Off the Record

"When I read that Connie Francis was performing two blocks from my hotel in Palm Springs, I knew I had to be there. I wasn't sure why. Did I want to feel young again, bopping in the basement with next-door neighbor Vicki to such tunes as Stupid Cupid and Lipstick on My Collar? Maybe swoon when I heard Where The Boys Are, Who's Sorry Now? and other tearful Connie Francis ballads?Or was it voyeuristic in nature only, and did I merely want to check out that voice (she lost if for seven years); that face (did she really have plastic surgery?); that hair (is it still hers?) and that body (who hasn't put on a few pounds?). All of the above. So I forked over 30 bucks for a standing only ticket at Muriel's Supper Club on Palm Canyon Drive. For 20 dollars more, I could have been seated at a table for the 90-minute set, but I was fine hanging out at the bar. At exactly 9:30 p.m., the Stan Watkins Orchestra came to life and out sauntered Connie Francis, resplendent in a black fur-lined cape with sparkly black jumpsuit underneath. Connie Francis is no longer a teenager, she's 61 years old. How did that happen? But then came the familiar voice, as she opened with the unfamiliar Let Me Try Again. It was the same voice of decades ago, but not quite. And even though the high notes weren't there, the audience didn't care. They clapped and screamed (We love you, Connie!) and dismissed her diminished vocal abilities. They were rooting for her.She chatted up the audience in a stand-up comedian style, making jokes about her Weight Watchers diet (yes, she's chunked on a few pounds) to her preferred state of singledom (I'll never marry again...unless it's Al Pacino!). And she was obviously moved by the warmth of the crowd (Thank you for coming to see me make me very happy.). Connie Francis is still lovely, in an aging star sort of way. The face has been altered, but her sparkly and expressive eyes and mouth remain. The dark tumble of au natural hair on her publicity photo has been transformed to a short and stylish henna-colored wig. She's a pretty woman.Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero on Dec. 12, 1938 in Newark, New Jersey. As one of the most successful female vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, she began her career at age four playing the accordion on Arthur Godfrey's Startime television show.I met her in New Jersey, said a tan and dapper gray-haired fellow standing next to me. When I asked for his name, he said Tony the hotel, not Kitty! Funny guy. Tony Carlyle met Connie Francis in 1954. Tony was 14, Connie was 16. Tony's been a fan ever since.The evening was laced with photographs and film clips, including her TV performances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. That's where her song Who's Sorry Now? was introduced on January 1, 1958. Six months later, it topped the million mark in sales. At the height of her career, Connie Francis had 16 top-ten records and was also a film star. The second half of the show included her trademark Italian songs, along with Love Me With All Your Heart in Spanish. The foreign language lyrics rolled out of her mouth with ease, and her singing became smoother and less strained after the intermission. Connie told tales of all her love interests that were splattered on the covers of movie magazines...everyone from Elvis Presley to Tony Perkins. Her self-deprecating sense of humor is refreshing and real, bonding her with the audience.There were down times for the queen of pop and rock, and at the start of the show she touched upon it, dedicating a song to her brother who was the victim of a violent crime. But she shunned any discussion about her brutal rape in a hotel room in Connecticut in 1974, which traumatized her and resulted in the loss of her voice. Today, Connie is back in force on the small stage, doing the concert circuit from California to Florida. She closed out Friday evening's show with God Bless America, a song she sang for 25,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam 32 years ago. She said it was the highlight of her career.Although the patriotic tune was a musical stretch, her fans loved it, and she asked them to sing along. At concert's end, her followers rushed to the stage, handing over bouquets of flowers and warm wishes. She blew kisses in return, accompanied by a smile. That Connie Francis smile."

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