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New Harmony For Andrews Sisters?

October 01, 1987|PAUL GREIN

Good things come to those who wait. But this is ridiculous.

The Andrews Sisters will receive astar on Hollywood Boulevard at noon today, nearly 50 years after the trio achieved stardom with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen."

It's not that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce--which oversees the sidewalk commemorations--is hopelessly backlogged on awards.

Maxene Andrews, 71, acknowledged that the sisters were offered a star years ago--but declined.

"The idea of having your name embedded in the sidewalk so people could walk on it and spit on it was rather distasteful to us," she said, good naturedly.

The sisters agreed this time because it coincides with the release by MCA Records of a 16-song compact disc, "The 50th Anniversary Collection, Volume One."

Maxene and her sister Patty, 69 (the third sister, Laverne, died in 1967), comprise the most successful female recording group in pop history.

In separate interviews in their San Fernando Valley homes, Patty and Maxene talked about their music and its special place in American pop culture of the World War II period.

They also talked about the strange and bitter feud that has clouded their relationship for 25 years.

When the sisters meet today at the star presentation, it will be the first time they've seen each other since Patty visited Maxene in the hospital after a severe heart attack in 1982. Other than that, they haven't spoken since they did a Broadway show together in 1974.

This was, in fact, the first time since 1974 that they had agreed to both be interviewed for the same story.

Sadly, the All-American sweethearts of a thousand USO shows have a private relationship as dark and troubling as their image was sunny and optimistic.

The Andrews Sisters' songs--especially "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"--are woven into the fabric of their times. The music and personas reflected the hopes and aspirations of the World War II years, when the sisters were at their peak.

Because the sisters represented pure Americana during a time of crisis--and because they were seen as the wholesome girls-next-door by millions of Americans--they were viewed with great warmth.

Both said they still are treated in public with an affection bordering on reverence. "It's very interesting," said Maxene. "Most of them want to hug me and kiss me. A lot of them cry. All of them say, 'the wonderful memories.' "

Patty agreed. "When I walk out on stage, it's like they're my family. Like I tell my audience, 'We all grew up together.' "

If that sounds like hyperbole, try to remember how hot the Andrews Sisters were in their heyday. Between 1939 and 1951, they tallied a whopping 46 Top 10 hits and appeared in 22 movies. They recorded with such major stars as Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Guy Lombardo and Jimmy Dorsey--and appeared in concert with the Gene Krupa, Harry James and Benny Goodman orchestras.

Though the Andrews Sisters may be remembered more for their wholesome images than for their music, they were responsible for several musical innovations.

"We were the first harmony group to ever move," Maxene said. "Harmony groups at that time would get around a microphone and put their heads together and get a beautiful blend. But we danced a lot. When we were singing, we couldn't stand still."

Patty noted that the trio liked to experiment with songs. "We were always looking for the different type of thing to do. 'Apple Blossom Time' was a waltz and we put it in a fox trot. When we recorded 'Jingle Bells' with Bing, we did it as a jazz thing." Added Patty, slyly: "We were real hip in our day, you know."

By the '60s, the Andrews Sisters' music was considered hopelessly old-fashioned, but has since experienced a resurgence. A key reason for this upsurge: Bette Midler's 1973 revival of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

"I think that record had a lot to do with it," said Maxene. "It afforded me an opportunity to meet her when she first appeared at the Universal Amphitheatre. I think she is absolutely wonderful. I had never seen a performer work like that. To be very truthful, I had never seen anybody so trashy in my life. But it was such great humor. Afterward, we went backstage to meet this lovely lady who, at least with us, was nothing like that."

So, how did the "sweethearts" end up not speaking to each other--a split so deep that even the hospital reunion following Maxene's 1982 heart attack wasn't anything more than a short-term truce. As soon as Maxene recovered, they went back to not speaking.

Maxene said only that the split may have just been due to too many years of working too closely together. "There was really no breathing room. . .," she said. "We ate together, slept together, went out socially together. If we were going someplace, we got in the car together.

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