B i o g r a p h y
In 1958, Cashbox, Billboard and the Jukebox Operators of America named Connie Francis as the #1 Female Vocalist. She was named Top Female Vocalist by all the trades for six consecutive years – a record never surpassed. As well, England’s prestigious New Musical Express also named her the World’s #1 Female Vocalist. She earned two gold records for Who’s Sorry Now? and Stupid Cupid.
On a global scale, Connie Francis was the top-selling female vocalist of the Sixties and, despite the sensational advent of Madonna, the longevity of Diana Ross and the multi-format generations of the 80's and 90's, she remains the most commercially successful female singer of all time with an estimated world-wide sales figure well in excess of two hundred million.
Today, Connie Francis is widely involved in some very interesting and diverse projects. Of greatest importance and passion is that of helping returning American Veterans of war. Connie Francis is the national spokeswoman for Mental Health America’s S.T.A.R.Campaign (Stress, Trauma, Awareness and Recovery) an important national campaign to raise awareness of what veterans are facing every day of their lives. Another long-awaited autobiography “Among My Souvenirs, The Real Story” will be officially released 2017.
The Early Years
The 20th Century produced many popular singers. Of all the great “girl singers,” no one personified her generation, or was more idolized by millions across the world than Connie Francis, who was born Concetta Maria Franconero, in the Italian section of Newark, New Jersey, the daughter of first-generation Italian-American parents.
From the age of three, George Franconero recognized his daughter’s outstanding talent and, at his persistence, she began taking accordion lessons. However, her musical ingenuity would not be served well by the accordion, but because she was blessed with a golden voice; one that the world would come to adore, and which would inspire and touch the hearts of many millions.
The duality of Connie’s interests would soon become apparent. While appearing on TV weekly, she was also an excellent straight “A” student, co-editor of both her high school newspapers (at Arts High School in Newark and then later, at Belleville High School in Belleville, New Jersey), a member of the National Honor Society, and possessed with lofty aspirations of one day becoming a prominent doctor in research.
At 14, she found herself making demonstration records (demos) for publishers, who would then pitch these yet-to-be published songs to the most popular singers of the day. Before that first four-hour demo session was over, Connie knew, for certain, that if she were ever to find her place in the sun, it would surely begin in a recording studio — the one place which would consume the major part of her time for the next generation and more. “Anywhere I traveled on planet Earth, I never failed to find myself at a session. Sometimes I felt as if I lived in a recording studio.”
From the very beginning, her father demonstrated a watchful, unrelenting eye on Connie; and with the other, an uncanny, unwavering vision of the destiny that lay before her. She was still 14 when she won a spot on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, on which, every Christmas, rather than featuring the usual adult singers, Godfrey would highlight child performers instead. It was at the rehearsal for that show that Godfrey, having a tough time pronouncing her Italian last name, summoned her over to his desk. “Whew! Your last name, Connie — it’s givin’ me a headache. Why don’t we just give you a good ol’ easy-to-pronounce Irish name like, lemme see. . . what about Francis? Hey, that sounds good to me. . . let’s make it, ‘Connie Francis’, OK?” “Oh no, please, Mr. Godfrey,” Connie pleaded, “my father’ll have kittens. Couldn’t you please try to pronounce my last name just for tonight? And tomorrow, I’ll talk to daddy, and maybe he’ll let me be. . . what was that name again you just said. . . ? O.K., Connie Francis, it is.”
Amateur shows were the rage of 1950’s TV, and the talented young Connie soon found a home on a weekly kiddie variety show, NBC-TV’s The Startime Kids. Produced by a former hoofer named George Scheck, it was a program on which she would appear every single week for the next three-and-a-half years. When Startime had its run, Scheck became Connie’s personal manager, a close relationship that lasted almost 30 years.
At 17, with The Startime Kids off the air, George Scheck, together with music publisher, Lou Levy, raised the $6,000 needed for Connie’s first own recording session. They then brought these masters to every record company in the business and, everywhere, they were turned down flat. Mitch Miller, the top A&R man at Colombia Records had this advice for the two hopefuls, “This girl has no distinctive sound. She sounds like 50,000 other girl singers. Save your money, boys.”
But as luck would have it, when they took those four masters to the only company remaining, MGM Records, the then president Harry Meyerson, made a much different decision. He signed her to a 20-side/two-year unprecedented contract; one which allowed Connie to choose her own songs to record, and without having to rely on MGM recouping the costs for these sessions — the same unique rights she would enjoy for her next 15 years with the label.
After a string of 18 bomb sides (nine unsuccessful singles) MGM was finally ready to drop her from their roster. Her very wise father had other ideas, and for over a year, he had pleaded with her to record an old standard written in 1923, Who’s Sorry Now. But both she and MGM soundly rejected his suggestion. The head honchos at MGM told Connie, “Tell your old man to stick to his roofing business.” Connie and MGM were on the same page; she told her father, “That song of yours is so square, Daddy, that the kids on American Bandstand will laugh me right off the show.” Her father’s retort: “If you don’t record this song, sister, the only way you’ll ever get on American Bandstand, is if you sit on top of the goddamn TV set.”
With only 16 minutes remaining at that final session, Connie’s father gave her no choice other than to record the song about which he’d been hounding her for so long. She whispered to the conductor, Joe Lipman, “If I don’t cut this loser, Joe, then you’ll have to go home with the man today!” On January 1st, 1958, three months after that session, and when the single was a dud like all her previous records, America’s teenage icon, Dick Clark, turned Connie’s world around. He just happened to pick up a record that had been lying on his desk for months; he played it that day, liked it and continued to play it every day until April, when Who’s Sorry Now had sold close to a million records. Of this Connie says, “Without my friend and mentor Dick Clark, there simply would have been no Connie Francis.”
Strongly influenced and encouraged by her father, an impoverished roofer, Connie gave her first performance at the Olympic Amusement Park in Irvington, NJ at the tender age of four, playing her accordion and singing Anchors Aweigh and, in Italian, O Solo Mio. By the age of 10, she was playing “that instrument” and singing an unlikely standard, St. Louis Blues at the Mosque Theatre in Newark, earning third place on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour radio show.
Prior to that huge hit by a female artist, the record industry was a totally male-dominated market. That was the main reason why Connie was so flabbergasted when Dick Clark announced that day: “Here’s a new girl singer, and she’s headed straight for the #1 spot!” At the time, she hadn’t even met her idol, Dick Clark, the national spokesman for every teenager in America, but soon after they met, they developed a close and endearing friendship that lasted until his recent death, a personal tragedy over which Connie was inconsolable for weeks afterward.
Following the success of Who’s Sorry Now, Connie embarked on a nonstop manic-paced schedule, filled with endless recording sessions, appearances on every TV variety show in existence, and record-breaking appearances at the nation’s top nightclubs. At “The Greatest American Nightclub” of them all, New York City’s, Copacabana, she became the biggest female draw for the next 11 years. Throughout the 60’s, she continued to break all records at Hollywood’s famous Coconut Grove, the Lincoln Center, the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, Blinstrub’s in Boston, The Elmwood Casino in Ontario, the Concord Hotel in the Jewish Castkills, The Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, and countless others. She was named “America’s Sweetheart of Song”, and became the dream girl of every young man, the secret sister of every teenage girl, and the ideal girl almost every parent in America wished their daughters to emulate. Connie became their role model, a lofty position she took quite seriously.
Only a year later, the market was flooded with everything Connie Francis, from diaries to scrapbooks, to autograph books, charm bracelets, record carriers, coats, scarves, sportswear, t-shirts, jackets, to posters — the works! She also experienced many firsts in her early career. At 22, she was the youngest performer ever to star at the Copa, when it wasn’t during prom season; at 22, the first to land her own ABC-TV network special; also at 22, the youngest-ever star to headline in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel; and the first female to have a million-selling rock ’n’ roll hit, Stupid Cupid, written by her friends, Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield.
She appeared on every popular TV variety show — from The Ed Sullivan Show to The Joey Bishop Show, The Jack Benny Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Pat Boone and Patti Page Shows, The Johnny Carson Show, and of course, on her mentor, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, where she was named “Best Female Singer” for all five years of the poll’s existence. It was on a milestone appearance on The Perry Como Show, when she introduced a song called Mama, culled from her first Italian album — another of her father’s brainstorms she’d soundly rejected — that, for the very first time, instead of being considered only a rock ’n’ roll singer, Connie Francis became an overnight sensation with the adults; and it was they who enthusiastically caused the ‘Sold Out’ signs to appear as soon as performances by her were announced at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
In her soon-to-be released autobiography, Among My Souvenirs (The Real Story), Connie exposes, with rare candor, the juxtaposition that existed between her professional and personal lives. While her love affair with her audience was always intensely gratifying and omnipresent, it was matched only by the dismally unsuccessful relationships of her personal life. Before either of them was the major star each would soon become, Connie met and fell in love with another aspiring singer and songwriter, a poor kid from the Bronx tenements, the iconic Bobby Darin. This young, innocent love affair was destined to an unhappy fate due to the unyielding and overly-controlling interference of her father.
On one fateful occasion, after hearing that Bobby and Connie had planned to elope, and during her appearance on the popular Jackie Gleason TV show, her father barged through the stage door, a pistol in his hip pocket and a fierce determination to obliterate Bobby Darin from her life once and for all. While George Scheck shouted in a frenzy, “RUN, BOBBY, RUN!” Bobby darted through the empty rows of seats, finally escaping through the window of a street level men’s room.
Sadly, Connie would go on to marry, unsuccessfully, four times in her life, but she never would fall in love again the way she had with Bobby. She considers him the one true love of her life, a love destroyed by the complicated, tumultuous, and often-troubling relationship with her father: a man who was both the architect of her unrivaled career, and the cause of her greatest personal pain.
Career-wise, it was George Franconero who, with his keen and visionary insight, was ultimately the one-sure-fire catalyst for Connie eventually becoming the best-selling worldwide female recording artist in history. It was while 14, and cutting her first demos, that he gave her the following sound advice: “If you ever do make it on records, Connie someday — and that’s a long shot — don’t limit yourself just to America. You gotta think bigger. You’re smart enough to sing in any foreign language, especially since — besides England — Germany and Japan are gonna become our biggest allies. Connie, you can do more to improve the image of America and make friends all over the world for our country through your music, than all those phony politicians in Washington put together. You can actually internationalize American music.”
Connie set out with her soon-to-be famous vengeance, to accomplish just that. She had already established herself as the all-time best-selling female record star in England, and all other English-speaking countries from Australia to South Africa, and soon achieved similar status in Germany, Italy, Latin America and Japan, singing her massive hits in their native languages.
Connie Francis’ celebrity allowed her to rub elbows with presidents, royalty, the most prominent figures in politics, and every iconic figure of that era in show business. She was the only Western pop artist ever to be invited to sing behind the Iron Curtain on a one-hour TV special from Brasov, when the Romanian government notified the State Department (Henry Kissinger’s office), urging them to convince Connie to accept that concert appearance, claiming that she was “the most beloved woman of the Romanian people”.
Beginning at the age of 10, her father had always encouraged her strongly to support American troops. Thus, she began singing and playing her accordion at every veteran’s hospital within driving distance of their home. This lifetime of unwavering support of American servicemen afforded Connie the opportunity to give back to the veterans and to the country that had been so good to her, by traveling 13,000 miles to entertain U.S. troops in the boondocks of Vietnam — an experience she claims to this day, to have been, above all else, the most life-altering and unforgettable highlight of her amazing career.
Travel and Tragedy
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.
1977 to Present
In 1977, Connie decided to undergo nasal surgery in an attempt to correct damage that had been done a decade earlier as a result of a prior cosmetic procedure. Catastrophically, this repair work proved to be an unmitigated disaster that left her entirely unable to sing for the next four long and depressing years. It would take three subsequent operations to restore her voice. When she felt ready to grant her first interview in seven years, Connie had this to say, “When I lost my voice, I lost myself. It’s as simple as that. My voice was the thing that had always defined me – it was who I was. Singing was the one and only thing I was born to do. I felt like a surgeon whose hands had been amputated. Without my voice, I became the stark antithesis of the feisty, take-on-the-world, dauntless person I used to be, and morphed instead, into the kind of emotionally needy woman I’d never been. I felt like a ‘nothing’, a worthless individual of no value.”
Against her strong protests, her beloved brother, Georgie, whom she had sent to law school ten years earlier, began working for a labor union and, eventually, would become involved in a corrupt racketeering conspiracy, which on March 6, 1981, would ultimately lead to his murder, gangland-style, in front of the Caldwell, NJ home he shared with his wife and two small sons. For Connie, her three failed marriages, the devastating fear, degradation, and self-imposed isolation of the rape, the murder of her only sibling, which once again garnered unwanted glaring worldwide headlines, the loss of her voice and her always-problematic relationship with her father, was more than she could bear…
… and, despite her strong physical struggle to resist, her father had her dragged from the pool of her Dallas home in handcuffs by two uniform guards, and involuntarily institutionalized at Baylor University Psychiatric Center. This shocking and terrifying experience would be repeated a further 16 times over the next eight years. All the while, Connie was misdiagnosed with bipolar and wrongly over-medicated, for an illness she did not have. In 1991, she was introduced to an insightful and empathetic N.J. psychiatrist, Dr. Anamaria Nucci, who finally recognized her true condition as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Thus, on January 19, 1991, she left the last mental hospital permanently.
Of her new unflinching and probing autobiography, Among My Souvenirs (The Real Story), both her manager and her literary agent have strongly advised that a 1200 to 1400 page book might be a bit longer than the biographies of both Margaret Thatcher and Joan of Arc combined. Connie, however, soundly rejects their opinion. After all, she says: “Did Margaret Thatcher or Joan of Arc ever headline the Copacabana!” At present, she is in the process of preparing her career memorabilia, exquisite gowns and wardrobe accessories, for a highly anticipated public auction. The auction will be conducted by one of the premiere auction houses located in South Florida (to be named at a later date) in February of 2017. In addition, Connie can also be found diligently at work and happily creatively involved with her own recording company, Concetta Records, in which she will lovingly repackage and remix compilations of her favorite recordings and new recordings, as well; introducing them in a different and unique way.
It was, ironically, the murder of her brother, Georgie, that became Connie’s resurrection. She tirelessly plunged into advocating for the plight of victims of crime, and succeeded in being granted her own commission under the Reagan Administration’s Task Force to Fight Violent Crime, as well as being instrumental in the passage of several important anti-crime laws.
In May 2010, Connie celebrated the 50th anniversary of the filming of the granddaddy of all beach party movies, Where the Boys Are. Ft. Lauderdale, the city she helped put on the map, launched the festivities with Connie Francis’ Great American Beach Party, where the mayor named a square after her in an historic event attended by over 25,000 people.
After her eight-year, 17 involuntary commitments to mental institutions, in New York, New Jersey, Florida, California and Texas, Connie’s life came full circle on May 19, 2010 when she was named the National Spokesperson for Mental Health America’s Trauma campaign. She calls her initiative “S.T.A.R.” – Stress, Trauma, Awareness, and Recovery.
In December of 1967, after leaving Vietnam, she tried, unsuccessfully for three years, to launch a telethon to honor our U.S. veterans. Regrettably, the political climate was much too negative to rally interest in a cause that could have potentially boosted the morale of our soldiers and positively influenced public perception towards them. When honored by the Friars Club, along with businessman/ philanthropist, Leonard Wilf on June 6, 2011, Connie expressed her fervent desire to launch a telethon. With the purpose of addressing the prevalent and urgent need of millions of veterans and their families suffering from the life-altering effects of PTSD, Leonard Wilf listened. It is with sincerest gratitude to Leonard Wilf, that now, in 2013, her dream of a telethon for veterans has finally “come true.”
On Sunday, November 10th, 2013, her charity, Haven From the Storm, sponsored the first telethon for veterans, named after Paul Simon’s Homeward Bound, produced by the legendary Gary Smith, who with his partner, Hemion/Smith Productions, garnered 47 Emmy Award nominations. The telethon was co-produced by Lee Miller and Tom Werts, both former producers of Jerry Lewis’ MDA telethon. (Tom is a Vietnam vet.)
Aside from her multi-faceted career activities, Connie’s main thrust is to devote the remainder of her life in the service of American veterans, and is also determined to secure a total revamp of the inhumane conditions and harmful practices that exist in most mental hospitals throughout the country, and to effect by law, a uniform and enforceable Mental Illness Code, a Bill of Rights for patients in mental institutions. She is equally determined to reinvigorate her campaign on behalf of victims of violent crimes, a one-woman crusade that had been tremendously successful, until her hospitalization.
Connie Francis has lived one of the greatest American Dream lives of the 20th century. And as we’ve entered the 21st, she continues to live that dream with conviction and purpose until this day. At one time, when asked what she would like her legacy to be, she was quoted as saying, “I would like to be remembered, not so much for the heights I have reached, but for the depths from which I have come.” Today, Connie puts it more simply, by merely saying, “I hope I did O.K.”