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


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