The concert version of OVER HERE! last month in New York spurred Lynda Wells to give me a call. She was Maxene Andrews’ daughter and longtime lover.
Did that sentence grab your attention?
Wells was Andrews’ lover first and foremost starting in 1973, around the time when plans were afoot to bring OVER HERE! to Broadway. The two remained a couple until Andrews’ death in 1995.
“We never came out,” said Wells. “It was a huge secret. Back then, lovers had no rights, and Maxene didn’t want me to go through any legal trouble after she died. So she officially adopted me.”
Few if any eyebrows were raised, because Wells was indeed young enough to be Andrews’ daughter. “There was a twenty-seven-year difference between us,” Wells said. “What’s funny is that we’d already met long before — in 1956 when I was thirteen and she was forty.”
You’ll be happy to hear that nothing happened then. Their shaking hands – “and taking my mother, grandmother and me to the Brown Derby – not the one with the hat” — occurred because the Wells family and The Andrews Sisters had already been friends for twenty years.
“It happened when my parents were at the Memphis airport and just happened to meet all three Andrews Sisters – LaVerne, Patty and Maxene,” reported Wells. “This was before the girls became famous. They all got along, and even after the sisters had their great success, they stayed in touch with my folks. Maxene even sent my parents a $50 war bond when I was born.”
But the reason Wells called me wasn’t just to reminisce. She wanted to comment on my inference that Walter Weschler was greatly involved in the composing of three of the five songs that the two surviving sisters – Patty and Maxene — sang together in OVER HERE! I assumed as much from the notation on the published script:
“Messrs. Sherman and (vocal arranger Louis) St. Louis wish to acknowledge the creative contribution of Walter Weschler on these numbers.”
Considering that the Sherman Brothers score for OVER HERE! doesn’t remotely resemble the ones they did for all those Hollywood movie musicals – their Broadway score is robust with the big band ‘40s sound — I assumed that they’d received some sage advice from Weschler. After all, he’d become the sisters’ pianist in 1945, so he would know how the Andrews Sisters should sound.
He’d also come to know one of the Andrews Sisters in the Biblical sense. In 1951, he and Patty married and remained together for nearly sixty years until he died in 2010.
So Weschler knew better than the Sherman Brothers what The Andrew Sisters needed, no?
“No,” said Wells. “Wally was simply the pianist, but he was ready to sue the Shermans to get credit. They gave him credit just to avoid any future problems.”
And that wasn’t all, Wells insisted. “From the time when he became Patty’s husband, he demanded to be cut in and get one-fourth of the act. LaVerne and Maxene weren’t happy about it, but there were some tax problems with the IRS from 1951 to 1961.”
Wells alleged that at the time “Patty was absolutely broke. Her husband Marty Melcher, who’d left her for her best friend Doris Day, had taken all her money.”
(That doesn’t sound so far-fetched when one remembers that Melcher bilked Day, too. She eventually got a settlement of nearly $23 million in recompense for all that he’d stolen from her.)
“Patty was so mortified by Marty’s taking everything,” Wells said. “So she didn’t want to admit that she’d made another mistake in choosing a husband. But the rest of the family stopped speaking to Patty because of Wally. He didn’t want them in her life, anyway. He wouldn’t even allow her to make her own friends. When they were with other people, he would take her arm and say ‘We’ve gotta go.’”
Nevertheless, when the possibility of OVER HERE! came up, both sisters wanted it. “It was always Maxene’s dream to be on Broadway,” said Wells. “When the sisters played the Paramount Theatre right around the corner was the Shubert Theatre. She hoped to get there one day.”
Indeed, Maxene did, starting Feb. 21, 1974, when OVER HERE! had the first preview of what would be a ten-month-plus run at that very playhouse.
But it cost her. After LaVerne died, according to Wells, Weschler wanted one-third of the action. With the two-against-one situation, Maxene had little bargaining power.
“Patty got a bigger salary and more or the gross,” Wells insisted. And Wally got an extra $1,000 for playing the third act.”
OVER HERE! had no official third act, but after the curtain calls, Patty would say to the crowd “You wanna hear some of the old songs?”
Guess how the audience responded. So the sisters would do “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Rum and Coca Cola” and, of course, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.” Those sent every audience out on a rainbow high.
Wells said she witnessed virtually all thirteen previews and 341 official performances. So could she tell that featured performers Ann Reinking and especially John Travolta would go on to greater success?
“Anne stood out like a bright light bulb, as did John Mineo,” she said. “We thought that John Driver would wind up being a big deal. We liked Samuel E. Wright, too, and felt bad when he left the show to take over for Ben Vereen in PIPPIN. Of course he’d go on and become the first Mustapha in THE LION KING. As for John Travolta, what I remember most is how he’d so often call in sick because he didn’t want to do matinees.”
Maxene found Life after OVER HERE! Among many gigs was playing Hattie Walker and singing “Broadway Baby” in productions of FOLLIES in Houston and Seattle.
Although you may not be getting the impression that Wells and Maxene ever forgave both Patty and Weschler for their injustices, Wells insisted they did. “Maxene and I became born-again Christians,” she said. “That cleansed us of so much pain. But all through the difficulties, Maxene never blamed Patty for anything. She blamed Wally.”
Well, as my ex-mother-in-law used to say so wisely, there are three sides to every story: his side, her side and the truth. And I will say this: Wells told me that before she’d hooked up with Maxene, she was an actress. “I appeared in THE PAJAMA GAME with Liza Minnelli,” she said. “Robert LuPone was in it, too.”
Well, I saw that production at Painters Mill Music Fair in Owings Mill, Maryland. I save all my programs, so I dug that one out.
Lo and behold, between “Mae … Thelma Pelish” and “Poopsie … Diana Finn” is “Brenda … Lynda Wells.” The last-listed characters are “Two Cutting Room Boys … Robert LuPone and Tony Salatino.”
(Cutting must have been good experience for LuPone, for as Zack in A CHORUS LINE, he had to do a lot of that.)
On the basis of those facts delivered by Lynda Wells, as Hinesy says in THE PAJAMA GAME, I would trust her.