Nubile but nice, SANDRA DEE was head cheerleader of Hollywood’s late-’50s Dream Team of young film stars. She went from top model to top teen fantasy as the original Gidget and the fallen good girl in the movie A Summer Place. Offscreen, she headlined in a patchy run as Mrs. Bobby Darin.
Decked out in flamboyant duds, made up with sequins and eyeliner, LITTLE RICHARD shocked America with his notions about motion and his suggestive lyrics. And this was after he’d made an effort to tame down his act. “Back in my time, you couldn’t say what you wanted to say,” he once remarked. “When I made ‘Tutti-Frutti,’it was’Tutti-Frutti’ something else. I then had to clean it up and say ‘Tutti-Frutti, aw rootie.’ ”
TV’s hair apparent to James Dean, EDD “KOOKIE” BYRNES was slick as the cool car jockey on 77 Sunset Strip (snap, snap) who endlessly combed his hair and offered to “keep the eyeballs rolling.” Budding bobby-soxers went wild and expressed their fervor by swooping up a million copies of Edd’s novelty single, the relentlessly cutesy “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb).”
PAT BOONE was the white-buck wonder, so pure he once balked at pillowcases imprinted with his face, questioning the seemliness of appearing in girls’ bedrooms. His versions of tunes like “Ain’t That a Shame” got him dubbed an “idol Grandma can dig too.”
Sand sensation TROY DONAHUE made waves in A Summer Place, Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye but later confessed he’d felt parched for earthier roles: “After all those years playing Mr. Clean, I was afraid to comb my hair for fear of scratching my halo.”
Sparks were flying and jukeboxes were blowing fuses when CHUCK BERRY first laid down the rhythm and hues of rock and roll in the mid-’50s. “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Sweet Little Sixteen” became foundation songs for everyone from the Beatles to Bob Dylan, but only rank amateurs ever dared copy the duck walk.
At 16, PAUL ANKA put the emote back in emotions with “Diana.” Subsequent straight-to-the-heart numbers like “You Are My Destiny” didn’t break musical ground, but he managed to pen a classic, “My Way,” for Frank Sinatra.
He looked like an algebra honors student, but oh, boy, could he raise the power onstage. With and without the Crickets, BUDDY HOLLY fired out vocals in a fasttorqued falsetto that made fans rave on long after his death in 1959, at 22, in the plane crash that also killed Ritchie Valens.
With his plush lyric baritone and his startling looks, chances are JOHNNY MATHIS would have been a star in any era. But in the late 1950s, when rock and roll ruled the airwaves, Mathis reigned as romantic balladeer, although he later reflected he’d felt uneasy with his “mushy” image “because a man isn’t supposed to be as romantic as a woman.”
Unearthing a Mexican folk song, “La Bamba,” Chicano rocker RITCHIE VALENS polished it into a hit that has been remade by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Los Lobos.
When he wed his 13-year-old second cousin in 1958, JERRY LEE LEWIS left everybody breathless and sent his career down in great balls of fire. But too much free time drives a wild man insane, and within 10 years “the Killer” was back on top—of his piano and the charts.
In 1958 deejays were flooded with requests for “Splish Splash” by the self-proclaimed “next Sinatra,” BOBBY DARIN. He earned torrential success and two Grammys with “Mack the Knife” in 1959, but by the mid-’60s his career had beached. In 1973 he died of heart disease.