McGUIRE SISTERS: NO SAD SONG SECOND TIME AROUND
With a gun-packing bodyguard running interference, three bubbly, almost identically dressed sisters moved briskly down a hotel corridor and entered an elevator on the 29th floor of the Las Vegas Hilton. As the elevator filled, heads turned, mouths agape.
“Triplets?” one woman asked, a question undoubtedly shared by others.
“No, but that makes me feel good,” said Christine McGuire, a great-grandmother. “I’m the oldest (57).”
Phyllis, the youngest (54, according to World Almanac; 51, according to her), and sister Dorothy (56) merely smiled.
Moving through the crowded lobby, outside and into a limo for a brief ride to a windy parking lot, the McGuire sisters continued to attract stares and autograph seekers.
When the singers--accommodating a photographer--climbed onto the hood of the Cadillac parked in front of the Hilton marquee that advertises their engagement (through May 6 in the Moulin Rouge Room), traffic slowed and pedestrians stopped to take in the free show.
The trio does draw attention--particularly from older fans who remember the “Sugartime” sweethearts of decades past.
Understandably, the ticking clock is not among their favorite topics, but the McGuire sisters don’t avoid the subject and, remarkably, have aged with the grace of a mature swan.
Phyllis, incidentally, is rather partial to swans, which adorn the grounds of her 26,000-square-foot Las Vegas home, currently being remodeled. She has an equally impressive town house in New York, purchased from an Arab prince.
By now, it’s been well documented that the McGuire sisters are back in show biz after a 17-year hiatus.
In fact, the Hilton booking is their third in Las Vegas since they launched their comeback nine months ago, having previously performed at Caesars Palace and the Desert Inn.
Featured in a recent TV segment of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” the singers’ decision to resume their careers was not financially motivated. All are, as one might say, “comfortable,” Dorothy and Phyllis driving Rolls-Royce convertibles, for instance, and Christine a Mercedes.
During a recent interview here, the three talked about their return to the spotlight--and considerably more, including the book Phyllis is writing about her romantic involvement years ago with the late mafia boss Sam Giancana. But more about that later.
Words bounced from subject to subject like tennis balls--their common interest in golf . . . their intense competitive natures . . . Christine’s hobby as a gourmet cook . . . their trim figures (all still wear size 8 dresses). . . .
Chattering like schoolgirls, often in unison, the sisters admitted they were apprehensive about being accepted at the outset but now are “thrilled” by the response they’ve received, even from younger fans.
Clearly, their adrenaline is gushing after all those years on the sideline.
It was 1968 when the trio unceremoniously disbanded after appearing on the Ed Sullivan TV show. Phyllis, however, continued singing as a soloist for six years.
“But I wasn’t enjoying it,” she recalled. “I missed the harmony, the group.”
And so Phyllis--who does a short solo bit in their current show--also left the business.
“I got involved in swans, animals. . . . I’m an antique collector, a lot of things. I got very much into business--real estate, gas, oil. I’m an investor. . . .”
“And,” sister Dorothy interrupted, “a spender”--a reference, possibly, to the $750,000 the sisters say they spent to finance their comeback.
Christine, meanwhile, pursued business ventures as well, becoming somewhat of a franchise tycoon--cinemas, Florida pubs and diet centers.
Over the years, she also has been changing partners frequently. At the moment, she is separated from her fourth husband.
Christine and Dorothy--both Scottsdale, Ariz., residents--have two sons each, but Dorothy’s life has been more stable.
Married since 1958 to Arizona real estate developer Lowell Richardson, Dorothy “just became a mother, watching my boys grow up and getting involved in church affairs.”
Phyllis, the dominant member of the trio, married a broadcaster “for about 10 minutes” when she was 21.
“The most wonderful thing about the marriage,” she said, laughing, “was his name--Neal Van Ells.”
She paused to reflect, then added with a satisfying smile, “Phyllis Jean Van Ells,” the words drifting from her lips like a swirl of smoke.
“I was so disillusioned. I’m still not over the fact it didn’t work.”
Years later, in 1958 or ‘59, Phyllis recalled, she met Sam Giancana at the Desert Inn, where she was standing in as a guest blackjack dealer.
Giancana wagered $500 at her $1 table, which impressed Phyllis, who was dating entertainer Dan Rowan at the time. Ultimately, she said she left Rowan for the underworld leader.
“None of us knew who he was,” Phyllis said. “I knew him as Sam Flood. I didn’t know for many months that his name wasn’t Flood.”
Told by her friends that Giancana had murdered people, Phyllis refused to believe the truth.
“I just knew that I liked the man,” she said. “His wife had passed away and he was very nice to me. And if he had done all those things they said he did, I wondered why in God’s name he was on the street and not in jail.”
Giancana proposed marriage, but Phyllis declined, saying that she was too involved in her career at the time, “past the urge.”
The couple continued their close relationship until Giancana was murdered in a bloody gangland shooting at his Oak Park, Ill., home in 1975.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said adamantly, looking back to her romance with Giancana. “I’m still close with his family, his three daughters.
“About a year and a half ago, I started thinking about writing the book, and I started it about two months ago. I have no collaborator or ghost writer. I hesitate at this point putting it in someone else’s hands. . . .”
Always a close family (their mother, 76, is an ordained minister in their Middletown, Ohio, hometown), the McGuires began harmonizing as youngsters and eventually were discovered by an agent who heard them sing at a revival meeting in Dayton. He persuaded them to go to New York after Phyllis’ graduation in 1952.
Wearing matching pink sweaters, the young trio sang “Mona Lisa” at an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts audition, then won the contest with a Jo Stafford favorite, “You Belong to Me.”
They were an instant success, recording such hits as “Sincerely”--No. 1 on the charts for 10 weeks in 1955--”Sugartime” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” among many others.
Two years ago Christine and Dorothy visited Phyllis in New York--a reunion that sparked media gossip of a comeback, which, all agreed, hadn’t really occurred to them.
But, why not? They had a piano moved into Phyllis’ suite, began listening to their old recordings, then went to work.
“Our harmony was great,” Christine said, “but it took four months to get that magic blend. We really had to work on it.”
Appropriately, their opening number in the Hilton show is “The Second Time Around,” a honey-smooth rendition that, indeed, turns back the clock.
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