The Andrews Sisters (1943)
Billboard – June 26, 1943
The Andrews Sisters — Maxene, Patty and LaVerne — comprise one of the top singing trios in the country. The girls started out in show business at an early age, making their debut in a kiddie review in Minneapolis, their home town.
The singing sisters did their first professional work with the bands of Larry Rich and Leon Belasco. In 1937, they quit Belasco to set out on their own. Their waxing of “Bel Mir Bist Du Schoen,” which came out that year, was the first notch in their steady rise to success.
Since they set out independently, the three sisters have made rapid strides on records, in movies and on the air.
The girls, who are under contract to Universal Pictures, have appeared in a long string of films, and are currently being seen in “How’s About It.” “Always a Bridesmaid,” their latest flicker, will be released this summer.
Their radio shows include the Wrigley Program, Phil Baker, Chesterfield program, Edgar Bergen, Fitch Bandwagon, and Holland Furnace program with Benny Goodman band.
The trio recently concluded a nationwide theater tour, playing shows at service camps and hospitals in every city. They are currently playing their fifth return engagement at the Paramount Theater, New York.
The Andrews Sisters: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (video)
About the Andrews Sisters: Their history, their career, and their breakup (1954)
By Dick Connor, Hollywood – St Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) September 5, 1954
TIN PAN ALLEY is one of the toughest streets in the world. It is a boulevard of broken dreams that stretches from Broadway in New York to North Vine in Hollywood, and on it, they manufacture — or create, if you prefer — the songs America sings.
Not the least important figures on this imaginary, crazy, mixed-up street are — and have been for many years, the Andrews Sisters. They were three, now they are two, and therein lies a tragedy.
They were three little girls from Minneapolis, who resolved when they were very young — about the time most children are reading the Bobbsey Twins — that they were going to be the greatest girl singing trio that ever hit the boards.
They saw their ambitions realized, but like most success stories, theirs has just about as much heartbreak in it as happiness.
Relations between three sisters with different personalities are nearly always likely to be a matter of tears and hair-pulling, and frankly, the story of the Andrews Sisters will never rival “Little Women” in saccharine content.
Four marriages and two divorces among the three have resulted in moments of extreme strain. And right now the house of Andrews is sorely divided.
Patty, the blonde and youngest sister, has gone on her own. LaVerne and Maxene want her back. A combination that has reaped a multi-million dollar harvest on jukeboxes, the radio and the screen has been broken up.
THE attitude of LaVerne and Maxene was summed up the other day when the latter said: “All we want is our sister back, just as our sister.”
“Breaking up the act” is a recurring tragedy in show business, especially after success brings its sweet and then bitter rewards. When it involves a family as well as a business relationship, the tragedy is compounded.
The story of the Andrews Sisters started back in the darkest days of the Great Depression of the early 1930s. They were the only three surviving children of seven born to Pete and Ollie Andrews.
Pete was a hot-tempered Greek, who was violently opposed to any daughters of his even thinking about appearing behind the footlights. Their mother, Ollie, was a Norwegian, with just as much determination in her system as there was temper in her husband’s.
Any man with four determined females stacked against him generally loses the argument. And so the Andrews Sisters broke into show business when LaVerne was 11, Maxene was 9, and Patty was 7.
Every day when they returned home from school they rehearsed songs, those frenetic jazz numbers that characterized the late twenties. All of them were born with a “fantastic” — their word — ear for music. They could hear a song once and sing it without even a glance at the sheet music.
“We were influenced by the Boswell sisters,” LaVerne says. “Influenced! We did our best to copy them down to the last syllable!”
IT WAS as a lusty-lunged, juvenile version of the Boswells that they first appeared before a paying audience in a Minneapolis “kiddie revue.” They ripped off “Sing You Sinners” and “The Sunny Side of the Street.”
They must have been a little better than the average little monsters inflicting themselves on the public, because they kept going. But it took seven years for the three teenagers to make the big time. During that period, they often lived on a dollar a day plus what they could wangle out of their testy father.
They hit the Orpheum circuit, singing and dancing, as part of a show headlined by an entrepreneur named Larry Rich, who taught them a lot about the mechanics of show business.
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“He taught us how to sell ourselves to an audience,” LaVerne recalls. “He taught us the magic trick of timing, which makes all the difference between an amateur and a professional. He taught us how to get on and off. And he taught us the most important thing of all: how to sell a song.”
When the show folded in New York, Rich sternly told the girls to go home, but they defied him and their parents and holed up in one of those theatrical hotels in Times Square.
They caught on with another revue, this time the one headed by Joe E. Howard, another hard taskmaster, but an able teacher.
‘He taught us how to sing the lyrics and not mess up a song with a lot of fancy stuff,” LaVerne says. ”He made us realize that we had to sing in the same style that a trumpet player plays the trumpet, clear and true.”
NEXT, they appeared with a troupe headed by Ted Mack, now a television star. The show folded in Denver. That was in 1934.
The threesome’s father came out to Denver to bring them home. Somewhere between there and Minneapolis, he was persuaded that all the family’s fortunes should be tied to the girls’ careers as entertainers.
“We moved to Chicago and lived in a hotel on the North Side, working in night clubs and waiting for a real break. Our father brought us to work and waited until we were ready to go home,” LaVerne remembers.
“Judy Gumm and her sisters were living at the same hotel. She’s a lot better known now as Judy Garland. We used to fight over which of us sister acts would use the rehearsal room at the hotel. We solved that by having Maxene get up at 7 o’clock in the morning and seize the place until Patty and I got up.”
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That was in the Depression, when they were making $35 a week singing at the Hi-Hat Club in Chicago. Then, in 1937, with success apparently still far off, their father decided it was best to return to Minneapolis and forget about their hopes of seeing their names in the lights of a marquee.
They talked him into giving them three more months in New York to make the grade or come home and learn the art of housekeeping.
It was not long after that — with the chips down — that they sang an old Yiddish melody titled “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” and began taking in money by the bale.
The Andrews Sisters received a flat $50 for making it — split three ways, of course — but it was their ticket on the gravy train. It also introduced them to the late Jack Kapp, president of Decca, whom they credit with providing much of the advice and impetus for the successful phase of their career.
And it brought them man trouble in wholesale lots.
It would appear to the outsider that every time one of the girls fell in love there was violent reaction in the family circle. The Andrews were and are a vivid, full-blooded collection of individuals. None is so faint-hearted as to yield the right of way to another without a rousing debate.
Patty, the youngest, who finally broke up the sister act, and Maxene, the second oldest, were always very close. LaVerne was closer to her parents.
But no matter what temperamental explosions developed, the girls stuck together. For instance, about 1940 Patty fell in love with Vic Schoen, who had been their arranger for several years. And Maxene fell in love with Lou Levy, who became their manager in the latter part of 1937 after hearing them on a nighttime radio broadcast for which they received $15.
Both Patty and Maxene, confronted with their elder sisters’ and parents’ objections to the romance, left home. Patty’s romance flickered out but Maxene eloped with Levy in 1941 to Elkton, Md., the eastern seaboard’s version of Las Vegas. Neither of her sisters knew about the marriage until several months later.
Maxene’s marriage to Levy ended in divorce several years ago. The black-eyed Maxene is the unreservedly proud mother of an adopted boy and girl. But her marriage ended most bitterly.
In 1952, Levy sued her and her sisters — by that time they had combined gross earnings of more than $5,000,000 — for a share of the take. He claimed that they were refusing to assign their $500,000-a-year income to the Andrews Sisters Corp., of which he was business manager and a director.
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BLONDE Patty, meanwhile, Bus having new emotional difficulties. She was married first to Marty Melcher, also an agent. That was in 1947. Three years later, she divorced Melcher, who soon became the husband of singing star Doris Day.
Patty remarried shortly after the divorce became final. Her new husband was Walter Wechsler, who had been the sisters’ accompanist for seven years.
This marriage took place at the home of her sister LaVerne, with only members of their families present, and the honeymoon was in Las Vegas, where Patty and her two sisters had to fulfill a singing engagement.
LaVerne, eldest of the sisters, lived with their parents until she married Lou Rogers, music company executive in 1948. She is still happily married.
During the first days of World War II, the Andrews Sisters became a household name in the United States, and all over the non-Fascist and non-Soviet world. Their energetic interpretations of songs during that post-big apple era became a sort of hallmark.
One of the big hits of those years was their rendition of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.” This might have been one of those wistful songs like “Tipperary” and “Tenting Tonight,” which epitomized other wars and other generations — except that the sisters sang it to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in a little picture called “Buck Privates.”
SOON, it seemed, the Andrews Sisters were appearing in just about two out of three pictures made on their home lot, Universal Pictures. ‘The movies did much to make them one of the most celebrated and sought-after combinations on Tin Pan Alley.
They recorded 582 “sides” and sold 30,000,000 records. Seven times they received gold records symbolizing their achievement in selling a million or more records annually. They played the Palladium in London in 1948 and 1951.
Outside of heartaches in their personal lives — to which were added the deaths of their mother in 1948 and their father in 1949 — they seemed to be doing fine, until January of this year .
That’s when Maxene and LaVerne learned that Patty was “going solo.” Since then she has appeared solo at a Las Vegas night club and made a pilot film for television with Bob Crosby.
Like many others in a similar situation, Patty felt that she was being held back from ”developing as an artist” while tied to her sisters’ apron strings.
“We’ve done everything,” she said. “Toured Europe. Done records and movies. Made a lot of money. But we could go no farther. I’d sung with my sisters since I was a kid of 12. Doing a single gives me a chance to do something new. Any girl who has sisters would understand.”
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Her sisters LaVerne and Maxene heard the news, indirectly, in what they describe as a state of shock.
“It left us way out in left field,” Maxene says. She played the lead, the Mary Martin role, in “One Touch of Venus,” this summer in Sacramento, but can’t see a professional future without her sisters.
And her sister LaVerne points out, “We’ve been together since childhood, missed meals together, huddled together in the same bed as scared and worried kids, we’d been together so long we worked as one person: we thought identically, even made the same mistakes simultaneously.
“There was a blending, our voices balanced perfectly. We always built our performances around Patty. She carried the melody while we filled in with the harmony.”
MAXENE and LaVerne have given up any idea of filling up the gap with another girl.
“We want to think this thing out rationally,” they say.
Whatever Patty’s prospects, show business has a superstitious feeling about breaking up a successful act. It rarely works out. One combined success can turn into three individual failures.
When the Andrews Sisters — all three — played Las Vegas a few years ago, they drew down $15,000 a week for a four-week stand. Patty alone played there only a week, and got only $1500.
In the summer of their discontent, Maxene and LaVerne have learned to fill in their time without the excitement of being part of a top theatrical team. Besides taking a fling at musical comedy, Maxene has busied herself with her Chatsworth ranch and her two adopted children, Peter, 7, and Aleda, 9.
LaVerne has become somewhat fascinated with the problems of housekeeping, learning how to run her Brentwood home with only occasional help from servants.
LaVerne and Maxene also made a pilgrimage back to Minnesota for the first time in many years. They brought back with them the orange and green — and now faded and slightly torn — dresses they wore when they faced the footlights for the first time. The dresses remind them of a constantly recurring wish:
“We want our sister back, as our sister, if not as a member of the team.”
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