In the 1950s, Andy Williams was a nobody, singing to small crowds in rinky-dink bars. But this boy from Iowa eventually went on to great things in show business.
He racked up several gold and platinum albums, performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for more than 20 years, and hosted a weekly TV variety show. In the 1980s, President Reagan called Williams a national treasure.
In his 70 years in the business, Williams came to know everybody from Judy Garland to Bobby Kennedy to Frank Sinatra to Elivs. He shares his reflections on all of them in his new book, "Moon River and Me."
After reading the excerpt below, head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
I grew up in the hungry 1930s when the Great Depression threw millions out of work, and overfarming, overgrazing, and a seven-year drought turned land to dust from Texas to the Canadian border. I can remember days when the wind blowing from the south carried a fog of choking black dust that blotted out the sun and left us gasping for breath. It settled on every surface and drifted like snow against walls and fences. There were two early summer days when it never got light as an endless dust storm raged around us, and over the next few days we heard on the radio that the winds had carried it right across the country, blanketing even the streets of Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston with black dust.
With their crops dead, their soil stripped away, and their land worthless, millions of dispossessed farmers and sharecroppers abandoned their homes and began a long hungry trek in search of work. Even in Wall Lake we saw rickety trucks passing through, piled with the possessions of gaunt families in threadbare clothes. Every night Dad came home with tales of hobos dodging the railroad "bulls" in the freight yards and riding the boxcars from one coast to the other, seeking work or a new beginning.
Hollow-eyed figures also haunted the highways around us, some making for Des Moines and Chicago, others with their faces set to the west, heading for California. Their shoes—when they had any—were falling apart, and their clothes were so dust gray that they seemed to merge with the earth as they trudged slowly on. I can remember peeping from behind the shutters as they slowly shuffled past; it was like watching a parade of ghosts.
We were luckier than many in those long, hard years, but although we never were short of food, we were perennially short of money, and there was very rarely any to spare for new clothes. Mine were all hand-me-downs, but if our clothes were sometimes worn and threadbare, Mom made sure they were always clean. Any missing buttons were always replaced at once, and holes and tears were darned.
Our house in Wall Lake was always filled with music. Mom had the radio on from morning to night, tuned to a country music station, and she sang along as she did the washing, cooking, and ironing. I would often join in with her in my piping little treble voice. One of my earliest memories was of sitting on the kitchen floor, nibbling on a just-baked cookie, and clapping my hands as Mom sang a country tune and did a little dance just to make me laugh.