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Andy Williams, savior of the Hollywood sign

September 27, 2012 | 12:56 pm

Reader Mike Sims emailed to point out that Andy Williams, who died Tuesday at 84, should also be remembered as one of the nine who helped save the Hollywood sign:

“I was running the Hollywood Chamber in those days -- 1978 -- and was on stage at [Hugh] Hefner's Hollywood Sign Party when Mr. Williams stood up at his table and asked to sponsor the ‘W.’ Alice Cooper had started the letter sponsoring by requesting one of the 'O's in honor of Groucho Marx. Williams, Cooper and the others each donated $27,777.77 and their generosity still sits tall and proud 34 years later.”

Gloria Swanson sponsored a complete makeover of the sign in 1973 but five years later termites had infested the wooden letters, an “O” had tumbled down Mt. Lee and arsonists had set fire to the bottom of an “L,”  according to the Hollywood Sign Trust.

PHOTOS: Andy Williams | 1927-2012

The sign needed to be rebuilt, at a cost of $250,000 -- more than 10 times what it initially cost to construct in 1923. For throwing the lavish summer fundraiser at his Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, the chamber “gave” Hefner the “Y.” By fall 1978, the flimsy old sign had been replaced by one with baked-enamel letters fortified with tons of concrete and steel.

Rounding out the “Hollywood nine”: publisher Terrence Donnelly, movie producer Giovanni Mazza, Les Kelley of the Kelley Blue Book, Angels owner Gene Autry, Warner Bros. Records, and businessman Dennis Lidtke.

Hefner called the sign “our Eiffel Tower” and Williams agreed, telling The Times in 1979: “I think it’s important to have some monuments synonymous with Hollywood.”


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-- Valerie J. Nelson