Andy Williams, the smooth crooner whose string of '50s and '60s hits included "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Dear Heart," died Tuesday night of bladder cancer.
Through his recordings, his personal appearances and his hit TV shows, Andy gave old-fashioned songwriters a chance to stay in the game during a time when rock & rollers came to dominate the charts by recording their own material. In particular, Andy gave my dad, Carl Sigman, the last and biggest hit of his career.
Here's how it happened. In 1970, as his assignments from music publishers dwindled, Carl got a call from Hollywood. Paramount needed lyrics for the theme from, Love Story, their soon-to-be released blockbuster based on Erich Segal's best-selling novel. Carl came up with a moving song true to the film's tale of a love affair cut short by the girl's tragic death. Paramount chief Bob Evans hated it, rejecting the lyric as too much of a downer; incredibly, he also felt it was too sexually suggestive, objecting to the words "Jenny came."
Carl's fury at Paramount turned into furious pacing around our living room grasping for a new way in to the melody. Usually this kind of obsessive activity produced results, but this time Carl was so attached to his original lyric, he couldn't separate from it. In desperation, he turned to my mom and said, "Where do I begin?" She recognized the perfect wedding of those words with the opening notes of the melody and a worldwide standard was born.
Andy won the ensuing cover battle with Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis, all Columbia recording artists, sealing the deal by singing it on his TV show every week.
Two years later, Andy scored big again, this time with "Speak Softly Love," the theme from Paramount's classic film The Godfather. Given the success of "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story," it wasn't surprising that Carl was asked to get started on a lyric to Nino Rota's haunting theme. When he arrived at the lobby of Manhattan's Gulf + Western Building to meet with Paramount, the shakily constructed skyscraper was literally swaying from the heavy winds and had to be evacuated. But something else was apparently in the wind that day, because Carl never heard from Paramount again.
I met Andy just once, at a celeb-filled party to celebrate his "Love Story" success. He was surrounded by important people, but when he was told that Carl Sigman's son was there, he came over to say hello and, for a minute or so, made me feel like I was the proverbial only person in the room.