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Moon River Man in Reno
by Harry Spencer
Oct 01, 2012 | 1767 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The news last week that singer Andy Williams had passed away at age 84 reminded me of the first time I saw him in person. It was at the old Club Fortune (now the Cal-Neva). The club itself was then much smaller than its present configuration. But still, it was large enough to sport a small showroom on the main floor. The best viewing seats were on the second floor ledge overlooking the first floor.

Williams himself was a member of a small number of boy singers backing up a well-known female performer, Kay Thompson. Interestingly enough, it was the same showroom that first saw Liberace appear here. During the famous pianist’s appearance, his brother George had a simple task of lighting a candelabra.

My most intimate encounter with Andy Williams occurred when he was brought to Reno to play in the Mapes Invitational Golf Tournament in the ‘60’s. He was accompanied by the Mapes booking agent Pierre Cossette, who numbered Ann Margaret and Dick Shawn among his clients. During the stag event at the golf tournament, Mapes asked me to have Williams come up and sing a few ditties. I approached Andy and he said, “Tell Mr. Mapes I am here to play golf not to perform.” I relayed his message to Mapes who immediately said, “Take him off the mailing list.” Consequently Williams was never invited to another tournament.

The last time I saw Andy was at his nitery dinner show performance at Harrah’s South Shore Room at Lake Tahoe. My wife and I were guests of Harrah’s host, Lee DeLauer. We were seated at ringside along with Lee’s wife, Geneve, at a table for four. Just before the show, Lee approached us and said, “I’m giving my seat to Andy’s girlfriend Claudine Longet,” who proved to be a petite French damsel. It was the same young lady who years later, after she had left Andy, was accused of stabbing skier Spider Sabich to death. Strangely enough, it was Andy’s support that cleared her of the charge. It was hard to imagine that a person so slight of build could inflict a deadly attack on a sturdy skier like Sabich.

As time wore on, Williams became a staple on TV and his recordings sold handsomely. It is probably well to note that he got his first big break on the tube when he was signed as a summertime replacement for singer Pat Boone, who was a regular at the Tahoe Racquet Club on the North Shore.

Williams’ mellow crooner style eventually faded from the entertainment scene, and I lost track of him for a number of years. In the story about his passing, I was surprised to learn that he had become a permanent member of the Branson, Missouri entertainment complex, even to the point that he built the Moon River Theater at that location. The name of the theater was well chosen since “Moon River” was his signature song. Too bad he never sang it in person at the Mapes.

Harry Spencer is a long-time Truckee Meadows resident.
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