This week marks a real end to one of the last living links to the World War II entertainment and pre war Swing music era in the death of Patty Andrews. The last surviving member of the famed Andrews Sisters died this week at the age of 94 in her home in California. She was the youngest of the three sisters. Maxine passed way in 1995 and Laverne in 1967. These three little sisters started their careers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They were born in Minnesota to immigrant parents and they grew up to become an American institution.
Why write about The Andrews Sisters and Patty’s passing in an archive piece on Fort Lee? Well, as often is the case all roads lead to our historic borough atop the Palisades and in this case to a specific legendary nightclub, the Riviera, which perched on those Palisades just north of the George Washington Bridge.
H. Arlo Nimmo makes a Fort Lee connection in his book The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record:
In late July of 1947 the sisters began a nightclub engagement at the Riviera in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at $12,500 plus percentages above $70,000. Ten years previously, before they were nationally known, the sisters played the Riviera for $200 a week. A Variety story claimed that it was “their first café date in the N.Y. vicinity and the second of their career.
That is a wonderful part of our Fort Lee history, to have been the locale where this greatest of American singing trios became stars. And it doesn’t end here for during that 1937 gig at Ben Marden’s Riviera in Fort Lee they crossed paths with a future Mayor of Fort Lee, a teenaged Henry Hoebel.
One late night Henry was left literally watching the store, his family's Hoebel Florist shop here in Fort Lee. Henry’s parents were out in the city for the evening so Henry was the only person home when the phone rang one late night. Henry answered the phone and on the other end of the line was a very jolly soul who wanted to order three of the largest arrangements Hoebel’s had in stock.
Henry over and over again told the inebriated fellow that the store was closed but each time Henry tried to end the call the stage door Johnny upped the ante as to what he would pay for the flowers. Finally, as they say, the price was right and Henry agreed to make three gigantic bouquets of the finest flowers in Hoebels and all of Fort Lee for that matter. Henry was instructed to meet said stage door Johnny at, where else, the stage door of the Riviera Nightclub.
Once the arrangements were finished Henry hopped into the delivery truck and headed down Main Street to Hudson Terrace where he made a left and headed on up to the entrance of The Riviera off Hudson Terrace just north of the GWB. Once he parked the vehicle he opened up the back of the truck and slowly removed the largest bouquets he himself ever delivered. Henry met the stage door Johnny and was handed a note and told to knock on the dressing room door and present the flowers and note to the entertainers inside the dressing room. Well, the date was 1937 and as you read above, the three singing Andrews Sisters were those very performers behind the dressing room door that night.
Now, before I proceed I must tell you that Henry told me this story in confidence at the Fort Lee Museum a few years prior to his death in 2000. Henry said I was not to repeat this story until his passing – of course he said this with a wry smile almost enjoying the fact that I surely would pass on this great tale once Henry passed. I kind of feel that with the passing of Patty Andrews this week that it is time to tell the tale.
So, as they say, here is the rest of the story. Teenaged Henry knocked on the Riviera dressing room door and he heard from behind the closed door the wonderful harmony of all three sisters almost singing “come in.” So, in Henry went, his vision slightly obscured by the bountiful bouquets. As he regained his vision, it took him but a few seconds to realize the giggling Andrews Sisters were in their birthday suits so to speak.
They thanked young Henry for delivering the flowers and it is safe to say Henry always remembered the sisters quite fondly as he listened to their hit records for the next several decades.
So, as we bid goodbye to Patty Andrews, we recall all the wonderful hit songs of The Andrews Sisters from Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, to their wonderful appearances in the Bud Abbott & Lou Costello films of the early 1940s, to their great duets with Bing Crosby, to the legacy they left through the careers they influenced from Bette Midler to Christina Aguilera. But here in Fort Lee I must say we will always remember that night in 1937 when a future Mayor met the future Queens of American pop who were dressed not so to the nines.