Patty Andrews: Last Surviving member of The Andrews Sisters dead at 94
Patty Andrews, the lead vocalist and last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters musical trio, died of “natural causes” earlier today at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, in the San Fernando Valley. Andrews, who was also the youngest sister, was 94.
Born in Minnesota into a Greek-Norwegian family, the Andrews Sisters began their show business career in the early 1930s, while both Maxene and Patty were still teenagers. Their first big hit came out in 1938: the English version of the Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” (a.k.a. “Bei mir bist du schön”), with lyrics – “To me, you’re grand” – by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. (The song made into the movies that same year, but Warner Bros. star Priscilla Lane is the one singing it in Love, Honor and Behave.)
From 1938 to 1951, The Andrews Sisters had 19 gold records, as they performed with just about every top talent of the era, from Al Jolson and Bing Crosby to Danny Kaye and Carmen Miranda. Their song hits included “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Rum and Coca Cola,” “Strip Polka,” “Shoo-Shoo Baby,” “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time,” and another import, the Brazilian ditty “Aurora.”
The Andrews Sisters movies
The popularity of the Andrews Sisters reached its peak during World War II, when they were featured, as themselves, in about a dozen movies, mostly at Universal. At that studio, they provided musical support to the likes of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Buck Privates (1941), In the Navy (1941), and Hold That Ghost (1941). They also played leads or semi-leads – once again, as themselves – in Universal’s B musicals such as Give Out, Sisters (1942), Private Buckaroo (1942), and What’s Cookin’? (1943), all three directed by Edward F. Cline.
Written by Hugh Prince and Don Raye, and performed in In the Navy (1941), the megahit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” was nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award. That year’s controversial winner was Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which had not been written for MGM’s Eleanor Powell / Ann Sothern / Robert Young comedy-musical Lady Be Good.
The Andrews Sisters, who frequently entertained U.S. soldiers, also played themselves in the all-star rally Follow the Boys (1944), which featured, among others, Jeanette MacDonald, Dinah Shore, George Raft, and Marlene Dietrich getting sawed in half by Orson Welles. At Warner Bros., they could be spotted in another all-star musical extravaganza, Hollywood Canteen (1944), and at Paramount sang in the Bing Crosby / Dorothy Lamour / Bob Hope musical Road to Rio (1947), their last movie appearance together.
Additionally, Patty Andrews was briefly featured in two latter-day cameos: In Lee H. Katzin’s The Phynx (1970), about a rock band enmeshed in foreign intrigue, and in which Andrews is seen alongside a whole array of oldtimers, from director-choreographer Busby Berkeley to Gone with the Wind‘s Butterfly McQueen; and Chuck Barris’ The Gong Show Movie (1980), a now largely forgotten B comedy co-written by Barris and Robert Downey Jr’s father (that’s Robert Downey).
Patty Andrews Returns: Bette Midler revives the Andrews Sisters’ song ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B’
In 1974, a year after Bette Midler repopularized “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” Maxene and Patty Andrews reunited for the World War II Broadway musical Over Here. (LaVerne Andrews had died in 1967.) With a score by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and book by Will Holt, Over Here, a mix of rose-colored nostalgia and social criticism, ran for a year. (Image: The older Patty Andrews.)
Three years earlier, Patty Andrews had starred off-Broadway in the Sherman brothers’ Victory Canteen, a sort of prequel to Over Here. The show, also featuring Sherry Alberoni, Lorene Yarnell, and Anson Williams, ran for seven months.
Rift between Maxene and Patty Andrews
Following that last major hit, the two surviving Andrews sisters, both San Fernando Valley residents, went their own way. According to reports, in the two decades preceding Maxene Andrews’ death in 1995, Patty Andrews only saw her twice: when Maxene suffered a heart attack in 1982 and, five years later, at a Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in dedication to their star.
Reasons for the rift vary: Some blamed a dispute between Maxene and Patty’s second husband, Walter Weschler, the Andrews Sisters’ conductor and arranger. Maxene Andrews told the Los Angeles Times that the problem had been a lack of “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.”
Patty Andrews, for her part, blamed Maxene, saying “Ever since I was born, Maxene has been a problem, and that problem hasn’t stopped.”
She refused to provide any more details, apparently so as not to dispel the illusions of those unable to tell the difference between make-believe public personas and behind-the-scenes reality: “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?”
Patty Andrews was initially married to agent Martin Melcher. The couple were divorced in 1950, when Melcher left her for Doris Day, then an up-and-coming Warner Bros. star. Andrews married Weschler in 1951; the couple remained married until his death in 2010.
Even though I grew up years after their success, having been born in 1963, my father grew up and even fraught in the Second World War when the Andrews sisters were behaving themselves and were at their piqué so it was through my father, may God rest his soul, that I got to know and really enjoy the “Big Band Era.” The Andrews sisters were among my favorites. They could sing the phone book and I would earnestly listen. To this very day, the only female vocal group who I can say could hold their own against them for female harmonization is “Wilson Philips.” One of the few hold-overs from that great bygone era has lessened even more the few that are left from that time. Off the top of my head, the only ones that I can think of from that era of entertainment is Shirley Temple who had the luxury of youth on her side since she, of course, started out in the entertainment profession at an extremely early age. Rest in peace, Ms. Andrews. Thank you for being a part of the music of my life, music that I will continue to cherish for however long my life may be.
Always liked their song and dance with Bing in "Road to Rio"!