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Andy Williams: Not Now, Not Ever, NEVER!
September 27, 2012  | By Noel Holston  | 6 comments
 
“Not now… Not ever…. NEVER!”

It may seem improbable, but there was a time in the 1960s when those words were as widely over-repeated and just as much a sign of imagined hipness as, say, “Jane, you ignorant slut…,” “Is that your final answer?” or “D’oh.”

They were spoken, once per weekly prime-time hour, by Andy Williams, an easy-listening crooner only a few degrees less square than Lawrence Welk, to a tall guy (Janos Prohaska) in a bear costume.

On The CBS Evening News Wednesday night, anchor Scott Pelley prefaced the report of Williams’ death at the age of 84 by saying that the reaction of many CBS staff members upon hearing the news was “to start humming ‘Moon River,’” which was Williams theme song.

Me? I thought about the bear and Williams’ send-off line, which worked, I think, because the bear bit was almost as off-the-wall in that tame TV era as an Ernie Kovacs skit and because the “anger” was so comically incongruous coming from a singer so pleasant and unflappable. To find a fellow who seemed more serene than Williams, you had to go over to Perry Como’s soundstage or visit a temple in Tibet.

The bear would wander in and out of camera range and pester and pester Williams, trying to mooch a cookie. And finally, at some point, Williams would explode. “Not now… Not ever… NEVER!”

I still laugh when I read or hear those words. And I’m not the only person of my era who still has that reaction.

Williams was of course best known for his singing, especially ballads such as the themes from Love Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (“Moon River”). He also had hits covering an occasional rock ’n’ roll tune (Charlie Gracie’s “Butterfly”) or a country song (Roger Miller’s wonderful “In the Summertime’) or refurbishing a real oldie (Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht’s “The Bilbao Song”).

For kids and teenagers of the time, it was Williams' TV show, not his Billboard charters, that mattered. It premiered on NBC in 1962 and ran for nine years. To put that impressive run into context, it predated the Beatles’ world conquest and was still around after Fab Four were launching solo careers. It bridged an era when he the worlds of popular music and television were undergoing seismic changes.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967-69) is rightly remembered as the most daring and “countercultural” of the era’s network musical-comedy programs. But while the musical legacy of Williams’ weekly show inevitably will be linked to the Osmonds, whose career he launched, he was almost as adventurous as Tom and Dick Smothers when it came to showcasing rock and rock-pop acts.

On The Andy Williams Show, you could see and hear Creedence Clearwater Revival, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Elton John and Ike and Tina Turner as well as Peggy Lee, Count Basie or Tony Bennett. Other than Ed Sullivan, there’s probably no other TV host who ever welcomed both Jerry and Jerry Lee Lewis to his soundstage (or Liberace and Little Richard, for that matter). And he presented comedians as well: Flip Wilson, Shelly Berman and Phyllis Diller, to name just a few who either did some stand-up or joined Williams in skits.

So here’s to the late, likeable Andy Williams, a singer who came across as a mischievous “Huckleberry friend” notwithstanding the camouflage of tuxedos and Christmas sweaters. I loved his show and his guests and especially the bear. And I never doubted that Williams, once the cameras stopped rolling, handed over the cookie.

Not then.

Not now.

Never.

 
 
 
 
 
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6 Comments
 
 
John
ISIRTA (I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again) comedy series with John Cleese, etc., makes reference to the bear and cookie joke in one episode. BBC...
Jul 7, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Christine Watts
I was lucky enough to meet Andy Williams many times, and he was just as nice and friendly as he was on TV, he also had a great sense of humour and didn't mind laughing at himself. He also was a generous man, doing a lot of charity work. I used to watch his shows regularly, and I wish they would repeat them, they were really funny and there was some great music from Andy and his guests!......xxx
May 4, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Jeff H
Following his passing, I read a humorous story in our local paper about Andy Williams visiting a nursing home and asking one of the residents "do you know who I am" to which she replied "Don't worry about that, it happens to all of us from time to time, just ask one of the nurses, they should be able to help you"
What a great illustration of his humility and self effacing humor.
Oct 1, 2012   |  Reply
 
 
EG
Noel - Great piece on TV that would normally be viewed as quaint, passe, irrelevant. Williams was an artist in his own right; his 1963 hit "Can't Get Used to Losing You" traded well on Phil Spector-like echo's and spaces that were signatures of the day, and helped make the culture what it was at the time. That he and stars like Dean Martin took on the roles of self-effacing straight guys at the center of intentionally poorly rehearsed gags made for an intimacy on TV that was new and very needed after the stiffness of the 50's. Williams was in the middle of all that. And besides, nothing funnier that a guy in a bear suit. -EG
Sep 30, 2012   |  Reply
 
Noel
And you did a nice job of putting my context in context. Thanks. Oh, and "Can't Get Used to Losing You" IS a really fine record. You probably know that The (English) Beat, a ska band, later did a great cover of it.
Oct 1, 2012
 
 
 
Chris Cornell
Nice piece, but the information is slightly incorrect. The original Andy Williams Show ran from '62 to '67. Then he took a year off before returning with a NEW, edgier (for Williams) Andy Williams Show, which frequently featured the marvelous Cookie Bear sketches. The show ran for two seasons.
Sep 29, 2012   |  Reply
 
Noel
I looked it up, Chris, and you are correct about the hiatus. I also discovered that Andy did 2 or 3 years of summer-replacement duty before his weekly show debuted in '62. So he was around, off and on, for a span of 12 years. I thought the begging bear ("Please, sir, may I have a cookie?") was around earlier than '69. I was away at collee and not seeing much weekly TV by that time.
Oct 1, 2012
 
 
 
MJ Winktoad
Noel Holston is truly one of the best media writers in the U.S. today. He encapsulates the feelings of an entire generation in the way he writes about the stars of yesteryear.

Thanks for a sweet piece, Mr. Holston.

The "poor starved bear" on Andy Williams was always one of my favorite moments in the show. I didn't understand it completely, but even as a grade school kid, I thought it was hysterically funny. I still do, actually.
Sep 28, 2012   |  Reply
 
Noel
You sound really nice as well as perceptive. I live in Athens, Ga. Are you anywhere near there? Maybe we could do lunch or something some time.
Oct 1, 2012
 
 
 
 
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