Terkel interviews Maxene Andrews of The Andrews Sisters
BROADCAST: Aug. 23, 1982 | DURATION: 00:36:00
Maxene Andrews reminisces over Andrews Sisters songs with Studs Terkel. She acknowledges the heavy influence the Boswell Sisters played in the creation of their image. She relays musical stories surrounding songs in Abbott and Costello such as "Bugle Boy" from their movie "Buck Privates". How they found the song "Mir Bist Du Schon" and Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin helped with the lyrics. How song pluggers brought The Andrews Sisters "Tip-Pi-Tin". How "Apple Blossom Time" helped an injured soldier at Oak Knoll Hospital upon his return to the states. The influence of Calypso music through the song "Rum and Coca-Cola" as brought to them by Morey Amsterdam. From Vaudeville, to the Depression, to World War II and the history of Jack and David Kapp of Decca Records, Maxene enlightens by remembering her songs.
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Studs Terkel In hearing that "Boogie Woogie Bugle, Bugle Boy", The Andrews Sisters of course, all sorts of images come to mind of another time. A time when a number of us were younger, but a certain time in America. It was during World War II. There was an excitement. There was a traumatic period and my guest is Maxene Andrews, one of the three Andrews sisters, with her sister Patty and Laverne. And in, in our hearing that, what comes to your mind? What image in hearing Bugle Boy just this moment.
Maxene Andrews Well of course when I hear "Bugle Boy", Studs, I think of Buck Privates because that's where we did the song, and it was very, it was very interesting because, see, no one vocally had really ever done boogie music. You know, it's an eight-eight beats to the bar, and it really, it really was never that easy to sing. And so it was quite a challenge for us.
Maxene Andrews That's
Studs Terkel But vocally you said, you think of Buck Privates. Suppose we set the time: the Andrews Sisters internationally known, favorites of soldiers of the time, World War II is going on. So what comes to your mind? You say Buck Private.
Studs Terkel What
Maxene Andrews It was called Buck Privates, with Abbott and Cos -- Abbott and Costello. And I, I think of, well of course my, my big, I had a great fear at that time. We had, we were living out in California and with our mother and father, and I had, of course, I had never been involved in a war. And, you know, this one was all very, very, very close and if you remember Boake Carter, you remember?
Maxene Andrews Right. Well, my father would listen to him every night. And of course the news wasn't really very happy and so I had a great fear that we were going to be involved in this war. And not only that, but I would look around on the set and see all these wonderful young men, and it would go through my mind: am I ever going to see them again?
Maxene Andrews Right.
Maxene Andrews Oh, every night, it was like religion in our home and nobody could talk. You just, we sat around and looked at the radio while Boake Carter gave out all the tremendous news. Now, it was, of course, we were so, the three of us, my sisters and I were so involved in our, in our work, that we didn't have much time to think of anything else except just getting up on the routines for the picture because this was a very big step in our career. And incidentally, Studs, I remember very distinctly the day that the war was declared because we were in Cincinnati, Ohio. And we were, we'd opened there on a Thursday and it was a big, big snowstorm. And so, but it looked like we were going to break the house record in the theater. The lines, didn't, didn't matter how cold it was or how high the snow was, people were lined up for blocks. And so every morning I'd walk and I'd get the thrill of walking over to the theater at nine o'clock in the morning and seeing the lines were already formed. And that went on for Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Now Sunday morning was the same routine with me. I got up, and I went over to the theater and there were no lines. And I thought, well now this is funny. So I walked into the theater and as usual, remember the old theaters had the doormen. Well, the doorman wasn't there. So I walked onto the stage, which was very dark, and in the distance I heard people speaking, but I couldn't distinguish what they were saying. So I walked further on the stage and they, there were the doormen and stagehands were sitting around. They just had one light and the radio was on. And it was the President. They were talking about Pearl Harbor being bombed. And I remember going over to the doorman saying, where's Pearl Harbor? I had never heard of it. And I stood there while, while, while all of the commentary was going on. And then I heard the President declare war on Japan. And I, I, I don't know if I could ever tell you what I felt. I don't even know if I could describe it myself, but it was just really devastating. And of course the rest of the week, there was no business in the theater at all because it, you know
Maxene Andrews Yes, it was, vaudeville then really really hit its peak. And of course it did help with the -- I don't, there was sort of a frenzy that went on with, with, with the people, with the young people, there was a kind of wonderful kind of gaiety. And, of course, I guess it was because there was probably more money around than there had been at that particular time. But there were, you know, records became big sellers and of course you had, that was the beginning of the--
Maxene Andrews Oh, we get started in, in, we left our hometown of Minneapolis in 1932. My sister Patty was 11, I was 13, and Laverne was not quite 16. And they were Depression, and we had to go out and work and we had the opportunity to get into show business and there
Maxene Andrews Terrible.
Maxene Andrews Oh we were kids! Oh no, that was the end of, hey Studs, that was the end of vaudeville as, as it was known in those days. That's when we, we worked with a big unit show and closed every RKO theater in the country.
Studs Terkel And
Maxine Andrews Right.
Studs Terkel Perked
Maxene Andrews Then you went where you used to do, I guess in the, in the wonderful days prior to my time, when they did two a day, then when we got into show business it was three a day and then of course vaudeville died out. And then when we went back, in the war years, we did five, six shows a day.
Maxene Andrews Yes. And, and I guess, again, it was probably because at that time we can't compare the monies that the artists are making today to what they were making then or that the, that the spending money was as free then as it is today. But they did have more money at that time than they had prior to that time.
Studs Terkel And that's the Andrews Sisters: Patty, Laverne, and you, Maxene, are associated with entertaining people during the war -- a soldier as well as civilians. The one song that any World War II vet knows would be "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree".
Maxene Andrews True.
Maxine Andrews Oh yes, we went overseas. I remember we sang it, we were up in Seattle, Washington when a whole shipload of troops went out, and we stood there in the dock. And all of those young men up there waving and yelling and screaming and we sang it. And as we sang "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree", all of the mothers and fathers and the sisters and the sweethearts sang with us to, as the ship went off to, to whatever their destination was. But you know it was wonderful because if you think of the songs then, Studs, they, they were romantic, it was always, you know, I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter. It, they, they were always the girls to the guys or the guys to the girls. And there was a wonderful feeling of, not futility, there was a wonderful feeling of love in that period. It was like the whole, it was like everybody in the United States held onto each other's hands.
Studs Terkel See, there was this national emergency, a war. And so there was a, was there a feeling of hopefulness? This is interesting. Today we know the feeling, you don't know where, this bewilderment. Do you remember? Of course you were right in the middle of life, you and your two sisters were in the midst of everything, but do you recall the feeling in the country at the time? Was it, even though there was the war on, and the dangers, of course, was there a, did you sense a hopeful feeling?
Maxene Andrews I believe so. I, I, I, I was never around anyone, or did I have myself a feeling that we were going to lose, that, you know, that this was the end of, of everything. Course, Momma used to say to us, you know, 'never be afraid' because even when she was a little girl people would say, you know, this is the end of the world or this is, and the human race goes on. And right will always right. And it's funny, but I still believe that.
Maxene Andrews Well, you know Studs, it was interesting. We had, when Decca signed us, we had, we were getting 50 dollars a record. And "Bei Mir" was our second record. In those days, the records had an A side and a B side. And Mr. Kapp who was the father--
Maxene Andrews That's right, 78's. And there was no tape in those days. And you did everything on big wax and Mr. Kapp, who was the president and founder of Decca Records, called one day and said to us that, he said, 'I've got a hit song for you, and I want you to get up on it right away. And it's from a movie called Wake Up and Live'. And he said 'The name of the song is "Nice Work If You Can Get It". And I want you to go out and get up on it but immediately'. But we didn't have a B side, that was going to be the A said, we didn't have a B side. So we looked around and looked around and looked around and finally a young man who eventually became our manager said he had a, a song that, if there was an English lyric, he thought that maybe it would be a wonderful song if we did a nightclub act in New York because it was a Jewish melody, or I think he said it was a Yiddish melody and he said it was like a lullaby. And he said when you work in New York with the big Jewish population, you'll be a big smash. So, but there weren't any English lyrics so he taught us "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" in Yiddish phonetically and we walked into the studio, we did "Nice Work If You Can Get It", and then we did "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön". Now sitting in the aud -- in the, in the studio was Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin.
Maxene Andrews And yes, the songwriters. And so we, Mr. Kapp had his office two floors above the recording studio, but he had all the music piped in. So we were in the middle of singing this song for a record when the phone rang and then Mr. Kapp stopped the date. And he said I'll be right down. He came down and wanted to know where we got the song. So of course we thought, my sisters and I, thought we had offended him. And so we pointed to this young man, his name was Lou Levy, and said, 'Well, he gave it to us.' So Jack was so impressed with the song, he walked over to Sammy and said, 'Can you write an English lyric to it' and Sammy said, 'Yes.' That was the end of the date. We came back two days later and rerecorded it.
Maxene Andrews And that was "Bei Mir". Now the, we were still getting fifty dollars a record, and we didn't know when the record was going to be released, and we didn't know that it was going to be a hit. And so one morning our father woke us up. We were living in some little fleabag apartment in New York on the other side of Eighth Avenue, and he said, 'Kids, kids.' He said, 'You've, you've got to follow me.' He said, 'You've got to see something'. And he was Greek, and he had a very, very thick accent. So it was hard to understand what he was talking about. Well we get dressed, and we followed him. And we got down to the corner of Forty-Fifth and Broadway, and they were playing our record. And all traffic across Broadway and 7th Avenue was stopped. There were just people, hundreds and hundreds of people. And every time the record would stop, this little record store had a speaker, and so it went out over the crowd. And everytime it would stop, they would say, 'Play it again, play it again!'
Studs Terkel 37.
Maxene Andrews Right.
Maxene Andrews Right.
Maxene Andrews But, you listen, you know, today if an artist has a hit record, they go out and they get thousands and thousands. When we had a hit record, we couldn't get a job. And we finally got a job for the big sum of five hundred dollars.
Studs Terkel Here it is: Andrews Sisters. Patty, Laverne, Maxene. [Pause in recording]. See, in hearing that along the streets of New York, I imagine the impact back in 37, then. And, of course, you did, you would do a variety. It had it, of course, you had this ebullience. The three of you had this, a certain kind of spirit of an elan, a life quality. At the same time, you would do ballads as well. You would do gentle, tender ballads as well. Remember, when you mentioned something earlier, Maxene, about living in California when the war was about to be. What do you mean you were afraid? Was living on the coast a factor too in
Maxene Andrews Well, see, you know, coming from Minnesota we had never been near that kind of water. And so the, the, the coast, the, the Pacific Ocean, was a little intimidating to me. But no, I never believed that the, that, that we were ever going to, I never believed we were ever going to be attacked. I always felt that we were invincible. And, and you know, as I said before, you know, right is right, and we were right and we were going to win. But the news was not encouraging. You know, and as I told you, we had every night we had to sit
Maxene Andrews Yes,
Maxene Andrews Well we, oh yes, we did, we did a lot of radio. You know we worked with people like Phil Baker, Glenn Miller, then CBS in New York had what they called the Saturday Night Jazz Club. And oh my, I can't, you're, you're testing my memory now.
Maxene Andrews Yes.
Maxene Andrews Connee
Maxene Andrews Listen. We were so influenced, we not only tried to copy their, their arrangements, but we also copied their southern accent. If you listen to the original record of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön", you will hear how Southern we had become.
Studs Terkel Well,
Maxene Andrews Well, you know, when, when you, when you rehearse a lot, see, we never, we never learned to read music. So everything we did was by memory. Or, and when, when, and I think that probably explains why we could sing with such verve because not only did we love doing what we were doing, but because it came from our hearts.
Maxene Andrews Yes.
Maxene Andrews And Mamma used to see that we had the rollers. And I remember particularly, well when Laverne was six, Laverne became quite an accomplished pianist, but it was all just natural and by ear. And we started our trio, Laverne started our trio when Patty was seven, I was nine and Laverne was about 12, and Laverne would listen to the Boswell Sisters and then she'd go to the piano and finger out what she could remember of the arrangements and teach them to us.
Maxene Andrews Yes, song pluggers would bring, would bring us tunes and, and then either Mr. Jack Kapp or Mr. Dave Kapp, his brother, would send songs over for us and they, they -- we were, in the beginning, we were handled very, very cautiously because Mr. Kapp had tremendous belief in the Andrews Sisters. As a matter of fact, after "Bei Mir", we had seven smash hits in a row. And Mr. Kapp called our parents in and tore up our 50 dollar a record contract and gave us a new contract with royalties and went back retroactive. He was a very, very fair man and we loved him very much.
Studs Terkel Suppose we hear Andrew Sisters: Patty, Laverne, Maxene. "Ti-pi, Ti-pi Tin". [Pause recording for music]. You know, you worked vaudeville houses, theater houses, radio stations. There were USO shows here in, in, in
Maxene Andrews Oh yes. When we were on tour, and we toured like, oh, you know we had almost 50 weeks a year in theaters. And, but we always, no matter how many shows a day we did, we always went to the camps, or we always made the hospitals when they start bringing the boys back. As a matter of fact, we were the only girls ever allowed in Oak Knoll hospital when they brought the first group of boys back from the Solomon Islands.
Maxene Andrews Yes.
Maxene Andrews Yes, oh I can remember very vividly. It was very, it, as, as a matter of fact it even affects me today. But when we went in, we were working the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco and when the Red Cross nurse called us and asked us if we'd come out and do the show. And she picked us up at eight o'clock in the morning and we brought a guitarist with us. And when we got out there, she kept us there outside for a while and then she never really explained to us what we were going to see on the inside. But she said to us that it's going to be something that we've, different than whatever we've seen, and the most important thing was that we must not break down because the last thing these boys needed was tears, were tears. And so, anyhow, I was suffering at that time with a, with a bit of a nervous stomach, so I went over behind the station wagon and upchucked my breakfast, I remember. And we walked in, and we waited, and it, it was very strange because when we stood behind those doors before we walked into the first ward, it was very quiet. And it was very unusual. And so, we, when we, when we were finally announced, there wasn't any applause or anything. And we thought, well that's strange, but we plowed in and it was a very big, oh it was a very long ward, and we walked then we were ushered into the middle. There were beds in front of us going all the way down, and then beds behind us. And the si -- when we finally looked the sight was terrible. We saw boys with no arms or legs, with half-faces. It was just, it was absolutely devastating. And I remember how the three of us held on to each other because we were afraid we were going to faint. And then the terrible thing is to hold back the tears. And we sang for about 45 minutes in that ward. And I think that some of the fellows realized what a terrible, what a terrible position, or how we were feeling, because they started, some fellow in front of us, that was all clothed in, in, in bandages, started to cry. And he was crying and crying throughout the numbers. And so finally one of the fellows yelled and said, 'Don't pay any attention to him, he's just dreaming about his girlfriend'. And of course in the middle of the act, the nurses came in, and they wheeled him out. But we, we stayed there for about two and a half hours going to different wards. And as we were leaving, the, a, a male nurse came over to us and said, 'Look before you go, would you please come over, and I have a young patient and I want, he'd, he'd love to hear you sing'. And so we figured well one more isn't gonna take up that much time. So we followed him, and we went down this, this long, long hallway and stopped in front of a door where there were two male nurses outside of the door. And they spoke for a moment and then one of the male nurses opened up the door and we were ushered in and we hadn't realized til we got in that we were in a padded cell. And so the guitarist wasn't with us. We, we were alone, and the two guards from the out -- the two male nurses from the outside came on in with us and closed the door and then they stood guard in the door from the inside. And for a moment we, we looked around, we didn't see anybody in there, and we looked around. And in the corner we saw a figure facing the wall. And so the, the man that brought us in asked us, would we sing something soft and nice and easy and relaxed. So we started to sing "Apple Blossom Time". And about halfway through, we begin to hear this hum. And it, it, it was discordant, but it got louder and louder and louder and something in all three of us told us when we get to the end of the song, don't stop, just keep, keep singing. So we started to repeat it. And as we repeated it, the figure in the corner turned around and the young men couldn't have been more than 19 years old, and he was just off in another world. His, his eyes were looking at us, but I'm sure not seeing us. And he was just humming and humming and humming and we got to the end of that song. We had all we could do was just to, you know, get out and go back to the theater. But it's an experience that--
Maxene Andrews Some boys, some boys. As a matter of fact, we, when we came back a few months later at the Golden Gate Theater, we had a, one night between shows the doorman came in and said to us, 'You have a visitor.' And we were getting ready to do our last show. And so I, I said to him, 'Mike we can't see anyone now.' You know? He said, 'No this is very important you've got to see this, this visitor'. So I said, 'Well, all right, tell him to hurry'. So in walked a service man and on his back was another service man with no arms and no legs. One that we had seen in that ward, only this time he had his artificial arms on. And he had said that 'I never asked you for your autograph because one day I was going to give you mine'. And he, he, he held him, and he leaned over on the dressing table and he signed his name and I'll never forget it was Ted. And he signed three pieces of paper to us.
Maxene Andrews Yes.
Studs Terkel What
Maxene Andrews Oh, we were, as we were talking I was thinking about, you know, we went overseas. And for the USO or the Victory Committee whichever they called it at the time. And it was wonderful. We--
Maxene Andrews During the war, and we thought that we were going over with Crosby. We had just finished a recording session with Bing and Bing was getting ready to go over to Germany. And so we thought we were going with Bing. And he said that, he gave us a good piece of advice. He said, 'When you get over there, expect nothing. Just go in, sing for the guys, they'll love you, and don't expect anything'. Because they'd had a lot of trouble with a lot of the artists who got over there and start making ridiculous demands. Like they wanted their own airplane, and they wanted this and they wanted that. So we took Bing's advice, and we had a, we, we really had a wonderful time, and they put Arthur Treacher with us. And we had a piano player an accordion player and Treacher and the three of us. Our last date, we were, we went all over Italy for almost two months. And then our last date was in, in Naples. We were, we were billeted in Caserta, which is 18 miles outside of Naples. And then we went to, we did all our shows at the Repo-Depots in Naples because that's where the guys were all being shipped out from or being brought into. And so we were told that we were, we had one more big show.
Maxene Andrews The
Maxene Andrews Yep. And they were the, all the supply, they were all the supply depots for the, for the Army. And so we were, we got into a jeep and we went out to this place in, in, in Naples, and it was like a big, well, where you'd put a dirigeable, I guess, that's a large it was. And it was loaded with about five or eight thousand of the most unhappy looking audience you've ever seen. Because all of these fellows were being shipped to the South Pacific, and they hadn't been home in four years. And it was just their bad luck that they were ticketed to go on to the South Pacific. So we were doing the show and trying to get them into good spirits. Well now, not only were they, you know, on the floor of this, of this big place in chairs, but they were hanging from the rafters. And so when we were pretty well, well through with the show, I heard somebody go "Psst, psst, psst", and I looked around, and it was one of the soldiers and he was calling me offstage. So Patty was doing a little scene with Arthur Treacher, and I walked off over to this man, and he said to me, he said, 'I have a very important message for Patty to tell the audience'. And I looked at him, and I started to laugh because the fellows were always playing tricks on us. And so I said, 'Well I can't do that in the middle of the show'. And he said, 'No,' he said, 'The CO. This is from the CO,' and he said it's very important. So I said, 'Well, I, I can't do that'. And he said, 'Look, I'm te -- you gonna get in trouble and you're gonna get me in trouble'. So I took the piece of paper. I didn't read it. And I walked out on the stage, and I, I kept saying to myself, 'Is he kidding me?' It's going to be terrible because I'm, I'm, you know, I'm going to get in trouble with Patty or I'm going to get in trouble with Arthur or I'm going to get in trouble with the CO. So I decided, well I'd walk on the stage, and I would wait until I felt there was a proper opening. So after Patty and, and Arthur finished their skit, we got together and Patty was in a very jovial mood that day, and so we were kidding around and finally I said to her, 'Patty I've got a message for you'. And she looked at me and I said, 'It's a message from the CO'. And she said to me, 'Stop, you're kidding'. And I said, 'I'm not kidding. I got the message, and I was told to give it to you and it's from the CO'. So she said to me, on the side, she said, 'Maggie,' she said, 'You know how the fellows are always kidding us'. She said, 'I can't do that here, we got to finish the show'. And I said, 'But he insisted that it was very important', so I gave her the note. And so she said, 'Well, I'll go along with the gag'. So she said to the fella's, 'Look, it's a big joke up here, I'm gonna read you a note from, supposedly from the CO'. And she, without reading it first, she read it, and it announced the end of the war with Japan.
Maxene Andrews And so, there wasn't a sound in the whole auditorium. So she looked at it again, and she looked at me, and she, she knew that I knew that it was serious. And so she said, 'No fellows,' she said, 'This is from the CO and this is announcement that the war is over in Japan. You don't have to go'. And with that she started to cry. When she started to cry, Laverne and I started to cry. And there was still no reaction from the guys. So she said again.
Maxene Andrews That, they were getting, or they were all ready to be shipped out. And she said, again, she said, 'No this is, this is it. This is the end'. Well, all of a sudden all hell broke loose. And they yelled and screamed and all of a sudden we saw a pair of pants and a shirt coming down from up above and following it was a body. Came down and fell on the guys sitting there in their, in their chairs. So Patty, said, 'Look, you want to go out, everybody go out and get drunk, or do you want to see the show? And they said, 'No, no, no, we want to see the rest of the show'. So we made it very short. We'll we got into the jeep, and on the way back, we looked at each other and all of a sudden this idea of the jokes with the guys hit us. And we said, 'Oh heavens, if, if this is a joke, you know, they're going to tar and feather us. We'll have to swim all the way back to the states'. And so we, we suffered until we got back to Caserta. And when we got back to the palace in Caserta then they, they reassured us that the announcement was true. And a few years ago my sister Patty was, and her husband were, Patty was working at some place in Cleveland. And they checked into a hotel. And the bellboy took the luggage and they got into the elevator and while they were going to their floor, this elevator man said to Patty. He says, 'Don't you remember me?' And she turned around. Here was this little, short bald-headed guy. She looked at him
Studs Terkel We're talking to Maxene Andrews, you can gather she's a great storyteller, and I suppose the way to end this very rich hour for me is with "Rum and Coca-Cola". That was, that was roughly when, rum and coke was of that period?
Studs Terkel Just
Studs Terkel Sure,
Maxene Andrews We got that, Morey Amsterdam had been with a USO troup down Trinidad. And they heard the song, they heard the song down there, and he brought it up, I guess they changed a lot of the lyrics, because at that time, as I understand--
Studs Terkel That's
Maxene Andrews But that's the, the natives would sing the news on the island. And it was the true story of a doctor who took care of the prostitutes and his favorite drink was rum and Coca-Cola. And one day he went into his local saloon, sat down at the table, ordered a rum and Coca-Cola, and dropped dead. And so the natives sang this song to tell everyone that that was, you know, that was
Maxene Andrews But we didn't get those particular lyrics because that was just news. So they wrote new lyrics for it. And when Morey came up, he called the office and he said, 'I've got a song for the Andrews Sisters, and he says, 'You've got to sing it'. And we had a recording session coming up on Tuesday and this was on a Friday. And so we were doing four sides on Tuesday. In those days, you did your homework at home. You walked into a studio and you did four sides in three hours. Not like today where it takes you six months to do a session. But anyhow, the Kapp said, 'No, we, we don't want to, just come in and do your four sides'. So we had gone over the song. There was no melody, Morey just, just written out the lyrics. And so, but he sang the melody and Vic Schoen, who was our arranger, just wrote down the notes. And so when we, we finished our recording session, we had 20 minutes left and Mr. Kapp was the A & R man Jack, David Kapp. And so I went into the studio and I said, 'David let us do'. He said, 'We don't want the song'. And I said, 'Yeah, but we got 20 minutes left' and he said, 'Well the orchestra's gone, and I said 'No there are some fellas here'. So I walked out to Vic and said, 'Vic, see whatever you can do and let's 'em, at least get one play in'. So he did, and we made one take and that became "Rum and Coca-Cola", and it sold like 7 million records in about the first two months.
Maxene Andrews Good.