Let's start with some reasonable assumptions:
- There is no atmosphere on the Moon, so there is no atmospheric scattering, so stars should be visible
- BUT, if one has a bright object in the field of view (i.e. the Sun), one cannot see the stars
- AND, lunar surface is bright, and the visor glass is darkened, so only the brightest stars would be seen (if any)
Okay, Let us now see the sky at the Apollo 11 landing:
The image was rendered using Stellarium. The view is straight up, and the azimuth grid is included. The horizon circle is marked by letters N-S-E-W (which also represent cardinal directions), so objects inside the circle are above the horizon and those outside are below the horizon. Bright stars and planets are labeled. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to change the regional settings to English, so the time is given as GMT+2 and all labels are in Polish Most of the planetary names are similar; here's a dictionary of non-obvious ones: Słońce = Sun, Ziemia = Earth, Księżyc = Moon.
For simplicity, I took date and time for landing, not EVA, but the Moon rotates slowly enough that I don not expect this to significantly influence the appearance of the sky.
Anyway. You can see that most bright stars are close to the Sun: in azimuth, Rigel and Sirius are 40-45 degrees away; Betelgeuse is 20 degrees away; Procyon even less than that; Capella is 30 degrees away. There is no way one can see any of these, without the Sun getting into his field of view. To make matters worse, Rigel, Betelgeuse and Capella are at 50 degrees elevation; I am not quite familiar with the mechanics of Apollo suit, but I presume that it would not allow the astronaut to look so high up.
The only bright star which is a good distance away from the Sun (115 degrees), and at reasonable elevation (15 degrees) is Achernar. There is also Canopus nearby, but it is so low over the horizon that it could be either obscured by terrain, or, the bright terrain would get into the observers' field of view and prevent him from seeing the star.
Let's now look at the Apollo 17 sky:
A rich star field with Hadar is located 50 degrees away from the Sun, between 10 and 30 degrees over the horizon. Procyon is 160 degrees away, effectively on the opposite side of the sky, 12 degrees above the horizon. Vega is 60 degrees from the Sun, 12 degrees above the horizon. That means that more bright stars are away from the Sun and at a reasonable elevation, making their observation much easier.
So, I believe that the positions of bright stars during Apollo 17 were much more favorable for viewing than during Apollo 17. I also believe that this is a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon described in the quote at the beginning of this post.