What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear
the words “Moon River”? If you’re like me and
millions of other baby boomers, you’ll think of Andy
Williams. In his aptly named memoir, this well-known singer and
entertainer for nearly seven decades takes us on a journey from his
humble beginnings to his rise to stardom.
Andy was born into a poor family in the small town of Wall Lake,
Iowa, two years after the beginning of the Great Depression.
Although there was always food on the table, there was never any
extra money to spend. But the family was able to keep busy with the
one pastime they shared: singing. Andy’s father and his three
older brothers --- Don, Bob and Dick --- originally started singing
in the choir for their local church. In fact, they comprised the
entire choir. After he joined the group at the age of seven,
Andy’s father decided his sons might have a future in show
business. Known simply as the Williams Brothers, he booked them at
any and all available venues in town, although there weren’t
Not content with such meager fare, the ambitious Mr. Williams
moved his family to Des Moines, where he got the boys an audition
for the popular radio station WHO, but their performance
wasn’t good enough to earn them a spot. “Your boys have
got talent, Mr. Williams, no doubt about that,” a producer
said, “But they haven’t got enough experience. Get them
singing anywhere you can, whether it’s for money or not, just
to get some more experience. Then come back and see us again in six
months’ time, and I think we’ll have something for
Mr. Williams took the producer’s advice to heart. After a
period of six months, he returned to the radio station and the boys
were hired for a daily 15-minute show. They soon sang at any other
events they could find and became minor celebrities in town. Still
not satisfied, he kept moving his family around. They went to
Chicago and Cincinnati, where the boys started to make a name for
themselves in radio. Dreaming even bigger, Mr. Williams relocated
his family to Los Angeles as he dreamed for his sons to appear in
movies. Although they would go on to land minor roles, their film
careers never flourished.
Their big break came when Andy met Kay Thompson, a vocal and
choral director at MGM who suggested the Williams Brothers quit
movies and join the nightclub business. They worked on a new act
called “Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers,” and
soon they became regulars on the nightclub circuit. They performed
together until 1953, when the new age of television severely
crippled the nightclub scene.
But the end of the Williams Brothers was just the start of
Andy’s solo career, although he almost never made it on his
own. For two years, he played little-known venues around the
country, trying to make a name for himself. He got his big break
with a regular spot on Steve Allen’s “The Tonight
Show.” That --- and several hit singles --- established
Williams as a national star.
Williams shares stories and memories about his highest points as
well as some of his lowest (like when he was driven to eat dog food
to survive). He confesses that even with his velvety smooth voice
(a voice President Reagan declared a “national
treasure”) and his boyish charm, he retains a touch of
insecurity, as his father always told him he would have to work
hard because there were people out there who were better than him.
He throws in some anecdotes about rather embarrassing moments in
his career and recounts the controversial series of events
following his ex-wife’s shooting of her lover. He also
reveals some secrets of the rich and famous with whom he has come
into contact through the years.
Andy Williams’s writing is candid, insightful and often
witty. His fans will not want to miss this book.
Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on January 7, 2011