The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on November 23, 1980 · 353
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 353

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Los Angeles, California
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Sunday, November 23, 1980
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353
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CALENDAR MOVIES 'Ui 1 7. THE STORY OF FRANK AND FABE AND BOB BY ELLEN FARLEY In the early American age of rock 'n' roll, the late '50s, three Italian -American boys emerged from South Philadelphia and became stars. They toured the country together, made millions of dollars together and came to Hollywood, where they all lived together. Their names were Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bob Marcucci. Marcucci was the manager who discovered, groomed and promoted the other two into teen idols. But by 1964, it was all over. Fabian split, calling his experience with Marcucci "a three-year nightmare." Avalon sued Marcucci and, like Fabian, wound up paying to get out of his contract. Marcucci, an acknowledged master of media manipulation, faded into obscurity. Until now. He's back, promoting his cure for the used-to-be-somebody blues, the movie "The Idolmaker," which is "basically the story of my life," he says. The producers, director and writer say it is a fictional story loosely based on Marcucci's life. All of them insist it's not based on Fabian and Avalon. Meanwhile, the two former stars are experiencing a sharp upswing in their careers, which seems to be keeping each .too busy to see or comment on the movie, according to Fabian's agent, Ruth Blumenthal, and Avalon, speaking for himself. Marcucci approached producer Gene Kirkwood with the idea for the movie. The producer knew him as the manager who briefly handled him when Kirkwood was a 17-year-old actor, years before he abandoned acting to become the executive producer of "Rocky" (as the man who put a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone together with "Rocky's" producers, Chartoff-Winkler). "If I had wanted to do Fabian and Frankie's story, I would have bought the rights from them," said Kirkwood, who produced "The Idolmaker" with Howard Koch Jr. "It's a sweel-smell-of-succcss picture, told from the manager's point of view." That's why Marcucci was well paid as a technical adviser and has a "good-' percentage of the movie; Fabian and Avalon do not. But the movie is strewn with clues that invite comparison with the real life story. It stars Ray Sharkey as Vinnie Vacarri, a songwriling rock 'n' roll entrepreneur (operating in the Bronx in 1959) who builds a pair of teen idols out of a punky neighborhood sax player named Tommy Delia Russo and a reticent restaurant busboy called Guido. As Tommy Dee and Caesare, they become rock stars. In fact, Frankie Avalon was a horn player named Francis Avallone in a Philadelphia combo when discovered by Marcucci. Later, Marcucci happened upon Fabian Forte, then the 14 -year-old son of a Philadelphia policeman. Fabian was standing on his doorstep, after witnessing his father's heart attack, when Marcucci was one of the papers -by who slopped to help. Bob Marcucci, above, managed the early careers of singing stars Frankie Avalon, left, and Fabian, a tale that is fictionalized in "The Idolmaker." As Marcucci remembers it, "Fabian was my Pygmalion. I was looking for someone who could sing, like an Elvis or a Ricky Nelson. When Fabian couldn't sing that great and he came to my house and I played the records, that little thing in my brain clicked. Everyone around me said, 'You're crazy,' and that enticed me more." Fabian did become Marcucci's Pygmalion story, a "Tuneless Tiger," as he was dubbed by a Time magazine article. Up until Fabian, the article went on, Marcucci had been a moderately successful small-label South Philly record executive "cashing in on the slim voice of a skinny second-rate Sinatra named Frankie Avalon." ("De Dc Dinah" and "Why" are two of the songs Marcucci co-wrote with his partner, Peter Dc Angclis, to create hits for Avalon. ) Recalling the idoldom experience, Fabian said (in a 1974 interview), "My managers were awful. I hated them. All they wanted was money. They were pushing and pushing and pushing me to go out and make money. How would you feel if you were put in a little box and taken out like an animal and told to go sing and then put back in that box again? I would work 35. 45, 55 one-nightcrs in a row. and I was just a kid." "We weren't really the worst managers in the world." Marcurri said in an interview at his West L.A. apartment before joining the movie's stars and producers on a promotion tour. "I mean we weren't as bad as Fabe made us. I guess we were tough. It wasn't easy on him. I wasn't easy on him. I don't lie about that." Marcucci sometimes hit Fabian: "I mean, felt cooped up," he said. "I was 27, 28, 29 years of age and 1 went to 45 cities with Fabian. We were both in prisonbut that's part of success. We went to a movie one night and sat in the last row and I begged Fabian, I said, 'Sit inside, so when anybody walks by, they won't see you.' Well, he sat on the aisle. A girl walked by and looked at him and she screamed. "Now remember, this is a murder mystery. We had to lea' f before we saw the end. I punched hirr.. I mean, I got angry. 1 said, 'If it w;;en'l for you, I'd be able to see how this picture ended.' " (In the movie, Caesarc punches his manager, not the other way around. ) "I wasn't a violent, rough man," Marcucci said. "If someone's mother comes to you and says, 'Take care of my son.' you've got that responsibility. It's pretty heavy, isn't it? Back then. IG-year-oId boys weren't going out like they arc today." W'hen Marcucci first read the Time article calling Fabian "tuneless." he grew "white with rage" according to an article by a Los Angeles Times reporter who was trying to interview Fabian at the time. The reporter said that Marcucci kept interrupting. "My manager is always with me," Fabian told the reporter. "The only time we separate is on dates. We battle there. He stresses on me that I shouldn't go out too much when I have to work so we compromise, like on movies." Ray Sharkey's movie portrayal reflects Marcucci's reputation for over-protectiveness, "one of the biggest mistakes I made," Marcucci now says. But he remembered fondly that "when we came to Hollywood, we could have lived in the most gorgeous place in the world, but we all lived together in a little three-bedroom apartment on Crescent Heights, 'cause our agent, Jack Gilardi, lived there, too." (The slick Hollywood agent in "The Idolmaker" is Phil Delano, who works at "IAA." Gilardi, who now works at ICM, is married to Annette Funicello, Avalon's former co-star in "Beach Party" pictures.) At the time, Fabian was earning $12,-000 a night for concerts and $35,000 for his first movie under a multi-picture contract with 20th Century -Fox. He was awash in TV offers. Marcucci's strategy had paid off, including the early poster blitzes that promised "Fabian Is Coming!," followed by "Fabian Is Here!" His swooning fans presaged the teen hysteria that would sweep the country with the Beatles. (The movie's ad campaign includes a "Caesare Is Coming!" poster blitz.) The shrewd Brenda in "The Idolmaker," a fan magazine editor portrayed by Tovah Fcldshuh, is "a composite of many of the editor-type young ladies of that era," said Marcucci, and not Rona Barrett, who wrote movie magazine and syndicated newspaper columns at the time. However, "Rona was very instrumental in my life and very helpful in building Frankie and Fabian, as was Dick Clark and 'American Bandstand,'" he added. (There is a Clarksian character in the movie, Ed Sharp, of "National Bandstand.") "I had a lot of problems with the original script in that it was very literal and close to some real-life situations at that time," said director Taylor Hackford. "All you saw Vinnie do was step on people and ruin their lives. I don't think that was true to Bob Marcucci's life, because Bob is a very sweet man." In fact, as the movie developed, Hack-ford said, the teen idols were made less sympathetic while Vacarri grew more so. "That Tommy Dee boy in the picture is a real goofball," Marcucci said. (Dee has a lecherous taste for young girls that threatens Vinnie's plans for him.) "Frankie was never like that," Marcucci stressed. "He was a real sweet, adorable young boy." But Marcucci doesn't believe that the picture is unfair to Fabian and Avalon: "When you're watching the movie, you can say that's Fabe and Frank. But it isn't Fabe and Frank as people, it's what Bob Marcucci did to Fabe and Frank to make them successful. "If anything, this picture is going to rejuvenate their lives. 1 understand that Fabe's getting press. Avalon's getting press. I think it's good for all of us. It's marvelous that all of us arc having a chance to relive something that made us successful, to be a part of yesterday and make tomorrow happen."

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