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Monday, July 26, 2021

Frankie Avalon continues to defy odds by staying eternally young

Frankie Avalon sings "Beauty School Dropout" in the movie "Grease."
Frankie Avalon sings “Beauty School Dropout” in the movie “Grease.”

Teen idol Frankie is now Grampa Frankie.
It doesn’t matter to Frankie Avalon’s fans, some of whom have been following him since the 1950s.
“He’s still cute and he still seems like one of us,” said Villager Diana Arlt. “When I was a teenager, I bought all his records.”
Avalon just turned 76 and has 8 children and at least 10 grandchildren but remains a popular performer who spans generations. From the song “Venus” to “Beach Party” movies with Annette Funicello to “Beauty School Dropout” in “Grease” — everybody, it seems, knows Frankie Avalon.

Frankie Avalon
Frankie Avalon

He quickly sold out two shows on Oct. 24 at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center. Two more shows were added Oct. 23 and some seats still are available. Rocky and the Rollers will open the show, with some help from Frankie Avalon Jr. – Frankie’s son  — on drums and Edan Everly – son of the Don Everly of the Everly brothers – on guitar.
But Frankie is the star, and unlike so many teen idols, he survived after the screaming teeny-boppers of “American Bandstand” grew up and Avalon became more popular as he aged.
“He is a true reflection of our youth, as one of the ‘oldest living teenagers in the world,’” said DJ Al Brady of Gold 99 FM. Brady lives in The Villages and will emcee Avalon’s shows at the Sharon.
The performer’s longevity can be attributed to his talent, which went far beyond singing.
“Frankie could have faded after his initial hits,” Brady said. “But once he hit Hollywood and had a huge part in John Wayne’s movie, ‘The Alamo,’ Frankie stood out. He had true acting ability.” To see Avalon sing “Venus” go to:
Avalon had the ability, hustle and smarts to change and grow with the times.
Back in 1987, Frankie and Annette were doing publicity for their comeback film, “Back to the Beach.” I had a chance to interview both of them at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
It was a bit surreal to be sitting in a room with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. I felt like I was in a movie. But, as on the screen, both were extraordinarily nice and a lot of fun.
Avalon told me that his career really took off after a gig at Timon High School in Buffalo, N.Y. He was promoting a record called “DeDe Dinah.” The novelty rock song sounded as if Frankie was holding his nose and singing at the same time.
He sang the song at Timon and something strange happened after it was over.
“I’ll never forget that night,” Avalon told me. “I got off stage and two girls came up to me and asked for an autograph. You’ve got to remember, I was unknown at the time and signing an autograph was something different for me.

Frankie Avalon
Frankie Avalon in a publicity photo from the 1960s.

“They asked for my name so I signed it. I looked at them and they looked at me. Then, all of a sudden, they fainted.”
Bob Marcucci, Avalon’s manager, knew publicity gold when he saw it. Marcucci grabbed a photographer and took a picture of the two girls on the floor. Soon the story ran nationwide, and Frankie Avalon was hot.
“After that night in Buffalo, everywhere I went, everywhere I sang, girls started fainting,” Avalon said.
Dick Clark then put Avalon on “American Bandstand” and a teen heartthrob was born. Among his hit singles: “Ginger Bread,” “I Will Wait for You,” “Just Ask Your Heart” and “Why.” In 1959, “Venus” hit the top of the charts and Frankie started a teen idol movement that included his South Philadelphia buddies Fabian and Bobby Rydell.
Those three have been touring as “The Golden Boys” for nearly four decades. Avalon branched into movies after the hit records. He was featured in “The Alamo,” “Guns of the Timberland” with Alan Ladd; “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and he was part of a star-studded cast in “The Longest Day.”
Then, in 1963 when Frankie’s career seemed to be winding down a bit, along came the campy teen flick, “Beach Party.” For the next few years, you couldn’t go past a drive-in without seeing such Frankie and Annette movies as, “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and the unforgettable “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
Then the ‘70s and disco came along and it looked like Frankie’s career was again slowing but a ‘50s’ nostalgia craze took hold.
The movie “Grease” came along in 1978 and who else to play the teen angel than Mr. Avalon. He drops from the clouds dressed in white and sings “Beauty School Dropout” to a forlorn Frenchy, played by DiDi Conn.
The film became a monster hit and once again, Frankie was back on top. To see it:
Avalon has said that “Beauty…” is his favorite song to perform and the most popular: “Kids have all seen it on DVD or videotape and they want to see onstage what they know so well from the big screen…It captures a lot of the spirit of the ‘50s.”
Diana Arlt was around during the ‘50s and “Beauty School Dropout” is her favorite. “I know all the words and I’ve seen the movie many times,” she said. “It’s a great song and part of the reason Frankie is so beloved.”
Avalon continues to tour and play to packed houses. He also turns up on television shopping channels selling pain-reliving creams.
It’s all part of being the unsinkable Frankie Avalon. The big pompadour is now flecked with gray; the face looks older and the grandkids are everywhere.

“But he’s still Frankie,” Arlt said. “And he’s still cool.”

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