Andy's Christmas show returns

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- Andy Williams, whose family Christmas shows were a TV tradition for 12 years, returns to the tube next month with a yuletide special after a seven-year absence.

For many years Andy was curiously associated with Christmas, providing millions of Americans with a surrogate family during the holidays.


It was as if the singer annually invited the rest of us to share eggnogs, carols and a cheery yule log on crispy Christmas Eves.

Williams and his mid-western (Iowa) family might have been a figment of Grant Wood. The wholesome, All-America appearance of his parents, brothers and sister, epitomized unaffected family togetherness.

Although Andy will return to the tube Dec. 7 with 'Andy Williams' Early New England Christmas,' his first Christmas show in seven years, his family will not.

His daughter, Noel, and son, Chris, are grown now and his former wife, Claudine Longet, makes her home in Colorado.


Instead of a family Christmas, Andy takes us to Shelburne, Vt., and an idealized 18th century New England village in which the first light-hearted American Christmas could have been celebrated.

Williams visited Shelburne last March, when the village still wore a mantle of snow, and quickly organized the show, financing it himself.

'The museum is the most unusual in the country,' Williams said enthusiastically. 'It consists of 25 buildings, all from the 1700s and brought to Shelbourne from all parts of the United States to comprise a little town of its own.

'There's a church, a general store, train station, schoolhouse, town hall, prosperous houses and not-so-prosperous houses. It's very quaint and very American.

'We used costumes from the museum and the townspeople were our extras. The show is played in the 18th century. I'm the only person dressed in contemporary clothes, looking in on Christmas as it might have been celebrated in those days.

'Until the 1700s, Christmas in America was a very solemn, religious holiday. There was no singing or gift-giving except for the children. So our special is about one of the earliest up-beat Christmas celebrations in New England.'

Williams, of course, will sing the traditional carols.


It is the singer's first musical special since 1975, prompting questions about the current status of television musical-variety shows. There is not a single such weekly show on the air this season.

Williams is convinced musical-variety shows on television are as dead as burlesque and vaudeville.

'The Barbara Mandrell Show,' which was canceled last season, was the last prime time musical series.

There was a time when when they flourished with Williams, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell, Mack Davis, Julie Andrews and the Osmonds.

'As an entertainment form it just doesn't work anymore,' Williams said. 'I guess Perry and Dinah and I managed to hang in there the longest with consistent quality, but it was never easy.

'There were never enough really talented guests available. The good ones went from show to show until they were overexposed.

'The shows finally became boring. It was almost impossible to produce a quality show on a weekly basis, although I tried for a dozen years working awfully hard to turn up something special.

'The hardest part was catering to the guest stars' egos and finding the right combination of guests. Finally, it got to be too much.'


With the record business in the doldrums, TV closed to musicals and Las Vegas doing away with its star system, Williams has turned to other resources. He tours the United States and abroad. He plays colleges and one-night stands.

'I do 10 symphony dates a year,' he said, grinning. 'The income is good but it keeps you on the road. Vegas is really in trouble, but things are opening up in Atlantic City.

'I don't think musical-variety shows will ever return to TV on a weekly basis, but TV is changing. When these cable outfits get strong we may see musical-variety come back in a different form.

'For the sake of all singers, I hope so.'

adv for pms Fri. Nov.

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