Of celebrities I write about, by far, one of the great names who generates the most emails, letters and telephone calls is Patty Andrews of the beloved singing trio The Andrews Sisters.
It is with great sadness that I report Patty died on Wednesday, at her lovely gated home in Northridge, Calif., north of Los Angeles. She was just a few weeks away from her 95th birthday on Feb. 15. It was her attorney Richard Rosenthal who confirmed her death.
Her beloved second husband and manager Wally Weschler, died at age 88 in September 2010, just months away from the couple celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary on Christmas Day.
Patty, known as "the one in the middle," was the youngest and the lone survivor of the Andrews Sisters aka Maxene, Patty and LaVerne, one of the most celebrated singing sister acts in history.
Though I've occasionally visited her at her home (the last time being in 2007), more often, I would chat with her by telephone. In recent years, she had around-the-clock care, and had signs of age-related memory loss.
Weschler had been the singing trio's accompanying pianist following the sisters' 15-year skyrocketing success that spanned recording 680 songs from 1938 to 1953. The sisters also starred in feature films with The Ritz Brothers, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello, before feuding caused the act's break-up.
Their songs are still enjoyed today by new generations, including "Rum and Coca-Cola," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" and, of course, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." And at Christmas time, you can still hear the sisters singing with Bing Crosby on popular tunes from their team-up album doing songs like "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and the Hawaiian favorite "Mele Kalikimaka."
The Andrew Sisters reunited in June 1956 during a splashy Hollywood press conference that included a huge "bury the hatchet" sheet cake for photo ops. Accounts said it was disputes between sisters Patty and Maxene, due to Patty's marriage to Wally (and him also assuming the role as Patty's manager) that were responsible for the feud.
Previously, Patty was married to her agent Marty Melcher from 1947 to 1949. Following their divorce, Melcher married Doris Day.
Following their reunion and mended hard feelings, the Andrews Sisters continued performing together in Las Vegas and on television, including Dean Martin's popular TV variety show, until LaVerne's death from cancer at age 55 in 1967. Maxene, who later enjoyed a successful solo cabaret career (including performing one of her last at Theatre at the Center in Munster in 1994) died at age 78 in October 1995.
Patty enjoyed her own limited success with a solo career, also including TV appearances, such as playing herself for a guest star appearance on Lucille Ball's third comedy series "Here's Lucy" for an episode in 1969 called "Lucy and The Andrews Sisters," as well as appearing as one of the regular rotating celebrity judges on "The Gong Show" in the 1970s.
"Working with her on the episode we did with my mother was one of my thrills while doing the series," Lucie Arnaz said Sunday, during a telephone interview from her home in New York.
"We shot the episode before a live audience and Patty worked with us to recreate all of the original dance steps of the routine she used with her sisters when they would perform. She was every bit the professional and I remember we did that dance scene on the day of my 18th birthday, with my mom bring in a big cake on the set."
Arnaz said she recalled that Maxene, though not featured in the episode, also came to visit the set during the filming to watch her sister Patty recreate the Andrews Sisters song and dance routines with Lucille Ball and daughter Lucie filling in as the two other sisters."
In later years, Patty didn't care to talk much about Maxene. but I think she was happy she made up with her in 1987 for a brief reunion when the singing trio was given their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As for the group's professional frustration as a famed trio, Patty explained it (with exasperation) in an interview with The New York Times in 1974, as follows: "When our fans used to see one of us, they'd always ask, 'Where are your sisters?' Every time we got an award, it was just one award for the three of us. This could be irritating. We're not glued together."