Come on, tell me who are you: Andy Williams and friends

Question: I've been a fan of Andy Williams for years and years, but I can't remember: Was The Andy Williams Show his first TV series? Thank you for your help; I'm a fan of yours, too.


Answer: Technically speaking, no, Nancy, though what constitutes a regular series in this case isn't an easy call. Williams' first regular TV gig was The Andy Williams and June Valli Show, which ran twice a week in 15-minute segments in the summer of 1957. The following year Williams again landed a summer show, The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams, when he was asked to fill in while Pat Boone took a break. He then met with success the year after doing the same thing for Garry Moore. You could argue, however, that until Williams landed NBC's The Andy Williams Show in 1962, he wasn't really given a true series that was all his own. Certainly TV Guide didn't think so, since it ran several stories lamenting the fact that no one could find a place for him.

The odd thing about Williams' career at the time was that the industry seemed unable to figure out what to do with him even though he was very popular. Having honed his singing chops with his brothers before heading out on his own and later meeting with approval on Steve Allen's Tonight show, Williams was a successful night-club singer who'd put out multiple records with sales topping 500,000 and had headlined several big specials. Yet the TV people insisted he couldn't carry his own vehicle because he wasn't a clearly defined personality; he was just a singer.

Williams, a native of tiny Wall Lake, Iowa, didn't see it that way. "I see myself as a farm boy in an impeccably tailored tuxedo, singing astride a tractor," he told TV Guide in 1963. Trouble was, even his head writer, Mort Green, talked freely about struggling to define Williams. First they said he was a Bing Crosby-type, or "long-wearing TV personality." The problem there was that Crosby was able to joke about himself, his family, his money and his life because viewers already knew all about him, and they didn't know much at all about Williams. "This is not a writing job," Green said. "We are molding a personality that exists, and making it identifiable to 30 million people. People like people, not things. I figure if Isaac Stern plays a composition it's got a good chance, but if my cousin Irving plays it, I don't like the composition. I don't like my cousin Irving. We had to make sure Andy wasn't my cousin Irving."

Early on, Williams' image was that of the small-town charmer from the Midwest. But ratings were low, so the producers tried to broaded the show's appeal (notably by adding the Osmond Brothers). "I admit there are times when I'm confused about what I am," Williams said at the time. "But I go along because this seems to be what I should be doing."

By 1965, however, when TV Guide checked in with Williams again, he'd been moved around the NBC schedule a couple times and his ratings were improved. Yet the nagging "personality" problem was still nearly all anyone talked about, and the "tractor" comment had become a regret. "I'm sorry I said that," Williams admitted. "Someone told me to say it. I let myself be led too much. No, I don't think I'm a farm boy. I'm an average man who developed certain interests in cultural directions.... I resented all that publicity about finding my image. It made me look as if I had no personality."

And four years later, it was still a major focus of the interview. "I don't know how that 'image' stuff got started," Williams said in 1969. "Maybe they figured I needed some jazzing up.... All the producers could talk about was how they were going to make me successful. Rather than take me for what I was or what I could do, they kept saying, 'Don't wear too-severe pants, get a natural-shoulder jacket, don't wear your hair too long, put on a sweater and sit on a stool.' I became a little uncertain of what was really me."

Perhaps, but the audience didn't seem to. Despite all the talk of Williams' fuzzy identity, he kept his Andy Williams Show on the air until July 1971 — a healthy run — followed up by years of well-received specials and continued to post strong record sales. In addition, he currently runs a successful theater in family-friendly Branson, Mo. Not bad for a guy with no identity, huh?