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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?