Celebrity for the sake of “celebrity” has never had much appeal to me. I think that’s a plus when photographing famous or nearly famous personalities in one on one photo sessions. It sends a subliminal message of, “I’m not here to stroke your ego” and lets them know that the annoying “star stuck fan” is not in the room.
Honestly, I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to who’s who and who did what in the show biz world. I let the reporter on the assignment do that homework. Some of these folks have egos so large it was difficult being in the same room with them and others were actually humble and interesting to talk to. But then, that’s like it is in the non-celebrity world. Right?
In a word (or two), Andy Williams is the epitome of class, good taste but also personable and seemingly in touch with the real world.
In the ten or so photo shoots I have had with him, he never tried to control the shoot and was open to and tried to accommodate ideas I had. He was game when I wanted to hire a flatbed truck so he and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) could stand next to a Highway 76 road sign some nine or ten feet in the air.
The photo shoot was for a travel magazine cover that was to illustrate the two flavors of live entertainment in Branson, Missouri. Everything was in place. The truck was in place next to the sign. Camera, lights and Herkimer were all in place. With exposure readings taken and camera adjustments made, Andy drove up from a feeder road to 76, rolled down his window and said, “We’re going to have to make this fast.” Pointing to the traffic on 76 and tourists on foot he expressed some concern.
He was right, but we got through the shoot. Within two or three minutes after Andy climbed up on the truck, traffic on Highway 76 began to stop. Car doors opened in the middle of the road and tourists with cameras in hand began crowding around the truck. Within another minute, I had helped him off the truck and he was back in his car headed to his theatre.
The whole shoot was over in less than five minutes with fewer than 20 frames of a 120mm roll of film exposed but the editors were able to select one for the cover.
Most other photo shoots were in or around the more crowd controllable setting of his Moon River Theatre or his spacious apartment/dressing room and adjoining courtyard at the theatre. His wardrobe closet is larger than some dressing rooms I’ve seen and is meticulously arranged with shirts, pants and of course sweaters of the same design grouped together.
In the main part of the apartment is a grand piano with framed photos of family and friends. One of them was from friend Robert F. Kennedy. It was a photo I had seen before of Kennedy, his wife Ethel and all their children lined up in front of their Hickory Hill home. Kennedy had written on it, “Andy, If you take Ethel, you have to take the kids. Bobby”.
Andy recounted how he and Kennedy met and Kennedy asked him to join his campaign for president. Andy told him he would be glad to but that there was a problem because he (Andy) was a registered Republican. He said Kennedy responded, “Oh, that’s not a problem. We can fix that.” Later that year in the early summer of 1968, Andy would sing “The Battle Hymn Republic” at Kennedy’s funeral.
A few weeks later at another photo shoot in his theatre apartment I noticed the photo was gone. I asked Andy about it and he kind of mournfully opened a drawer where the photo, torn in several places but still in the frame, lay with the glass shattered. He explained that one of his grandchildren had dropped it and over the years the photo had become stuck to the glass causing the photo to tear. Even big stars have those everyday “Dang it!” moments.
Interviews with photo shoots were usually scheduled to run over the noon hour after his morning round of golf and before the afternoon performance. That meant it was sometimes a lunch interview with lunch at his wet bar in his dressing room and almost always accompanied by Sophie, one of his favorite and really friendly German Shorthair Pointers. And that was a good thing.
After you have passed Sophie’s head to toe sniff test which is just a dog’s way of getting to know you, she makes a great photo prop…someone for Andy to interact with…a new element in the mix.
Every shoot I have had with Andy Williams has yielded some of the most relaxed images of any entertainer I have photographed. This even applies to those couple of times a reporter failed to tell his staff ahead of time there would be a photographer along. That serves as a testament to him being comfortable in his own skin and OK with the moment at hand which probably has something to do with his career’s longevity. That and keeping those golden pipes healthy all these years.
John S. Stewart