Few columns have ever seemed this awkward to write.
Last week I visited the Andy Williams’ Theater in Branson, Mo., to interview movie star and recording artist Frankie Avalon. Sadly Mr. Williams died of cancer a couple of days later. So I want to start this column with a brief tribute to Mr. Williams and then follow with the Avalon interview.
Andy Williams was best known for his hit song, “Moon River,” that was featured in the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffanys.” Remarkably, Williams had hit records during the British rock and roll invasion and some of his biggest sales were in England. Williams had 27 top 40 singles including the beautiful “Days of Wine and Roses.” His holiday classic “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has become a Christmas classic.
I watched Andy Williams sing and dance with show girls when he was 82 on the stage at his Moon River Theater in Branson. I met the man twice and was impressed by his charm and grace, the mark of a very classy man. The Moon River Theater did not close down a single night after Williams’ death.
Earlier this year, celebrities such as Avalon started visiting the Moon River Theater to celebrate Williams’ 75th year in show business. He will be followed by several more. Here is his historically significant interview.
KK: You have been considered a heart throb for women around the world. What is that like?
FA: That was the youth in my career. Elvis Presley started the heart throb thing, followed by Rickie Nelson and then me. Presley was the first teen idol.
KK: How did Dick Clark affect your career?
FA: Dick Clark was a big help to everybody. He started Bandstand in 1957 and this was incredible exposure. He became a good friend too. I was on Bandstand many times and hosted many of his specials through the years.
KK: You will long be associated with Annette Funicello. Was that a fun experience?
FA: A lot of crazy things happened during our eight beach movies and we became close friends. Annette has been sick several years with MS (multiple sclerosis). I try to stay in touch with her, but she is not doing very good health wise.
KK: Did she have this health problem when you made “Back to the Beach,” in 1987?
FA: Her problems just started about then and she was diagnosed right after filming with MS.
KK: I enjoy you as both an actor and singer, but which would you like to be remembered as?
FA: I have no preference because I love both worlds of singing and acting. But it is a great change.
KK: Did you start out with others who became stars?
FA: Yes. Bobby Riddell, Fabian, James Darren, Chubby Checker all grew up in South Philadelphia in a radius of about eight blocks. We all knew each other as kids.
KK: Did you ever do any work with the Rat Pack?
FA: I performed on Dean Martin's television show. After Frank Sinatra retired, he asked me to join him in Baltimore when Spiro Agnew was vice president. Sinatra hosted the show.
KK: I enjoyed you in “The Alamo.”
FA: “The Alamo” was my second film. My first film was with Alan Ladd and Jeanie Crain and called “Guns of the Timberland.” My agent sent over my clips of my appearance in the first movie and John Wayne said I was right for the Alamo character.
KK: Did you enjoy working with John Wayne?
FA: John Wayne was bigger than life. He was a great guy. He directed me in the movie and produced it. We became friends.
KK: I understand you started as a trumpet player?
FA: I did and my first professional appearance was playing trumpet on the Jackie Gleason Show. I was about 11-years-old. Then I started recording for RCA Label X.
KK: You were always clean cut. How did it feel when the hippie days came along?
FA: That change about 1965 is when the psychedelic pictures were produced and the beach pictures faded out. The Vietnam War created a different world too. Happily, the fans came back and found us for a lasting career.
KK: Are you still performing regularly these days?
FA: I think we do between 35 to 40 concerts a year and that is enough, I just turned 72-years-old. I will keep performing until they stop asking me too. I have been making appearances in Branson the past 20 years.
This is a great entertainment center and I hook up with a lot of people I started with. The Moon River's light and sound system is magnificent.
KK: How can your fans find your next concerts?
FA: I have a web site, frankieavalon.com, that gives a rundown of venues where they can see us perform. I do Vegas twice a year too at the South Point Hotel.
Most of my time is spent with my eight kids and eleven grandchildren.