Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 4 – Teen Idols and Filling in for Fabian

Geoff Pevere, who usually graces our pages every Friday is MIA this week due to a last minute movie assignment for CBC Radio. Geoff will be back next week. This week you get 2 Chapters in the ongoing “When Radio and Records Ruled the World” serial. The regularly scheduled one will run in its usual Sunday slot, This one begins…now.  

Part 3 can be found here.

Women wept and men got drunk. There were vigils and tributes, and discussions that went on late into the night. Some people bemoaned the event and others proclaimed it a day to be celebrated. There were those who felt it was the end of an era, and those that felt it was much ado about nothing. It created front page headlines and back room meetings. The possible effects and consequences of this day’s occurrence would be discussed at length, and reverberate in offices and boardrooms from Los Angeles, to New York, to Memphis. It was the single biggest showbiz story to hit the American public in years.

It was March 24th, 1958, the day Elvis was inducted into the U.S Army.

Sounds silly as hell now, but when it happened it was huge. I was 12 when El got his hair cut off and was shipped over to Germany. There wasn’t a dry eye at school that day, every girl sharing tissues and hugging each other like Elvis had been run over by a car. I remember a couple of girls praying we wouldn’t go to war with Russia while he was in the service. I mean, this guy was a BIG deal in 1958.

Me? As much as I liked Presley, I was a much bigger fan of Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, and Ray Charles, and many of the singing groups like The Crows, the Skyliners, the Flamingoes, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Dion and the Belmonts.

Elvis had changed recently from being a raw and edgy singer known for combining hillbilly music and the blues, into a much more mainstream singer whose appeal was augmented by his good looks and polite demeanor. It’s time for a primer about ‘Teen Idols’, and being that I’m lazy and it’s 3:30 in the morning, here is Wikipedia’s fairly accurate take on the subject:

“The teen idol is primarily a phenomenon of 20th century mass communication. Its first manifestation (often referred to as a Matinee Idol) may have been Rudolph Valentino, whose good looks and winning way with women featured heavily in such silent movies as The Sheik. Valentino was so popular with young women, many of them went into mass hysteria after he died at the age of 31 in 1926. Judy Garland ‘s pin-ups adorned many a high school male’s locker after her sudden rise to fame. But it was probably Frank Sinatra, whose early career is often linked to his appeal to ‘bobby soxer’s who is generally regarded as being the first true ‘teen idol’.

The great success of young rock stars like Elvis Presley and film stars like James Dean in the 1950s, as well as the wider emergence of youth subcultures led promoters to the deliberate creation of teen idols such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian — and to artists who deliberately cultivated a (safer) idol image, like Paul Anka.

The great majority of the music being marketed to 50s teens was being written by adults, but 60s teens were increasingly appreciating and emulating artists closer to their own age, to teen fashion, and to lyrics which addressed their own concerns. Their parents worried about their attraction to artists (and DJs) who were edgy and rebellious. Faces on magazines fed fans; fans buy records, see films, watch TV and buy fashions.

Some young TV stars were being hustled into studios to make recordings; for example, ex-Mousekateer, Annette Funicello became one of the first big female idols; another, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, had five Top-40 hits.

The difference between ‘natural’ and ‘manufactured’ is graphically illustrated by the early career of Presley, who started out playing hard rhythm and blues and jazzed-up country music until he was retrofitted as a teen idol by his management. The lyrics of his “Teddy Bear” explicitly document the change:

Don’t wanna be your tiger, ’cause tigers play too rough,

Don’t wanna be your lion, ’cause lions aren’t the kind you love enough;

I just wanna be your teddy bear.

I guess you could call Elvis, Dion, and a few other existing artists ‘Teen Idols”, because they had the photogenic good looks that gained them more attention on television and in the press. This edge they had on the other artists was not lost on the record companies, or the managers whose current rosters were losing ground to these upstart rock and rollers. Suddenly, youth, and attractiveness became as important as talent, and in some cases, more important than being able to sing or play an instrument.

With Elvis in the Army, even though his latest film, King Creole was in the can and slated for release, as were a few recordings, the search was on for someone or ‘someones’ to fill the gap while he was in the service.

In November of 1957, a kid who was in a television sitcom that had been a staple of mine since it had gone on the air released an album and a cover of Fat’s Domino’s I’m Walkin’. I was already a fan because he was the funniest guy on the TV show and always had the best lines. He was a veteran actor by the time he recorded his first single at 16 and debuted it at the end of an episode of his family’s TV series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

By the time Elvis was being shorn and shipped to Germany, Little Ricky became a teen idol, opening the floodgates for teenagers everywhere to become stars, and a guy named Bob Marcucci found 2 of the biggest in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania; Frankie Avalon, and Fabian.

Philly Cheese Steak…

Philadelphia was the home of American Bandstand, Dick Clark’s license to print money. Starting out as a local show with another host (Bob Horn), Clark took it over and soon it was being broadcast across the United States on ABC and by 1958 had produced a spin-off, The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show

Starting in August of 1957 I would race home from wherever I was along with millions of other kids, and plop down in front of the television every weekday afternoon at 3:30 to catch the latest dance steps, songs, and lip-synched appearances by the hit makers of the day. Everybody between the ages of 12 and 21 watched this show. We had crushes on the dancers, learned the latest dance steps, (the Stroll or Madison, anyone?) saw what was cool to wear, and judged new records along with Dick and his dancers. “I’ll give it an 80%, you can dance to it”, became a catch phrase that fall.

Bob Marcucci was another Philadelphian who was aware of the rising teen market and borrowed $10,000 from his father to start a record label (Chancellor). He also planned to manage the acts he signed to the label, a smart, and unique move for the day.

By the time he was 12, Frankie Avalon had already appeared on television and made a record, not as a singer, but as a trumpet player. He later formed a group (Rocco and the Saints) with a school chum who would also go on to become a Teen Idol, Bobby Rydell. Marcucci found him and signed him when he was 14, and starting with the number one Venus in 1959, he had 31 charting singles and became a successful television and movie actor. Even during the Surf craze, he was an Icon thanks to the Beach Party movies he made with Annette Funicello.

Fabian, a neighborhood kid came along next. Marcucci pursued him because of his looks, not even bothering to find out if the kid could sing, (which he couldn’t), and talked his father into letting the boy sign up to record when he was 14. Again, Fabian, like Avalon, had a clutch of hit records and went on to become a fairly successful actor. They both graced the covers of hundreds of “Teen” magazines and gave the MIA King of Rock and Roll a run for his money for a couple of years.

How I Became Fabian and had Spaghetti with Tuesday Weld…

In 1960, I was fully immersed in the idea that I too, could be a rock and roll star. I had the ability to sing, play the guitar, (a little), write (a little), and looked ever so much like the late great Buddy Holly, who had unfortunately bit the biscuit the year before because he wanted to have enough time to do his laundry in Moorhead Minnesota, the next stop on the Winter Dance Party Tour. Waylon Jennings missed the ill-fated flight with the toss of a coin, and Dion (of the Belmonts) was supposed to be on that plane too, but didn’t have the money to pay for the ticket. Dion, for all his good looks and All American boy appeal had a serious heroin habit that finally forced him into rehab a year later.

So, because of my desire to be on the cover of all the Teen Magazines with all the other Bobby’s, it was with great glee and anticipation that thanks to my Uncle Elbert, who was President of the local branch of the American Federation of Musicians, I learned of a movie being shot in Stockton that starred two of my music heroes, a pair of currently well known actors (one of whom had had a top ten single when he was 8 years old) a girl I was madly in love with, and another that would, in 6 years, become another crush. The crushes were Tuesday Weld and Yvonne (Batgirl) Craig, the actors were Westside Story’s Richard Beymer and Jimmy (All I Want For Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth) Boyd, and the two, disparate singers?…Bing Crosby and Fabian. The movie was called High Time.

From Wikipedia:

“High Time was scripted by Garson Kanin, Frank Waldman, and Tom Waldman. It was originally titled “Big Daddy”, with the starring role to be played by Gary Cooper When Cooper’s terminal illness forced him to decline the role, Bing Crosby was signed as lead, and the script was revised to his requirements. It was filmed in Stockton, California at the University of the Pacifc, Stockton Junior High School, Amos Alonzo Stagg Senior High School and other locations in Stockton. It was originally intended to be filmed at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but shortly before shooting was to begin the school was informed that filming had been moved to California. As a concession to disappointed students, faculty and alumni, many of the landmarks of Wake Forest University (such as “Bostwick Dormitory”, then a women’s residence hall) are mentioned in the script.”

With my friend, Dwight Snyder, who at 14 was as bald as a baby’s behind thanks to a bout with Rheumatic fever when he was a child, and who I dragged along for moral support, I managed to get us into a shoot in one of the dormitories at the University of the Pacific. I have no recollection of how that was accomplished, but it was. I must have been one smooth talking Mofo, or my uncle may have made a phone call or two. Whatever the reason, we were in, and were issued little passes that let us follow the action around U.O.P.

We met Bing Crosby, (a bit of a teen idol in his day as well) that first day, where I managed a meaningful “Guh…” when introduced, while Dwight had no trouble chatting him up. I was in awe.

The next day, however, was a different story.

While we were outside on one of U.O.P’s playing fields, a guy walked up to me and asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping out for the next few days. I said ‘sure’, and he told me he’d come and get me when they needed me.


They would be filming a big bonfire scene over the next few days and all the principles were on set for various and sundry shots leading up to the bonfire itself. Dwight and I had the run of the field, which is where these pictures came from. For some reason, the pictures of me and Fabian and Yvonne Craig are somewhere I can’t find them. The pictures with Tuesday probably disintegrated from over use…

About an hour later, the guy came back and tapped me on the shoulder, when I turned around, he was standing there with Fabian.

“Fabe wanted to meet you before we wrap…what’s your name again?”




“Bob this is Fabian”.

I got a smile and a handshake. Fabian turned to the movie guy and said, “He’ll do.” Turned to me and said, “Thank you”, and walked back to his chair.


They were losing the light when the movie guy came back and told me what was going on. He pointed to the gate into the field and the 2 or 3 hundred kids, mostly girls, who were standing outside the fence.

“In a couple of minutes a car is going to come through that gate, when it gets here, all you have to do is get in it when the door is opened. Get in the back seat. Here, put these on…” and handed me a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses.

He lead me over to Fabian’s chair and sat me down. “Wait here. The car will drive you home afterwards.” As we walked over to the chair, I put on the sunglasses and asked what was going on.

“It’s simple. You’re wearing what Fabian would wear after a shoot, you’re roughly his size, at least from this distance, and the rest is just legerdemain…magic.” Just then a roar rose up from the gathered throng outside the gate. They parted like the Red Sea, and a brand new pink Mercury convertible with the top up pulled through the gate and onto the field.

“Wait for someone to open the car door, then wave to the kids and get in”. Fabian will leave right after you do in that truck”, he said, pointing to an old GMC pickup, “he’ll be wearing a hat and a workers jacket, and the kids won’t be looking at the pickup after they see you leave.”

Sure enough, the car door was opened for me and as soon as I stood up, screams came from the kids. When I got to the car, I waved. More screams. Dwight is looking at me and laughing his ass off. I get in the car, the door closes, and off we go, the pickup follows at a safe distance. By the time we got to the gate the sound was deafening, kids were being held back by security staff, and some chased after the car. The pickup slid through the gate completely unnoticed.

For the next few days, I would be Fabian’s decoy, a Dork in Star’s clothing.

During the next few days I got to meet Tuesday Weld, as beautiful and sweet as I hoped she would be, got to talk to Fabian about rock and roll, and saw how movies were made, a slow, tedious business of hurry up and wait. On the last day they would need me to get Fabian off the bonfire set, he came up to me and asked me if I wanted to have dinner that night. He was making spaghetti.


He and some of the other cast were staying in an apartment complex just down the street from the University at the corner of Alpine and Pacific Avenue…about 6 blocks from where I lived. He gave me the address and apartment number and what time to be there. Wow.

While all of this was going on, my father had had an encounter of his own. Tuesday Weld’s mother, wearing a mink coat and driving one of those 4 passenger T Bird convertibles, had swept into my dad’s store on El Dorado Street and demanded  a loaf of bread. My father told her where it was. She insisted that he get it for her.

My father told her where the next nearest market was and went back to work. That’s when he found out she was Tuesday Weld’s mom…that’s when everybody in the store found out. My dad said she was an extremely loud woman for her size…

My dinner with Fabian was notable for several reasons. Having dinner with someone who was on the cover of every teen magazine in existence was weirder than you can imagine, the guy turned out to be a damn fine cook of Italian food, and I got wine without having to steal my dad’s home made stuff out from under the washbasin in the garage, but the real thrill was Tuesday Weld sitting next to me, and talking with her and Fabian like we were old friends. I will always have that crush, especially given the fact that she was apparently nothing like her mother.

Years later, when I was at Q107, I spoke to Fabian in the real Rock and Roll Heaven in the basement of the Bay Building at Yonge and Bloor. He vaguely remembered Stockton and me but was more interested in touting the classic rock and roll tour he was on. Still, he did sort of remember, and that was really all you can expect from someone whose life has been meeting one stranger after another. I don’t know if he and Tuesday ever hooked up, but I’ll envy that son of a bitch for the rest of my life.

While the Teen Idol thing took over the airways and record stores, another teen driven fad had been gathering momentum and was vying for airtime with the Jimmy’s, Bobby’s, and Ricky’s, and making a dent in the teenage zeitgeist.

Philadelphia, like its famous cheese steak sandwich, was on a roll…

Part 5 – Do the Mashed Watusi Jerk Swim Twist, and The Great Folk Scare of 1962.

Segarini’s column appears every Monday

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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, andnominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

3 Responses to “Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 4 – Teen Idols and Filling in for Fabian”

  1. cheers!

  2. Says:

    Stardom in Fat City, way to go Bob…

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