Bob Marcucci: Pop impresario who launched the careers of Frankie Avalon and Fabian

The musical impresario Bob Marcucci discovered and launched the careers of both Frankie Avalon and Fabian.

Regarded by many as the original puppetmaster of young teen singers, he was a marketing wizard who was unfazed by the young Fabiano Forte's confession that he could not sing, knowing that that need not be any impediment to pop stardom. In 1980 a film based on his life, The Idolmaker, was released, with Ray Sharkey in the role of the Marcucci-like Vinnie Vaccari.

Robert Phillip Marcucci was born in 1930, the son of a union organiser who looked after hotel and restaurant staff in Philadelphia. He grew up with a love of the great songwriters and his favourite performer was Al Jolson. When his parents divorced in the late 1940s, he took menial jobs to help his mother rather than go to college.

In the early 1950s, Marcucci, who had ability as a lyricist, teamed up with his friend Pete DeAngelis, who wrote music. Their first published song was a romantic ballad, "You Are Mine" for Vince Carson in 1953. Unfortunately, the Mafia claimed the royalties. However, Marcucci revived the song with Frankie Avalon in 1962.

In 1956 Marcucci's father set him up in business. He and DeAngelis formed a record company, Chancellor, taking its name from the Chancellor Hall Hotel, where they had an office. Their first US Top 20 hit was "With All My Heart", recorded by local singer Jodie Sands. A cover version by Petula Clark made the UK Top 10.

As a result of their success, Marcucci negotiated a licensing agreement with ABC-Paramount. The company would fund Chancellor's productions and, most importantly for Marcuccci's later income, the label could keep the masters.

Marcucci knew an 18-year-old trumpeter named Frankie Avalon, who invited him to hear the vocalist with his band, Rocco and the Saints. Marcucci was unimpressed but he did enjoy the couple of numbers that Avalon sang and he and DeAngelis very cynically wrote an inane teenage love song, "DeDe Dinah" specifically for him. They asked Avalon to hold his nose to emphasise a nasal sound as he sang, employed guitarist Al Caiola and saxophonist King Curtis, and the record made the US Top 10.

"DeDe Dinah" was followed by the equally daft "Gingerbread", but then Avalon recorded a classy pop ballad, "Venus", which had been written by Ed Marshall for Al Martino. Martino was taking his time and Marshall passed it to Avalon. His record topped the US charts for five weeks in 1959.

Also in 1959, Marcucci and DeAngelis wrote Avalon's second US No 1, "Why", and it was a UK No 1 for Anthony Newley. Newley told me, "I thought 'Why' was charming. We worked very hard to get me sounding as innocuous as the original American performance. Frankie Avalon was one of those watered-down American teenagers who sang as if he'd only had lessons in potty training. The trick was to get myself sounding as simple as that and I think, to my credit, that we did succeed." Marcucci had learnt something from promoting Avalon: it didn't matter how talented the artist was, the selling factor was a pleasing personality which appealed to young teenage girls.

In 1958, Marcucci visited a friend and found an ambulance had come for the policeman who lived next door and had had a heart attack. His son, Fabiano Forte, was sitting by the ambulance, looking distressed. Marcucci was struck by his good looks and his pompadour. Despite the circumstances, he asked Forte if he could sing and might be interested in a singing career – and was told no on both counts.

But Forte's father could not work again, and his son, working as a delivery boy to help his family, reconsidered Marcucci's offer and followed it up. Marcucci had the brilliant idea of marketing him before anyone heard him sing a word. Advertisements announcing that Fabian was coming were so effective that there was hysteria by the time he appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.

Marcucci obtained two sexually charged compositions, "I'm a Man" and "Turn Me Loose" from thesongwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman; Fabian had little idea ofpitch and charged his way through the songs, but they became US hits.Fabian had no chart success in the UK, largely because we had ourown Fabian in Jess Conrad. Although Fabian was the ultimate manufactured pop star, he proved himself a reasonable actor, later starring with Stuart Whitman in Hound-DogMan (1959), John Wayne in North to Alaska and Bing Crosby in High Time (both 1960).

In 1962, Chancellor had another US hit with Claudine Clark's "Party Lights", but by then Frankie Avalon had moved to cabaret and Fabian's chart-making days were over. Marcucci wound up the label in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked managing various actors and Hollywood personalities. Notably he was the manager of the gossip columnist Rona Barrett, and he produced The Razor's Edge (1984), an adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel starring Bill Murray.

A fictionalised version of his life story was told in The Idolmaker (1980), which was directed by Taylor Hackford with Marcucci as technical advisor and new songs from Jeff Barry. The authoritarian manager and father figure, Vincent Vaccari (played by Ray Sharkey), is clearly based on Marcucci, but Frankie Avalon and Fabian were good friends and not the sworn enemies of the film.

When the film was released, Fabian sued Marcucci over his portrayal, winning a considerable out-of-court settlement. He never made up with Marcucci and when he saw him in Hollywood, grooming a potential star at a restaurant, he went over to the young boy and said, "Be careful."

DeAngelis died in 1982; Marcucci sold his catalogue to the Digital Music Group in 2006 – as there is still, it is hard to believe, a market for those old Fabian records.

Robert Phillip Marcucci, impresario: born Philadelphia 28 February 1930; married (divorced; two sons); died Ontario, California 9 March 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Luxury Brand - Retail Sales Assistant - Part or Full Time

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Luxury Jeweller and Accessories - Retail Sale...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

Recruitment Genius: Motor Vehicle Technician

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is a well establish...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most