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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER MAXENE ANDREWS
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An Andrews Sister finds stardom as a solo


Maxene Andrews, riding high on the wave of her triumphant solo act that opened at the Reno Sweeney cabaret last November, is sitting in her dimly lit, antique-lined Eastside living room, talking about the foibles of show business. As one of the Andrews Sisters, America's most popular vocal trio of the 1940s, she made 19 gold records in the space of 20 years. But as a solo performer, she more or less failed in two previous attempts — first in the early 1950s, when her younger sister Patty temporarily left the group, and again in 1975, after her hit Broadway show Over Here closed amid controversy. Not until 1979 did Miss Andrews bring together all the elements of success — good choice of songs, interesting patter between numbers, and a first-rate accompanist. The result is an act that is nostalgic, moving, and musically powerful.

"For years, our career was so different than so many, because our fans never forgot us," she recalls, beaming with matronly delight. "I could walk in anyplace in the years I wasn't working, and they'd say, 'Maxene Andrews — the Andrews Sisters?' Everybody was sort of in awe. So I was always treated like a star of some kind. But it's nice to work; it's a wonderful feeling to be in demand."

She is a bubbly, husky, larger-than-life character of 61 with ruddy cheeks and a firm handshake. Deeply religious, sincere, and outspoken as always, she remains first and foremost an entertainer.

"I stick to the older, standard songs by great composers," says Maxene of her act. "You know — Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin. … My partner is Phil Campanella, an extremely talented young man who plays the piano and sings harmony. … All the talking I do between the songs is ad libbing. I have never been successful at trying to do material that was written for me."

She's returning to Reno Sweeney on February 6 for a two-week engagement, then filming a TV show titled G.I. Jive before taking her act to Miami and Key West. Nightclub work, she says in her high, bell clear voice, "is not my future. I would like to get into concerts and I think that's a possibility — probably a year from now."

LaVerne, the eldest of the sisters, died in 1967. Patty stopped speaking to Maxene five years ago because of salary disagreements for Over Here. The contracts were negotiated separately, and when Maxene balked at accepting $1000 a week less than her sister, the national tour was abruptly canceled.

"I never in my wildest dreams thought that we would separate, because we've always been very close," says Maxene sadly. "When people say, 'You're feuding with your sister,' I say that's not the truth. Because it takes two people to fight, and I'm not fighting anyone. She's just not talking to me.

"It took me a long time to be able to handle the separation. I used to wake up every morning and say, 'What have I done?' But now I just throw it up to Jesus, and I leave it there. I hope and pray that one of these days we can bring everything out in the open, and clear it up. I love Patty very much, and I'm very surprised that she's not out doing her act, because she's very very talented. She's been doing the Gong Show, which I — it's none of my business, but I would highly disapprove of. I think it's such a terrible show."

Maxene owns a house outside of Los Angeles, and was "born again" a couple of years ago at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. When she's on Manhattan's East Side, which is often, she shares the apartment of Dr. Louis Parrish, an M.D. and psychiatrist whom she describes as "a true Southern gentleman."

The Andrews Sisters, who recorded such hits as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," "Rum and Coca Cola," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Apple Blossom Time," and "Hold Tight," arrived in New York from Minneapolis in 1937 and took the city by storm with their wholesome, sugar-sweet harmonies and innovative arrangements. Soon they were making movies as well. Buck Privates (1940, which featured Abbott and Costello and the song "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," was Universal's biggest moneymaker until Jaws came along in 1975. "I didn't particularly care for making movies," comments Maxene. "I found it very boring and very repetitious, and certainly not very creative. But working with Bud and Lou was a lot of fun."

Now divorced, Maxene has a 33-year-old daughter named Aleda and a 31 year-old son, Peter, who live in Utah. She has written her autobiography, but it hasn't been sold to a publisher "because I refuse to write the kind of books that they want written today. Ever since the Christina Crawford book came out, that's all the publishers want. … I think the trend will pass, because we're really getting saturated in cruelty and lust and whatever else you want to call it."

Asked about the changes in her life since her religious reawakening, Maxene says, "Darling, everything has improved. My disposition has improved. I used to be impossible for anybody to work with. … I'm now reconciled to the feeling that I am never alone, and that in Him I have a partner, and that if I run into a problem that I can't solve, then I'm not supposed to solve it — because we're just mere mortals."

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