Newark, New Jersey, who began performing at four years of age when her
father urged her onto the stage at Olympic Amusement Park, where she sang
“Anchors Aweigh” and played accordion. She spent a year on Marie Moser’s Starlets, which
was broadcast from her home town.
At ten years of age, she had graduated to the Ted Mack Amateur Hour at Newark’s Mosque Theater,
accordion still in tow, and sang “St. Louis Blues”. Then she clinched a spot on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,
where the host encouraged her to change her surname from Franconero to Francis, and to drop the accordion. She aced an audition for an NBC
television program entitled The Startime Kids, a steady employ that she enjoyed for
fourteen years of age, she started recording demos for music publishing
houses, at ten dollars a pop.
The Mafia made overtures to ink her to a record deal, but her father
interceded and insisted that his daughter was going to pave her own way,
without any favors. As it
turned out, Connie already had publisher Lou Levy and Startime Kids producer George Scheck in her corner, and they ponied up six thousand dollars for a recording
session. After being turned
down by every other label, Connie was finally signed by MGM exec Harry Meyerson, whose nephew Freddy bore the namesake of one
of Connie’s songs.
“Freddy” was a flop, as were nine subsequent
In 1956, Bobby
Darin’s manager introduced his client to Connie in hopes that she
would record some of his songs.
Although Connie wasn’t exactly enamoured
of the material, she became very enamoured of
Bobby, and the feelings were mutual.
The two began a relationship less professional than romantic, much
to the chagrin Connie’s father, who kept his daughter on a short
leash when it came to boys. He
did everything he could to undermine the young lovers, eventually
threatening Bobby at gunpoint and telling him to stay away. He did. One day, Connie and her father were
traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel with the radio on and the announcer
proclaimed that Bobby Darrin had wed Sandra Dee. Her father made a snarky remark
about Bobby at last being out of the Francises’
lives, and Connie said she wished the Hudson River would engulf the tunnel
and kill them both.
Life went on,
however, even though Connie’s career was pretty much going the way of
her love life. Her latest
venture had been overdubbing Freda Holloway’s singing voice in the
Warner Brothers film, Jamboree.
She did one more recording session in 1957, with every intention of
calling it quits.
father stepped in. He
encouraged her to cover the 1923 standard, “Who’s Sorry
Now?” in a modern idiom that would appeal to teenagers. Neither Connie nor MGM was enthralled
by the idea. MGM said her
father should stick to his area of expertise, roofing. Connie had visions of being laughed
off the stage of American Bandstand. Her father boldly predicted if she
didn’t record the song, she would never get on American Bandstand unless she sat atop the television. Connie eventually caved in and spent
the waning minutes of her recording session to record the song. It was released in the fall of 1957
and, just like all the singles that preceded it, flopped. Enter Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand. On 1st January 1958, he
played “Who’s Sorry Now?” repeatedly, igniting a sales
frenzy that would result in the record achieving platinum status by the
middle of the year. The song
went to #1 in the U.K. and #1 in the U.S. in April 1958. In one fell swoop, Connie had gone
from utter obscurity to international fame. She was named the #1 female singer
by Billboard, Cashbox, and the Jukebox Operators of America.
problem was, the record was so huge, it was difficult to follow up. Case in point: “I’m Sorry I Made You
Cry” peaked at #36, a result with which Connie would have been
thrilled just months earlier, but the bar had been raised. Connie would have to be very
selective in her material, as expectations were so high.
Then she met
Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, who serenaded
her with several songs they had penned with her in mind. So disaffected was Connie with their
impromptu concert, she spent much of the time making entries in her diary. After they had finished, she offered
them her candid opinion, that the songs were just too intellectual for her
demographic. Howard egged Neil
on to sing one of their songs they had just written for a girl group. Neil balked, insisting that it would
be insulting to her intelligence.
Howard won this argument, figuring she couldn’t hate it any
more than their other songs. So
Neil sang “Stupid Cupid”.
After he was done, Connie told him that it was going to be her
newest hit song. She
couldn’t have been more on the mark: It shot to #14 on the pop chart. The otherwise inauspicious meeting
inspired another song, as well.
Neil cavalierly asked her if he could read her diary. Naturally, she said no, but it did
inspire him to write and record his first hit song, “The Diary”.
Connie released Italian Favorites,
which quickly became her biggest selling album in the U.S. This was followed by a Jewish album
and a Spanish album, and all three would spend the better part of a year on
the charts. It had long been
Connie’s dream to expose American pop music to the rest of the world,
and she had a multi-lingual arsenal from which to draw. In 1960, she was the number one
female recording artist in Australia, England, Germany, Italy, and
It was a
banner year, as she was wooed by Joe Pasternak to appear in and sing the
title song of Where the Boys Are,
a teenage beach flick, based on a controversial novel, that predated Beach Blanket Bingo by four
years. Again, her father
objected. He didn’t want
his daughter involved in a movie (or song, for that matter) about a young
woman on the prowl for beefcake on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale. Ironically, Connie said that Fort
Lauderdale was utterly bereft of masculine scenery and that she would have
better chances on the Jersey Shore.
That all changed after the movie, however, which glamorized the
location enough to inspire collegians to make it their spring break haven
for decades to come.
It was a year
of firsts for Connie, as well.
She became the youngest performer to enjoy top billing in Las Vegas,
made her first appearance at the Copacabana in New York City, and was the
first female vocalist to top the charts twice in one year, with
“Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and “My Heart
Has a Mind of Its Own”.
As a bonus, she was crowned Miss Coca Cola, and became a spokeswoman
for the soft drink, appearing on radio and TV ads.
She opened the
new year with another first by becoming the first female vocalist to top
the Adult Contemporary chart with a song called
“Together”. It was
a high-profile time for her, as she hosted her own special on ABC-TV and
was tapped to sing “Never on Sunday” at the Oscars.
In 1962, she
inked a sweet deal with MGM which resulted in her becoming a co-producer of
her next trio of film projects.
She was also on the bookshelves with an autobiography, For Every Young Heart, and hit the
Billboard top ten with “Vacation”.
In 1963, she
was invited to perform for the Queen at the Alhambra Theatre, which is
located in Glasgow, Scotland.
She also recorded “In the Summer of His Years”,
dedicated to the late President Kennedy, and all of the proceeds went to
the families of policemen who were killed on the day of his
August 1964, she tied the knot with Dick Kanellis
but divorced him shortly thereafter on grounds of domestic violence.
tastes changed, her hits became scarce, although she still acted in films
and on TV, portraying Ginger Gray in When
the Boys Meet the Girls, Libby Caruso in Looking for Love, and Sister Mary Clare on an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre
entitled “The Sister and the Savage”.
In 1967, she
had cosmetic surgery and its aftereffects precluded her from performing in
air-conditioned clubs or concert halls. The highlight of her year was
performing for U.S. troops in Vietnam, where she said she never felt more
In 1969, she
went into semi-retirement and decided to not renew her MGM contract, ending
a business relationship that had lasted a dozen years. She was not entirely done performing,
however. In March 1970, she
wowed concertgoers at the Golden Stag Festival in Brasov, Romania, by
performing in their native language.
This led to an appointment by the U.S. State Department to represent
in the U.S. in Romania, a move to defuse the two countries’
January 1971, she wed Izadore “Izzy” Marion but they divorced a year later. She married Joseph Garzilli in September 1973 and they tried to have a
baby but Connie miscarried and it left her in a terrible depression. He encouraged her to start
performing again, and soon she was booked at the Westbury Music Fair in
Long Island, New York.
November 1974, while staying at a Howard Johnson’s Lodge at Jericho
Turnpike, she was savagely beaten and brutally raped at knifepoint. The rapist escaped and has never
been found. This horrific event
crippled her emotionally to the point that she completely withdrew from
performing for seven years. She
sued Howard Johnson’s for inadequate security and was awarded three
million dollars. In December,
she and her husband decided to adopt a five-month old boy named Joey, but
their marriage could not withstand the emotional aftermath of that
traumatic week in November.
In 1975, Connie
had to have nasal surgery, a procedure that destroyed her voice, and she
had to have additional surgery in 1977 to undo the damage of the first
operation. The damage could not
be undone, however, and it would take three more operations before her
voice was intact.
She was unable
to perform until 1981, and just as she was poised for a comeback, her
brother was murdered by the Mob.
Her brother’s death moved her to become an activist for
victims’ rights. She
organized a task force and successfully changed or passed a number of laws
such as the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, Proposition 8, and the
Victims’ Omnibus Bill. In
July 1983, she was so emotionally and mentally exhausted, her father
committed her to a mental health institution, where she was diagnosed as a
manic depressive. Writing must
have been therapeutic, because she issued another autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now?, in 1984, and
it became a bestseller on the New York Times list.
In 1985, she
wed Bob Parkinson, but their marriage lasted only eighty-one days.
It would be four
years before she started performing again, but it was an inauspicious
comeback. At a concert in
London, England, at the Palladium, her speech was slurred and the British
tabloids reported that she was drunk.
She had a similar unfortunate incident on American television in
1991, and collapsed from lithium toxicity. By this time, she had been committed
to mental hospitals in five states, seventeen times, in nine years. It is not clear exactly what her
real diagnosis was—the jury is still out on the manic depressive
verdict—but what is clear is that she had been taking too much lithium,
for too long.
She cut back—way
back—on the drug, and re-emerged in 1993 with an appearance at
Carnegie Hall, a new recording deal with Sony, and a surprising hit, a
re-issued of 1959’s “Lipstick on Your Collar”, the theme
song of the British TV show of the same name. In 1996, Connie released a pair of
albums, Connie Francis, Live at
Trump’s Castle and The
Swinging Connie Francis, a compendium of jazz standards of the 1930s. Interest in the one-time
“Princess of Rock & Roll” was now piqued, and Pendulum
Entertainment Group began re-releasing some of her MGM albums on compact
disc in 1997. The Best of Connie Francis: 20th Century Masters
– The Millennium Collection hit the shelves in 1999.
marked her triumphant return to Las Vegas, after a sixteen-year
hiatus. In 2007, she
entertained sold-out audiences at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco,
California, and was enshrined in the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. Since then, she has been honoured with her own weekend by The Belleville Board
of Education in Belleville, New Jersey, which included having a street
named after her, in October 2009.
In May 2010,
her comeback was in full swing, as she teamed up with Dionne Warwick for a
number of performances at the Las Vegas Hilton, and began work on a new
recording of “Where the Boys Are”, in tandem with Rob Fusari.
Connie Francis recordings
Fidelis (Frederick Oakeley/John Francis Wade)
2001 (Christmas with Connie Francis)