Patty Andrews died 30 January, the last survivor among the singing Andrews Sisters who seemed as much a part of America's World War II memories as the names of the war's key battles and operations. Indeed, she was the sister to whom it fell to tell an audience of GIs in Italy that the war was, officially, over.
The sisters were performing at a USO show before five thousand American troops when the post commander stopped the show and handed the trio a note. The note was passed to Patty Andrews, the trio's lead singer, such as she was. (The sisters' harmonies were so tight and incessant—the cliché about them became that they'd been arranged like the human equivalent of three trumpets—you could, and often did, forget the occasional solo voice in certain portions of their repertoire.)
What happened next was something neither the sisters nor those who were there would ever forget: the note said the war was finally over, officially and for all time. “At first,” sister Maxene would tell the Los Angeles Times years later, “there was dead silence. Then, Patty repeated the message. 'This is really true,' she told them, and she started to cry. Suddenly there was a roar. They knew they would be going home, and they did.”
There would be private anguish among the trio after over a decade of success as, arguably, the nation's most successful singing group, perhaps best expressed when Maxene Andrews told the Times the very thing that made the Andrews Sisters such a hit may also have been the thing that pried them apart, notwithstanding a later attempt to reunite in which they recorded satisfying but unsuccessful albums:
There was really no breathing room. We ate together, slept together, went out socially together. If we were going someplace, we got in the car together . . . You can see how glued we were. There had to be a breaking point.
Others would cite some professional jealousies, still others would cite a falling-out between Patty and Maxene in the 1970s, which ended a surprise success on Broadway and may or may not have rooted in a disagreement between Maxene and Walter Wechsler, the trio's arranger and, perhaps not coincidentally, Patty's second husband. (Her first, Marty Melcher, threw her over for Doris Day years earlier; the second marriage endured until his death in 2010.)
For her part, Patty wouldn't talk about the rift publicly, and her best-recalled comment about it may amplify the lack of breathing room Maxene cited: the image of the sisters as sisters being so taut even they had to wonder whether or if they could be seen as individual women:
I'm not going to do anything or say anything to destroy that image that the people love. I hear that from the people that they love the Andrews Sisters and it's a joy to them. Who am I to take that away?
What isn't always remembered about the trio: They were almost radio stars in the bargain. Their image as wartime sweethearts who hit the road for the troops and the USO and in several low-budget movies was so indelible it would be come easy to forget that, once upon a time, Radio Life could and did say of them, “You'd have to be a hermit to escape them.” By the time they actually did get their own show in late 1944, the Andrews Sisters had a resume that included more radio air time, possibly, than some of the medium's biggest hits, including being featured on a CBS show for Dole pineapple products and, in short order, on several of Glenn Miller's Chesterfield Supper Club shows.
They finally starred in their own show, sponsored by Nash-Kelvinator, and sometimes remembered as Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch, beginning in December 1944. It cast them often enough as singing ranchers heavy on the somewhat corny Western themes in the dialogue (Gabby Hayes co-starred as their foreman) and generous in singing selections, not to mention generous in more than a few top-flight guests the like of which included Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Georgie Jessel, Ray Noble, the Mills Brothers, and Abbott & Costello (with whom they did a movie or three, most notably Buck Privates).
The problem, seemingly, was extremely derivative writing. You could almost make a parlour game out of identifying the sources of several of the jokes with which the sisters and their cast were draped. Their writers were far from the only ones borrowing gags, of course, and the sisters' breezy style generally acquits them as good, clean, harmless fun, but as comediennes the Andrews Sisters—who were so much funnier with their between-song bits on stage—were singular harmony singers.
Perhaps the sisters figured this out soon enough; their second and final season would hew to a more standard musical variety format, with little attempt to play on the sisters' dialogues, which may have been a mistake considering how snappy they were when being spontaneous onstage. But for the exuberant music performances the survivors from 1945-46 are the shows you want.
Perhaps, too, a saturation factor married to the end of the war came into play. The Andrews' radio show under their own name didn't make it past 27 March 1946 (it wasn't even a factor in the season's top fifty ratings, never mind on Wednesday nights); their run as serious, best-selling recording stars would end for all intent and purposes within the following four years.
In memory of Patty Andrews and her sisters, the best of their short-lived radio show under their own name:
The Andrews Sisters (Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch): Guest—Frank Sinatra (Blue Network, 4 March 1945)—Catching cattle rustlers needs a “big, strong man” such as Ol' Blue Eyes—who isn't exactly the big strong man type just yet, but who is visiting the ranch ready to re-construct the crime. You can feel both Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters being sports about it. Cast: Gabby Hayes, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, Marvin Miller. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Orchestra: Vic Schoen. Writers: Unidentified.
The Andrews Sisters (The Nash-Kelvinator Showroom): Guests—Abbott & Costello (CBS, 28 November 1945)—The sisters sometimes seem indelibly linked to Abbott & Costello, thanks to their movies together (Buck Privates in particular)—and singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (which was a hit in Buck Privates) live tonight won't erase the connection too readily. But the Green Room segment (a feature on this version of the show) features Abbott & Costello performing (the umpteen-thousandth version?) of “Who's on First,” with a few interesting variations to keep it from making you think you'd heard it better. Also: Patty Andrews and Curt Massey duet singing “Soon, Soon, Soon”; and, the sisters, Massey, and the Ambassadors have a whack at “The Navajo Trail.” Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Orchestra: Vic Schoen. Writers: Unidentified. (Warning: A few skips in the surviving transcription disc.)
The Andrews Sisters (The Nash-Kelvinator Showroom): Guest—Xavier Cugat (CBS, 5 November 1945)—Credited as a pioneer (albeit a highly commercialised one) of bringing Latinesque music into the American mainstream, Cugat delivers a lively if occasionally too slick version of the hit that, arguably, made his name in the United States, “Tico, Tico” in the Green Room segment. Meanwhile, the sisters kick off a version of “Sunny Side of the Street” with enough zip to make you wonder whether Tommy Dorsey wouldn't have been better off with them featuring on his hit version (featuring the Sentimentalists) of a couple of years earlier. Also: Curt Massey sings “I Can't Begin to Tell You”; the sisters deliver a version of “Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar” that might outdo their original recording for verve; and, a particularly passionate “Did You Ever Get That Feeling in the Moonlight”; and, Massey joins the sisters for “No Can Do” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.” Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Orchestra: Vic Schoen. Writers: Unidentified.