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Farewell to a legend: A conversation with Andy Williams, August 2011, Part 2

Andy Williams Moon River Theatre was featured in Architectural Digest magazine and won the 1992 Conservation award from the state of Missouri.
Andy Williams Moon River Theatre was featured in Architectural Digest magazine and won the 1992 Conservation award from the state of Missouri.
Andy Williams Moon River Theatre, Branson, Missouri

Part 2 of 4: A Conversation with Andy Williams, August 2011

Julie Catalano: By the way, I read your book over the weekend [“Moon River and Me,” Viking, 2009]. Fabulous book. I planned to skim through it and I ended up reading it cover to cover. I wasn't prepared for it to be as funny as it was. I enjoyed reading about your pre-show ritual.

Here he pretends to be warming up, with bellowing bovine sounds: “MMMMoooo. MMMoooooo.” He pauses. “That gets your vocal chords going.” He sings, “MMMooooooon Riiiivvvver. Moo.”

JC: See, even “moo” sounds good coming from you. How are your vocal cords by the way? You had a little scare not too long ago [1999].

AW: Yeah I had a little scare. I had a node on my vocal cords from singing when I had laryngitis and didn't want to disappoint all the people who were out there and sang really hard to get through it, and I got a node. I didn't work for about eight months, and it went away, and that way I didn't have to have an operation.

JC: Besides golf, how do you stay in shape?

AW: I walk every morning that I don't play golf. We play golf at 6:45 in the morning and we're through by 10.

JC: From the Ann-Margret show you have a little break then you go right into your Christmas special in November, correct?

AW: Yes, six weeks. That's a little harder for me than the one with Ann because there isn't much time that I'm not on the stage. That's harder and longer, more stage time, and that's fun. Christmas music is always great. And then we have different stage setup, children, costumes. It's really a beautiful show.

JC: You know we hear the song “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” about four million times between Halloween and New Year's.

AW: Fortunately for me, I published that. But only because it was written for me for my show, and all special material automatically went into my publishing company. Didn't mean anything for years and years, and now it's become, I think, one of the top ten Christmas songs of all time.

JC: Does your family appear with you in your Christmas special?

AW: No. My oldest brother is gone. My two other brothers, one of them lives in California, and one of them lives here. But they're all in their 80s, and they haven't sung in 30 years. It's hard enough for me and I sing all the time.

JC: Do you sing every day?

AW: Most days. I have to keep my voice going.

JC: On to Branson. What did your friends and family say when you mentioned this small town in Missouri for the first time.

AW: They thought I was absolutely nuts. The day we got married I told my wife [Debbie] that we were going to move from our penthouse in New York. We had a beautiful place, and a beautiful place in California. I said, we're moving to Branson, Missouri, and she said, what's the matter with you? I said I'm tired of doing Vegas and being on the road, I want to go and build a theatre. I had been down there a few weeks before and talked to my brother Don who was a manager of Ray Stevens, and Ray Stevens had opened a theatre here. Don said you really ought to come down and open a theatre. So I did. And everybody – my agents, my managers, everybody thought I was nuts. And I probably was, except that it worked out.

JC: I imagine your wife heard the theme from “Green Acres” playing in her head?

AW: [laughs] Now she loves it. She has a ranch and has horses and cattle.

JC: I found it remarkable that you did jump right in. You didn't do a test run, or focus groups.

AW: I probably should have. But my brother Don said, Listen, they've seen you on television for 10 years or more, and even though they're country they may have even bought your records, you sold 50 million albums. So I took a shot. He said if you get 10 percent of the people who come here, at that time there were four million coming to Branson, now there are over seven. But if I got 400,000, 10 percent of those four million, I would fill [the theatre] up. So I took his word for it and he was right.

JC: Do you remember what the very first show was like?

AW: Yes. Henry Mancini came in to do it. That was the only guest I had. Just Henry.

JC: Well, that's all you need.

AW: Yeah, that's right.

JC: I saw him in concert when I was a teenager. Were you close to him up until his death?

AW: Very close. We did a lot of tours together.

JC: Do you have a favorite story about him?

AW: Oh I loved him. He was very witty, very dry sense of humor, made me laugh a lot. And on the road he was always on time, always there, very dependable. Funny. Nicest guy. We shared suites together on the road and on tours in Europe, and Japan. He was a good friend.

JC: How have the Branson audiences evolved over the years, or have they?

AW: They're somewhat different in that this is no longer just country [music]. There are a lot of other things happening here. There are a lot of people who are in town who aren't country fans, they've come in to see me or to see other people in town that aren't country, and see other shows that aren't country shows. Then the country fans come to see me and see other people that aren't necessarily country.

JC: Do you go to any of the shows in Branson?

AW: I've gone to all of them. Over the years, and especially the first year I was here. I went to every one that I could see, make sure that I knew what was going on in town, what they were doing.

JC: Do you now perform anywhere outside of Branson?

AW: No. I did up until this year [2011]. After the Christmas show, I did a tour of about 10 or 15 cities and now I've stopped that. I liked to do the Christmas shows away from here too, because a lot of those people hadn't seen me or the Christmas show since the old television days. It was fun to do, but I just decided this year I've had enough traveling.

Next, Part 3: Secrets to staying young, writing a book, and what makes him angry.

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