Can You Keep a Secret?

Can You Keep A Secret?, FAMOUS PEOPLE, Uncategorized

“Can you keep a secret?”

That question always seems to grab my attention like a bad joke I always keep falling for. I’m not in the business of keeping secrets. That  just  goes against the grain of what I do in the world of distributing information in the form of imagery to the public.

So, of course I responded, “Sure. What is it?”

The voice on the other end of the conversation was Glen Campbell’s publicist.

“Glen is turning 60 next week and Kim (his wife), Debby (his daughter) and some of his family and some folks in the business are throwing a surprise birthday party for him there in Branson. We need some photos of the party for distribution and for the family.”

This was a happy time for Campbell following a less than productive period when his music sales seemed to have fallen off the public’s radar. He had a theatre in Branson (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Theatre) and ticket sales were strong. He had a home in Arizona for the off season and golf in his off time. And, he had a wife that he often credited during backstage dressing room interviews with helping him to turn things around.

The surprise party was to be at a Branson restaurant that had been closed for the event on a Sunday afternoon the day before his actual 60th birthday on April 22, 1996.  The three or four dozen invited guests huddled in the dark as Campbell and his wife arrived for what he thought was a quiet Sunday afternoon dinner.

Among some of the guests he seemed particularly surprised to see was Jimmy Webb who wrote and collaborated with Campbell on many of his hits including, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”. At one point Campbell and Webb took to the microphone and keyboard and entertained the guests with songs from some of their collaborative work.

Jimmy Webb and Glen

Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell entertain guests at his surprise 60th birthday party.

Guests who couldn’t make the trip to Branson sent video greetings. Campbell and his family watched and enjoyed with much laughter on a big screen. The only subdued moment came when Campbell watched a video greeting from Annie Denver, John Denver’s ex-wife. Campbell had recorded “Annie’s Song”, a piece Denver wrote and also recorded as an ode to his wife in the early 1970’s.

Glen and Kids

Glen and family members watch video greetings from friends who couldn’t make the party.

I remember Campbell and his wife watching her greeting and responding to himself, almost inaudibly, “Annie, Annie…awe Annie.” Perhaps he was remembering the same demons in his life that had plagued John and Annie Denver. Little did anyone know that a year and a half later, John Denver would die in a plane crash.

Good times can be fleeting for anybody as the Campbell family all too well knows. As his 78th birthday approaches on April 22, 2014, he has been moved to a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients. The seconds in his own “Goodtime Hour” may have ticked away but he leaves behind a treasure trove of hauntingly beautiful songs for the rest of us.

John S. Stewart




Unlike fishermen, photographers usually don’t like to talk about “the one that got away”.  But, I have decided to swallow my pride and add my story of the one that got away to the LEFTeyeSTORIES files.

In the summer of 1993, the midwest was drowning in what was being called a hundred-year flood. Seeing an opportunity to help as well as an opportunity for some feel-good public relations,  country music tourist destination Branson, Missouri, decided to have a fundraiser in the form of a nationally televised telethon.

Anyone who was anyone in the entertainment business (and many in the “Who?” category) showed up in B-town wanting to do their part and get a little face time on national television. This included billionaire Ross Perot, who had just the year before made an unsuccessful bid for president.

I was there working for The Ozark Marketing Council and a couple of publications. I was also hoping to sell a few other photos on speculation.

Bob Hope was scheduled to be up next. I had already seen him backstage and he looked very frail so I was thinking that I better get shots of him because there may not be another opportunity. Then a hand on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear told me of another plan.

A happy-go-lucky Ross Perot walks from his chartered helicopter at the Grand Palace in Branson, Missouri. Following are Beth Wanser, the pilot and an aid of Perot. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Beth Wanser of the Ozark Marketing Council was telling me that Ross Perot was sitting in his chartered helicopter outside the theater and was going to fly to the Grand Palace to meet country singer Billy Ray Cyrus who was still riding the wave of  his big hit, “Achy Breaky Heart”. There was one seat left on the helicopter and I could have it but we had to go now.

From the theater where we were to the Grand Palace is about a mile and a half, if that far. The problem was the traffic. It would have easily taken an hour by car so the helicopter was a good option.

Beth and I made our way past a few other glaring photogs and TV videographers to the helicopter that was already warming up with rotors turning. I headed to the copilot’s door thinking that’s probably where the vacant seat would be. Instead, the door popped open and that distinctive head with those distinctive ears spoke in that distinctive high-pitched Texas drawl that could be heard in spite of the noise and whirling blades above,  “Son, you ride in the back. I’ve got it up here.” So I got in.

Five minutes later we were on the ground behind the Grand Palace. A waiting van whisked us the remaining 100 yards to the backstage door. Perot was particularly jovial. “Son, where do you need to sit with all your equipment?” and “Son, you go on ahead if you need to. You need to get the pictures.”

When we got to the backstage door, Beth led the way through a maze of cables, equipment and stage hands to the green room which normally would have been filled with performers waiting to go onstage. For now it was the place where Beth had arranged for Perot to meet with Billy Ray Cyrus.

Just before we entered the green-room door, one of Beth’s colleagues pulled her aside. Perot continue on into the green-room and I followed, raising my camera in anticipation of  the pending Ross Perot/Billy Ray Cyrus hug-fest.

The room was large, furnished with chairs and coffee tables filled with finger food for the performers. It was also completely empty. Perot and I  stood there for a moment; Perot staring straight ahead and me staring at his back. I lowered my camera and in that instant, he spun on his heel and looked straight at me.

The happy-go-lucky, former presidential candidate I walked in with had transformed into a scowling Elmer J. Fudd. All that was missing was the steam coming out of his ears.

An unhappy Ross Perot

A less than pleased Ross Perot makes his way out of the "green room" backstage at the Grand Palace after being stood up by Billy Ray Cyrus. Beth Wanser (L) and Lisa Rau (R) stand aside. (Copyright John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

And there it was, the missed shot: Ross Perot standing with hands on hips looking straight at me and anger oozing from his pores. It was perfect; I had a wide-angle lens to capture the empty room behind him and since I’m a head taller than him it was a great angle. The only problem was that my camera, now hanging around my neck,  might as well have been a concrete block sitting at my feet because I couldn’t get it back up to my face fast enough before he shot past me towards the door spewing, “MISFIRE! MISFIRE!”

Like an angry warrior spraying the room with machine gun fire, he shot in rapid succession at nobody in particular, “THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE AND WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE A MISFIRE IS YOU JUST GO ON, SO THAT’S WHAT I’M GOING TO DO. I’M GOING TO GO ON BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THIS IS, IT’S A MISFIRE!!”

Ross Perot is a smart man and not used to being stood up. He figured it out really fast. I had to get the news from Beth Wanser and Lisa Rau, director of public relations for Silver Dollar City (who owned the Grand Palace at that time) and co-owner Peter Herschend who had all huddled together trying to calm Mr. Perot down.

In the five minutes it took to fly to the Grand Palace, Billy Ray Cyrus’ people had decided it would not be a wise thing for the singer to be photographed hugging, shaking hands or even standing next to the then still politically hot Ross Perot. It might alienate some of Billy Ray’s fans.

So, Ross Perot’s “Misfire” became my “Misfire”. End of story, almost.

Years later Lisa Rau and I were talking about the misfire photo-op and she said, “Let me tell you about the rest of my day that day.”

She went on to tell me that she was assigned to drive Billy Ray around Branson and let him see the sights. One of the things he wanted to do was go to the Factory Outlet Mall and buy some shirts. So she took him to a store using the back door while the store manager politely asked the shoppers (mostly women) to step outside for a few minutes. The manager then locked the door.

With the store secured, Billy Ray walked onto the sales floor and wasting no time, stripped off his shirt.  He then began trying on shirt after shirt leaving the unwanted ones on the floor. All the while, the displaced female shoppers pressed their faces against the store’s windows and squealed with delight.

After he made his final selections and checked out, Billy Ray was ushered out the back door. The store manager then unlocked the front doors and the ensuing scene resembled  something like a miniature Black Friday shopping frenzy. The female shoppers were scrambling to pick up and purchase all the shirts he had tried on and left on the floor.

Happy shoppers. Happy store keeper. No memorable photo…but that’s OK; it makes for a good dinner story now and then.

John S. Stewart

Andy Williams-A Class Act

Andy Williams-A Class Act, FAMOUS PEOPLE
Debbie and Andy Williams

Andy and Debbie Williams.

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.

Andy Williams and "Herkimer" (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover on 76 Country Music Blvd. in Branson, Missouri.

Andy Williams and “Herkimer” (Gary Presley) pose for a magazine cover in Branson, Missouri.

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.


Andy and Debbie Williams and Sophie, a German Short-Hair Pointer, share a moment in the Moon River Theater apartment where he relaxes between shows.

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.

Andy Williams at the piano

Andy Williams at his dressing room piano.

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.

Sophie and Andy at the wet bar

Andy cleans up after a lunch interview as Sophie waits for table scraps.

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.

Andy Williams relaxing in his Branson, Missouri Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf.

Andy Willams relaxes in his Moon River Theatre dressing room after a round of golf.

Andy Williams as Carmen Miranda at his Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri. (Photo Copyrighted by John S. Stewart/LEFTeyeSTORIES)

Andy Williams shows his sense of humor with a stage performance as Carmen Miranda.

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