Andy Williams and Me

By Vilanch, Bruce | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), May 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

Andy Williams and Me


Vilanch, Bruce, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


The last closet in show business is in Branson, Mo. "I can't wait for them to get a load of you here," Andy Williams told me on the phone. We were chatting as I steered my rented full-size toward Branson, a strip of highway in the middle of the Ozarks where 37--count `em, 37--Vegas-style showroom theaters light up every morning, noon, and night to entertain tourists who come from, literally, God only knows where.

I was going to check out Andy's show, for which I had actually written some material. Here was a chance to see how I played in Peoria, or worse. Andy does his two-hour Broadway-Hollywood extravaganza twice a day from April through October in his own Moon River Theater. "Are there any gay bars?" I asked the straight but alwayship Andy. "God, no. I don't think there are even any gay chorus boys here." Think again, Andy. "Well, there was one," he added. "He was in my show. But he quit. He got tired of driving to Springfield every time he wanted to go dancing."

For a town with no gay chorus boys, Branson does have its share of Advocate readers. I was greeted--quietly--by several of them at virtually every place I stopped: at the Roy Rogers restaurant, which is the best in town; at the spectacular Lake of the Ozarks; and at the Holiday Inn, which, at four stories, is Branson's tallest structure. The second tallest structure is Erma Grundfest, a waitress at Roy Rogers, who is a local landmark on par with the Hollywood sign.

Branson is a show business burial ground that rivals Forest Lawn, but as Andy likes to point out, the cemetery plots are lined with gold. His theater, which is only slightly less elaborate than the Metropolitan Opera House, is a smash bit of nearly a decade. Tony Orlando is a big name in Branson. Other variety show vets like Wayne Newton and Mel Tillis have anchored there with varying degrees of success.

The crowd tends to spill off buses, and there are, no doubt, a lot of fundamentalists milling about, but being a good Christian evidently doesn't guarantee big box office. Anita Bryant--anybody old enough to remember her?--was reduced to playing 11 a.m. shows, when nothing else is happening. Even with that, she was forced to pack up her snake oil and slither out of town. …

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