. They toured extensively during the 1960s, favoring top nightclubs in Las Vegas, Nevada, California and London, England.

The act came to an abrupt end in 1967 when eldest sister LaVerne died of cancer after a year-long bout with the illness,[5] during which she was replaced by singer Joyce DeYoung. LaVerne had founded the original group, and often acted as the peacemaker among the three during the sisters' lives, more often siding with her parents, to whom the girls were extremely devoted, than with either of her sisters. Once LaVerne was dead, Maxene saw no need to continue as a duo (she taught acting, drama, and speech at a Lake Tahoe college and worked with troubled teens), and Patty was once again eager to be a soloist.

Comeback

Both surviving sisters had something of a comeback when Bette Midler recorded her own version of their song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in 1972. Their most notable comeback, however, was in the Sherman Brothers' nostalgic World War II musical: "Over Here!" which premiered on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre in 1974 to rave reviews. This was a follow-up to Patty's success in "Victory Canteen" a 1971 California revue. The musical starred Maxene and Patty (with Janie Sell filling in for LaVerne and winning a Tony Award for her performance) and was written with both sisters in mind for the leads. It launched the careers of many now notable theater, film and television icons (John Travolta, Marilu Henner, Treat Williams, Ann Reinking, et al.). It was the last major hurrah for the sisters and was cut short due to a lawsuit initiated by Patty's husband against the show's producers, squashing an extensively scheduled road tour for the company, including the sisters.

Patty immediately distanced herself from Maxene, who claimed until her death that she was not aware of Patty's motives regarding the separation. She appealed to Patty for a reunion, personally if not professionally, both in public and in private, but to no avail. Maxene suffered a serious heart attack while performing in Illinois in 1982 and underwent quadruple bypass surgery, from which she successfully recovered. Patty visited her sister while she was hospitalized. Now sometimes appearing as "Patti" (but still signing autographs as "Patty") she re-emerged in the late 1970s as a regular panelist on The Gong Show. Maxene had a very successful comeback as a cabaret soloist in 1979 and toured worldwide for the next 15 years, recording a solo album in 1985 entitled "Maxene: An Andrews Sister" for Bainbridge Records. Patty started her own solo act in 1981, but did not receive the critical acclaim her sister had for her performances, even though it was Patty who was considered to be the "star" of the group for years. The critics' major complaint was that Patty's show concentrated too much on Andrews Sisters material, which did not allow Patty's own talents as a very expressive and bluesy vocalist to shine through.

The two sisters did reunite, albeit briefly, on October 1, 1987 when they received a star on Hollywood's famous Walk of Fame, even singing a few bars of "Beer Barrel Polka" for the Entertainment Tonight cameras. Ironically, an earthquake shook the area that very morning and the ceremony was nearly canceled, which caused Patty to joke, "Some people said that earthquake this morning was LaVerne because she couldn't be here, but really it was just Maxene and I on the telephone." Both sisters laughed and shared a hug. Besides this, and a few brief private encounters, they remained somewhat estranged for the last few years.

Shortly after her Off-Broadway debut in New York City in a show called Swingtime Canteen, Maxene suffered another heart attack and died at Cape Cod Hospital on October 21, 1995. Not long before she died, Maxene told music historian William Ruhlmann, "I have nothing to regret. We got on the carousel and we each got the ring and I was satisfied with that. There's nothing I would do to change things if I could...Yes, I would. I wish I had the ability and the power to bridge the gap between my relationship with my sister, Patty. Upon hearing the news of her sister's death, Patty became very distraught. As her husband Wally went to her, he fell on a flight of stairs and broke both wrists. Patty did not attend her sister's memorial services in New York, nor in California. Said Bob Hope of Maxene's passing, "She was more than part of The Andrews Sisters, much more than a singer. She was a warm and wonderful lady who shared her talent and wisdom with others."

5 comments:

Junibears said...

Thank you dear Patti for the trip down memory lane. Of course I can remember the Andrews sister but it was so interesting to read their complete bio. Thank you. Hugs xx

artistamyjo said...

Thanks Patti..I sure do remember them and loved the memories this brought back...hugs

THE OLD GEEZER said...

The Andrew Sisters were great! Every once and a while you can watch one of their old movies on TCM. Thanks for the memory :-)

Take care and have a blessed week :-)

~Ron
*******

BECKY said...

Hi! I'm here via Mya's "Elbows on my windowsill" blog. When I saw your icon of The Andrews Sisters, I just had to pop over here. I remember the Andrews Sisters from their movies being on TV. I particularly loved them in one or two with Abbott and Costello! I was thrilled when Bette Midler came out with "Boogey Woogey Bugle Boys"...I still have that old LP! I had much older sisters, too, and I'm sure I heard The Andrews Sisters records being played on our Hi-fi when I was a little girl.

Mya said...

Oh, I remember them well. My parents talked of them and they were occasionally on tv when I was growing up. My father was a pianist so when my parents entertained everyone would often end up standing around the piano singing. Many, many times the songs were ones that had been popular during the war, so of course many of the songs that were associated with the Andrew sisters wee included. In May I posted a video of them singing.
It was fun to read their history - Thank you.