FRANKIE AVALON, TAB HUNTER & FABIAN
Nifty in the ’50s
Before Luke or Jason were even born, there were three who did all that a teen idol had to do: They sang, they acted, they broke a million hearts. Fabian, the savvy street kid with the sneer and no surname, hit big with “I’m a Man” and “Tiger.” Avalon sang “Venus” and romanced Annette Funicello in an endless summer of beach movies. And Hunter was the blue-eyed, blond-haired Adonis who sang “Young Love” and “Ninety-Nine Ways” and made movies, from Damn Yankees to Operation Bikini. It has been almost 40 years since their looks caused a nationwide adolescent alert, but Fabian, now 49, knows what he’s proudest of today: “No plastic surgery here!”
Fabian Forte was only 14 when a record company executive discovered him on the sidewalk outside his South Philadelphia home waiting for an ambulance after his father had had a heart attack. “I told him to go to hell,” he recalls. Dad lived—and Fabian changed his mind. “They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks,” he says, “and out I went.” Today, Fabian, divorced and the father of two grown children, does some acting, has two TV projects in development in Los Angeles and still does nostalgia concerts. Currently unattached, he says he spends most nights “reading, catching up on films or working on my computer.”
Like Fabian, Avalon came out of South Philly. First a trumpet player who sang backup vocals, he dropped the horn, and his world changed. “Suddenly all these girls were screaming,” he says. “I didn’t think I was special, but people liked me, and I liked that.”
Now 51 and the father of eight (and grandfather of one), Avalon sells tanning products (Twilite Tan) and an arthritis treatment (Zero Pain) via an 800 number. He’s working on an album of songs from his heyday that he also plans to peddle through a toll-free number. “The teenage ballads I did gave people some romance in their lives,” he says.
As for Hunter, who got his name from an agent who said, “We need to tab a name for you,” he’s 61, has survived a heart attack and a stroke and lives outside Santa Fe. There he raises and trains show horses—when he’s not on the slopes. “I’m the oldest living ski bum,” says the lifelong bachelor, who has acted in John Waters’s campy film Polyester and in Lust in the Dust, which he coproduced. Of the three idols, Hunter may be the least sentimental. “I’m not really interested in memorabilia,” he says. “When I think of something old, I think of the 18th century.”
CHAD & JEREMY
British rock’s soft edge
“We were English and we had hair,” says Jeremy Clyde, 51. “Those were the two important things at that point in history.” Or so it seemed in 1963 when he and fellow drama student Chad Stuart were discovered singing in a London club and quickly added their soft-pop harmonies to the British rock invasion. Over the next several years the pair had seven Top 40 U.S. hits, including “A Summer Song,” “Yesterday’s Gone” and “Willow Weep for Me,” and became mop-topped objects of lust for teenagers across the U.S. “I thought it was thrilling,” says Chad, 50. “I was young and giddy and pretty much an idiot.”
In 1969 the duo split, Jeremy opting to return to acting. “I was so furious I didn’t speak to him for 15 years,” Chad says. Eventually they mended fences. Today, Jeremy, divorced and the father of two, lives in England, working regularly onstage and in film and TV Chad, married for the second time and father to four children (son Patrick played Will Cortlandt on All My Children) and two stepkids, lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he spends his time composing. “I don’t keep any old albums or other reminders,” he confesses. “I can’t bear to listen to that crap.”
At 58, Dwayne Hickman is a dead ringer for TV’s Dobie Gillis, the dreamy-eyed teen who lusted in vain after luscious Thalia Menninger (played by Tuesday Weld). “He was vulnerable,” says Hickman of his alter ego. “He never had the right job, the right money or said the right thing.”
Dwayne’s world got increasingly smaller when The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis went off the air in 1963 after four seasons. He went from movies like Cat Ballou and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini to dinner theater. Finally, in 1977, he moved behind the camera, supervising production of TV shows at CBS, including M*A*S*H and All in the Family. Recently he became an independent producer and director and has several episodes of Designing Women to his credit.
Hickman and his third wife, actress Joan Roberts, 37, have their own production under way—a son, due in December. (Hickman has a grown son from his first marriage.) Not surprisingly, he is recognized wherever he goes, although his admirers no longer grab for keepsakes as they did in peak Dobie days. “I could never believe I was that desirable,” he says. “It’s been a lifetime of amazement.”
With her soulful voice, Love helped create the brash new girl-group sound of the ’60s. A veteran singer with the backup group the Blossoms, she became a star for legendary record producer Phil Spector, blasting out the lead on hits like “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” for the Crystals. She earned no royalties but lived like a queen. “I had a Mercedes, jewels, furs and got to meet Frank Sinatra and Elvis,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade that part of my life for anything.”
Love, 51, left the Spector stable in 1964, then toured with Dionne Warwick and, more recently, Cher. Now an actress as well, she has played Danny Glover’s wife in the Lethal Weapon trilogy. The mother of three, Love lives outside New York City with her third husband, Alton Allison, a limo-service owner. “So many things in my life have been surprises,” she says. “Now I’m waiting for the next one.”
The un-hip Hermit
“It’s very dangerous to have Madonna talking about politics….Perry Como never told me who to vote for.”
Another Quayle caveat? Not quite. The slinger of this sally is the 44-year-old former lead singer of Herman’s Hermits, the British rock group that scorched the charts in the mid-’60s with ditties like “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.”
Noone hasn’t changed his tune since 1967, when he griped, “I dislike hippies intently. I don’t like people who go about shouting and wearing badges.” Nor was Noone keen on Herman: “[He’s] overpowering. No one can be so perfect. He saves cats and talks old ladies out of jumping from windows. It’s an act, a role.”
After the group broke up in 1971, Noone tried to distance himself from his alter ego. He opened Zoo, a New York City men’s clothing store. He tried a comeback with a band named the Tremblers. He starred on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance.
The modest Montecito, Calif., home Noone shares with Mireille, his wife of 24 years, and daughter Natalie, 6, boasts neither gold records nor any other Herman mementos. “Those are for things I did,” he says. “I don’t want Did awards.” And he continues moving on, hosting the VH-1 program “My Generation” and awaiting the July release of a solo album, Playback. But the past is hard to shake, and Noone has hit the revival trail, performing Hermit hits at up to 100 fairs and festivals each year. “I thank God every day that I was in a band that was successful,” he concedes. And after all, “even my mother still refers to me as ‘my son Herman.’ ”
No. 1 with a bullet
That cry from TV’s innocent past—”Paw! Paw!”—still echoes out of Rifleman reruns. But for Crawford, cast as young Mark McCain in the series starring Chuck Connors, the calls ended with the show’s five-year run, in 1963. Crawford had already turned to music, cutting five LPs, 15 singles (including the hit “Cindy’s Birthday”), generating substantial teen heat. But after a hitch in the Army, Crawford could muster only bit acting parts. Finally, 10 years ago, he started an antique-car-rental service, which he now runs by day; by night he fronts Johnny Crawford and His 1928 Jazz Orchestra at spots around L.A. “I just decided to give my life to Crosby,” he says. “I loved the sound of that era, the unabashed sentimentality.” Crawford, 46 and now dating his high school flame, whom he rediscovered after 27 years, remains sentimental about his early fame. “People still tell me, ‘I named my son after your character,’ ” he says. “It tickles me to death.”
Picking up the pace
“The press asked me if I minded girls ripping my clothes,” says Gerry Marsden, 49, “and I said, ‘No. They paid for them. They can do what they like with them.’ ”
Gerry and the Pacemakers stormed out of Liverpool in 1963 and scored seven Top 40 hit singles before breaking up in 1967. By the mid-’70s, Gerry was touring with a new group of Pacemakers. “It’s great,” he says. “We still play the same music that people associate us with—’Ferry Cross the Mersey,’ ‘Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying’—and some new songs.”
Marsden, married for 27 years, has two children and owns three houses, including one on an island off the coast of Wales where he stores his rock memorabilia But, he says, “I wouldn’t like to go back to the early days. We had five, six years of it, and that was sufficient.”
DINO, DESI & BILLY
The songs got sadder
Back when Beverly Hills was more famous than its zip code, its coolest kids were Dino Martin (son of Dean), Desi Arnaz Jr. (Lucy’s boy) and Billy Hinsche, a combined 38 years old when they teamed up in 1965. Signed by Frank Sinatra to his Reprise label, they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and toured with the Beach Boys, all before they were old enough to shave. “We tasted the world at an early age,” says Desi, only 12 when “I’m a Fool” made the charts in 1965. Four years and five hits later, they broke up. “I’d have liked to have kept it going,” admits Hinsche, 41, a keyboardist for the Beach Boys since 1974 (he met his second wife, Juliette, at a concert). Martin dabbled in acting, married Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), divorced, then in 1982 wed skater Dorothy Hamill (they soon split). He was killed when he crashed an F-4C Phantom jet in 1987 at age 35. Arnaz bounced in and out of drug rehab programs before kicking his habit in 1982. He’s now a spokesman for the New Life Foundation, a self-help group in Nevada, where he lives with second wife Amy. This year he played his father in The Mambo Kings. “People still remember us, so [the band] is still part of my life,” says Arnaz, 39. “Life was very simple then.”
After the hits, no party
At 17, Lesley Gore emerged from Tenafly, N.J., wailing that it was her party and she would cry if she wanted, whining of a rival, “She’s a Fool,” and declaiming, “You Don’t Own Me.” Tears led to four Top 5 singles in 1963. Scoring dates was tougher. “Guys were scared to death of me,” says Gore, 46.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Gore saw her star stall. When a ’76 comeback album sank, she penned lyrics for brother Michael (Fame) Gore. Never married, Lesley still trills torment at clubs and fairs. “It’s amazing,” she says, “to see 4-year-olds lipsynching ‘It’s My Party.’ ”
Breaking pop barriers
She brought equality to idolatry, becoming, in the late ’50s, the first female to achieve pop star parity with men. At 19, Connie Francis arrived with “Who’s Sorry Now,” followed by “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “Where the Boys Are.” By 26, she had sold 42 million records and inspired immeasurable lust among male admirers. Remembering those heady days, Francis, 53, says, “I was sitting on top of the world and didn’t know what problems were yet.”
She found out during two decades of unremitting tragedy. In 1964 she struggled through the first of four divorces; in 1974 the first of two miscarriages. That same year she suffered a brutal rape in a Long Island, N.Y., motel, followed in 1977 by the temporary loss of her voice; in 1981 her younger brother, George Franconero Jr., was the victim of a mob-style slaying. After a 1981 comeback, Francis was twice committed to a psychiatric hospital by her father, who claimed she was a danger to herself. She proved him right by swallowing a handful of sleeping pills in a suicide attempt.
Today, Francis admits she suffers from manic-depression. Thanks to lithium, she’s on steady ground, playing the casino circuit. She lives with her adopted son, Joey, 18, in Verona, N.J., not far from Newark, where she grew up. Francis misses the “innocence there used to be,” but doesn’t pine for everything ’50s—”Ugh! The hairdos from that era were horrible.”
What’s the story, morning glory? What’s the word, hummingbird? Have you heard about Bobby Rydell? How his pompadour fell? Don’t you want to just cry? Do you think he’ll go bald? Or give hair plugs a try?
It has been nearly 30 years since Rydell played the plaintive Hugo to smitten Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie. Though Rydell’s hair has indeed thinned, he continues, at 50, to sing the hits that made him a star: “Volare,” “Wild One,” “Forget Him.” In 1985 he toured with other ’50s stars as “The Golden Boys of American Bandstand,” playing not to bobby-soxers but to baby boomers. Now he’s embarking on another nostalgia trip as the star of a Dick Clark revue at an Atlantic City casino. Rydell’s delighted—no hotels and no planes, just a drive from his home outside Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, Camille, their children, Robert, 22, and Jennifer, 18, and his parents. But he hasn’t forgotten the glory days of his early career that took him worlds away from his native South Philadelphia neighborhood. “It was a marvelous feeling, 17 years old and I’m going to Tokyo, Australia, Europe,” he says. “Some of my friends hadn’t even been to New Jersey.”
Donna Reed’s boy no more
In Hollywood, everyone has their cause. Paul Petersen’s is especially personal. Two years ago he founded A Minor Consideration, a network of former child actors—among them Mickey Rooney and Ron Howard—who counsel kid stars. Says Petersen, 46: “When agents don’t return your calls and producers won’t let you read for parts, I’ll still answer my phone and take you to lunch.”
Petersen has been there. Between 1958 and 1966 he was TV’s cute, scruffy Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show and a Top 40 teen throb with hits like “My Dad” and “She Can’t Find Her Keys.” But after the series, things went downhill. He lost his house to a mud slide, his wife to divorce and, by 26, was a stoned-out has-been sporting a waist-length beard. Rehab took the form of writing—a series of adventure novels and a memoir of his early days as a Mousketeer—and for a decade the father of three ran a Hollywood limo service. These days he’s awaiting the fall publication of his 15th book, a trivia guide to the film It’s a Wonderful Life, and living in Gardena, Calif., with his third wife, Rana. “Bubble-gum stars are pretty interchangeable,” he notes. “Every five years a new one comes along.”
West Side Story winner
He still has the black leather wristband he wore as lean and dangerous Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, in the 1961 movie West Side Story. And, at 59, Chakiris is lean as ever, if somewhat less dangerous-looking, touring Britain as René Gallimard, the French diplomat in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly. Chakiris was 29 when he earned his Oscar for running with Tony and Maria, and able to deal with the sudden fame. “I didn’t get carried away with myself—not at all,” he says, “although the girls let me know that they had a crush on me.” Since West Side Story, the actor, who is single, has continued to make a respectable living with stage roles, films and TV guest parts, often in Europe and even Japan (“You go where the work is”). He hadn’t watched West Side Story since its release until last summer, when he went to Paris to receive an arts award. At the screening, he says, “I loved it. I cried.” And the fans still remember him as Bernardo. “Yes,” he says. “It is nice. It keeps me from feeling like this forgotten thing.”
Pop king to the rescue
Top 10 singles, TV shows and constant touring: Boyish Bobby Sherman was one hardworking heartthrob in the late ’60s. “I never knew where I was,” says Sherman, 47. “I always had to sleep with a night-light on.” Thanks to that high-voltage smile, a string of pop hits (“Little Woman,” “Easy Come, Easy Go”) and steady TV jobs (Shindig, Here Come the Brides), “I got to the point where I never had to work again, if that’s what I chose to do.” Not ready for a rocker yet, Sherman is now a certified emergency medical technician and founder of TAC-5, a group of paramedics who patrol local freeways in order to assist accident victims. “I got into it because I wanted to learn what to do if one of my kids fell out of a tree,” says Sherman. Sons Chris, 19, and Tyler, 18, live with him in Encino, Calif., and have a band of their own. (Sherman was divorced in 1981.) Not to be outdone, Dad still accepts an occasional concert date, performing old favorites. Marvels Bobby: “The fans never left me.”
A Playboy plays on
It was December 1966, and America’s youth was asking searching questions: “Gary is a very sharp dresser, and your uniforms are, well, not too groovy. Will Gary be allowed to have the pants tapered?”
The questioner at his army sendoff press conference got her answer (No); the winner of the Why I Would Like to Give Gary Lewis His Last Kiss as a Civilian contest got her smooch on Ed Sullivan; and the 20-year-old son of comedian Jerry Lewis became a private.
His induction followed a 16-month run in which Gary Lewis and the Playboys had seven Top 10 hits, including “This Diamond Ring” and “Save Your Heart for Me.” But by l968, when he was discharged, music tastes had changed. “When I realized there was no market for [my music], I started hitting the bottle hard,” he says. Lewis opened a music store in L.A., gave guitar and drum lessons (“I had to work my ass off just to pay the rent”) and made several abortive comeback tries.
Sober since entering a rehab program five years ago, Lewis, 46, travels with a new band of Playboys and other ’60s stars. Home base for the twice-married father of one is Cleveland, Ohio. Recently he heard a rocker complain about the proliferation of oldies stations. “I smiled and said, ‘All right!’ ”
She was an unknown 22-year-old folk singer with stage fright so severe that she got the dry heaves when her turn came to take the stage at Woodstock. As she walked out in front of the 500,000 spectators, she felt herself leaving her body. “I think it’s a mechanism for when you are in total terror,” she says. When her out-of-body experience ended, candles, which had been passed among the audience before her appearance, were lighting up the hillside, and the cult of Melanie was born.
“Candles in the Rain,” inspired by that luminous drizzle, became her first U.S. hit, followed by “Brand New Key” and “The Nickel Song.” Melanie found her fans’ adulation—they would sit at her feet during concerts—unnerving: “I was afraid of disappointing people.”
During the disco ’80s, Melanie’s record producers wanted her to “get glitzy.” Instead she focused on songwriting (winning an Emmy for the theme to TV’s Beauty and the Beast). In 1989 she hit the road again, this time with the Woodstock 20th-anniversary-reunion troupe. Now 45 and living in Clearwater, Fla., she sometimes shares the stage with daughters Leilah, 18, and Jeordie, 17 (husband and manager Peter Schekeryk, 49, and son Beau, 11, watch from the wings), which keeps her happily in the present. “When people want to talk only about the good old days,” she says, “there’s this horrible implication that you’re nothing now. But I know I’m better than I used to be.”
Tour without end
In 1961 a small-town kid with a high-pitched voice had a rabble-rousing hit with “Town Without Pity.” Decades later it still turns up in movies like Hair-spray and Look Who’s Talking—and at Gene Pitney concerts. Now 51, Pitney has never stopped touring. Still a tenor, he leaves his family in Somers, Conn., each year for four months of club dates, when he airs out his other hits, including “It Hurts to Be in Love” and “He’s a Rebel” (written for the Crystals). “I love getting up there,” he says. “It’s a tremendous feeling that sucks you in over and over again.”
True to his falsetto
Valli had his first taste of idolatry at 7, when his mother took him from their home in Newark, N.J., to Manhattan’s Paramount Theatre to see Frank Sinatra. “The girls were just screaming—and I loved that,” says Valli, now 55.
In 1962, after he and the Four Seasons recorded “Sherry” and followed it with “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” the screaming started for him. “I was afraid it was all a dream,” he says. “I was living in a project, but I refused to move, afraid it would break the spell.”
It was no dream. His group hit again with “Rag Doll” and “Dawn”—and they played the Paramount. “I thought about seeing Frank Sinatra,” Valli remembers, “and here I was, mobbed.”
Today, Valli—who had solo hits in the ’70s with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Grease”—plays clubs and corporate parties with a reformulated Four Seasons (six of them). Frankie also has a new, fledgling career, as an actor—although he doesn’t see himself as a leading man. “I never considered myself a lover boy,” says Valli, who lives in suburban New Jersey with his third wife, Randy, and their son, Francesco, 5. “If I wasn’t a singer, I could walk down the street and there wouldn’t be nobody looking at me.”
PETER & GORDON
Just plain folks
“Every now and then,” says Peter Asher, 48, the carrot-topped half of the early ’60s British pop duo Peter & Gordon, “someone will hear my name, look at me funny and say, ‘Didn’t you used to be…?’ ”
He did, but Asher, still a music mover and shaker who manages James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, rarely has time to look back to his days of singing folksy ballads to hordes of shrieking fans. Peter, whose sister Jane dated Paul McCartney, author of “A World Without Love,” P&G’s first hit, lives with his wife, Wendy Worth, a former casting director, and daughter Victoria, 8, in Malibu. His Beverly Hills offices are filled with his clients’ gold and platinum albums, and Asher’s two Producer of the Year Grammys. In one corner he keeps photos and mementos of his days with his old partner and London schoolmate, Gordon, with whom he talks about once a year.
After the pair split in 1968, Gordon Waller, 47, went in and out of showbiz, then sales, for several years (in 1972 he released the album And Gordon). But in 1987 he fell in love with Fowey, a small fishing village in the southwest of England, where he now runs a gift shop and dinghy repair service. (He lives there with wife Gay and their two daughters, Natalie, 15, and Phillippa, 12.) Though the locals, he says, “look upon me as being a little eccentric,” Waller is now a community fixture. What did Peter and Gordon love best about their U.S. invasion? For Gordon, it was the American girls, “blond, tanned, beautiful.” For Peter, it was the “screaming fans trying to tear our clothes off—an unmitigated pleasure. I recommend it.” Would they consider a comeback? Says Gordon: “No way! It’s too pathetic.”
BOB & JUSTINE
Bandstand’s Fred & Ginger
Their first of more than 20,000 dances together happened back in 1957. He was 16, she way 13, and the country way tuning in to this crazy new teen show, American Bandstand. Bob Clayton and Justine Carrelli became its most popular regulars, dancing only with each other for almost three years.
They got tons of fan mail, won contests, even cut a record. And they fell in love. “Every day way New Year’s Eve,” remembers Justine, 48. “It way like being in a beautiful bubble, wondering when the pin would show up.”
The wondering stopped when Bob fell for another girl. “I had a roaming eye,” he concedes. Everybody’s favorite couple split up in 1959, left the show and went into the real world. Bob became a shoe salesman, got married and had three kids. Now 52, he and his second wife, Litzie, own two gift boutiques in Wilmington, Del. Justine became a singer, married twice, had two children and now lives in Las Vegas with fiancé Natale Bosco, a composer. She dabbles in real estate and is trying to peddle a screenplay about her dancing days.
“Bob and I were great together,” says Justine. “We were crazy in love, and it showed.” They hadn’t seen each other in 10 years before PEOPLE reunited them for this story, but it didn’t take long to get the kinks out. Says Bob: “She’s still very light on her feet. It way like we’d been dancing forever.”