Bob Marcucci: Pop impresario who launched the careers of Frankie Avalon and Fabian - Obituaries - News - The Independent

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
Residents of James Turner Street such as White Dee will have a chance to share their experiences of benefits on a Channel 4 spin-off show
peopleBenefits Street star says mixed-race children were subjected to trolling
Sport
Angel Di Maria
Football
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
film
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
News
newsIn short, yes
Extras
indybest
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
Life and Style
Jourdan Dunn gave TopShop’s Unique show some added glamour at London Fashion Week
fashion week
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
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

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Job opportunity for a nursery nurse...

McAfee Security Engineer

£42000 - £48000 per annum + Site allowance: Ashdown Group: McAfee EPO Speciali...

English Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Experience...

Higher Level Teaching Assistants in Bradford and West Leeds

£65 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are currently seeking Higher L...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories