In 1963, she was summoned for a command performance before Queen Elizabeth in Glasgow, Scotland. In a vigorous and unyielding attempt to reach those millions existing in isolation and fear behind the Iron Curtain, for years, Connie had her own weekly radio show on the 50,000 watt Radio Luxemburg with its fifteen million daily listeners, and became the ever-present voice on The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the Armed Forces Network.
Connie appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show more frequently than any other female artist; these famous Sullivan TV appearances including exciting, once-in-a-lifetime shows aired from Paris’ Moulin Rouge, Guantanamo Naval base and at the Berlin Wall, where she entertained American troops only a month after the infamous barrier was erected.
In addition, Connie was presented with the Custom Clothiers “Best Dressed” award and included in the World’s Who’s Who of Women and the Who’s Who of American Women. In 1960, she was named Miss Coca-Cola, and embarked on a heavy schedule of radio and TV commercials to promote the soft drink.
At a formal dinner, presided over by Canada’s Prime Minster, Lester Pearson, Miss Francis was distinguished with a “Golden Heart” statuette commemorating her selection as the “Female Vocalist of the Century.” Bing Crosby also accepted a statuette, marking him the “Male Vocalist of the Century.” Mystically, Connie has never been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Of this glaring omission, Connie’s comment has been, “I have no plausible explanation for this oversight, and I’m certain, that if asked, the ‘impartial’ members of this committee couldn’t dream up a logical explanation either. But I take solace in the fact that I’m not alone, because there are many other multi-million-seller artists like Neil Sedaka, the groups KISS and Chicago and Paul Anka to name a few, who’ve also been inexplicably overlooked by this ‘exclusive’ club, as well. It’s a colossal joke,” she says. “As a matter of fact, in the very unlikely event that I were ever to be nominated, I would undoubtedly decline. It’s nothing but a patently and unabashedly political issue.”
In early 1960, famed Hollywood producer, Joe Pasternak, the discoverer of movie icons like Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, Jane Powell, Kathryn Grayson and Elizabeth Taylor, urged Connie to appear and sing the title song in his new movie, “Where the Boys Are.” Her father vehemently vetoed what he described as “a dirty movie” which, at the time, actually was considered a bit too “risqué” for the typical American audience. But that “little film,” which opened on January 21, 1960 at both the Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale and Radio City Music Hall in New York City, became the largest-grossing low-budget film in MGM’s history, and to that date, the most successful movie ever to appear at Radio City. Within a few months of its release, Ft. Lauderdale became a scene of uncontrollable bedlam, as 75,000 kids descended upon the sun-drenched city, making it the official “spring break capital of the world”. So popular was the million-selling title song, that when Connie recorded it in five other languages — Italian, Spanish, French, German and Japanese — it reached #1 in 19 countries.
Her first German language recording, Die Liebe Ist Ein Seltzsames Spiel, was an adaptation of her U.S. #1 hit Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool. It would become Germany’s best-selling record for many years afterward. Following a string of hugely successful hits in that language, she became the best-selling female recording artist in German history. She was awarded Radio Luxemburg’s prestigious Golden Lion award, acknowledging her as the most programmed and popular recording artist, male or female, on the European continent — the first time this special honor was won by a non-European.
As if her life had been written by a Greek poet, tragedy was destined to decimate her future. After three years of retirement, during which time she married, Connie was devastated when she suffered a miscarriage. In the aftermath of this emotionally trying event, she became so despondent that, at the urging of her husband, Joe Garzilli, she reluctantly agreed to appear at the Westbury Music Fair in Westbury, Long Island as the first stop of a nationwide tour. However, on the fourth night of that engagement, Nov. 7th/8th, 1974, Connie’s world came to a tragic and brutal halt. Shortly after returning from the theatre to the Howard Johnson Motel where she’d been staying, she was brutally robbed, beaten and raped at knife point. This event made unwanted, glaring headlines across the world. Ironically, this was the very same night, when prior to her show, she discovered in a pile of fan mail, a letter written to her offering a beautiful four-month-old baby boy immediately available for adoption. Connie was ecstatic when her lifelong dream of having a child was coming true at last. After her brutal rape, her life would never be the same. The status of her previously-happy third marriage would eventually be unable to overcome both the rape and the harrowing four-week trial in ’76 against the Howard Johnson Motel chain.
Understandably devastated, terrified and ashamed to face the public, for the next seven long years, Connie went into self-imposed seclusion, becoming an unwitting symbol as America’s most famous victim of violent crime. During those difficult years, she received tens of thousands of letters from victims of all kinds of violent crime throughout the land. In 1976, after Connie and her husband, Joe, had gone through that tortuous four-week, carnival-like spectacle of the Howard Johnson’s Motor Chain, she was awarded $2,600,000 for the motel’s glaring failure to provide a safe room. This was the largest amount ever awarded in a case of sexual assault in the world. It would become a watershed of litigation, for the first time, making the owners and operators of any establishment — anywhere the public is allowed to congregate — responsible for the public’s safety. Until today, this unique case is still used in law schools across the country as the seminal case in hotel and motel security.
Unbeknownst to Connie, in the terrible aftermath of the rape, her husband and the couple’s attorney/friend, Rickard Frank, the man to whom, an hour prior to the attack, she had given the number of the lady who wrote about the child’s availability for adoption, worked to make the couple’s plans to adopt the little boy a reality. Only one month after the rape, she was more joyous than she’d ever been, when Richard Frank, along with another friend, brought home to Connie, wrapped in a big red ribbon, the five-month-old baby boy she’d call Joey.
All text, images and sound © copyright 2013 Connie Francis. All rights reserved.