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Fabian Is Still a Golden Boy

Fabian in a 1959 publicity photo.

Fabian in a 1959 publicity photo.

Allentown, Pa. — Take it from Fabian, who once was a teen idol who had a half-dozen chart hits in a year: Don’t be so hard on The Biebs.

Yes, current teen idol Justin Bieber is besieged of late by charges of breaking the law by racing his high-end cars on city streets, using illegal substances and battling with neighbors and paparazzi. But take away the fame, and Bieber probably isn’t all that different from others his age, Fabian says.

“He’s a 19-year-old guy, and paparazzi —we didn’t have the paparazzi. If I got caught doing some of the things that I did it’d be bad, too,” he says, laughing, over the phone from his home in Fayette County in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Asked whether he ever raced cars on the streets of Philadelphia, Fabian says, “God only knows the fun we had. But there was no camera around to catch it.”

Because there wasn’t, Fabian’s image remains that of the clean-cut teen with a pompadour who was literally discovered by an agent on the streets of South Philadelphia, recorded such hits as Tiger and Turn Me Loose and starred in a dozen mostly teen-oriented movies before he turned 21.

Fifty-five years later, Fabian, now 71, continues to trade on that image as he joins fellow former Philadelphia teen idols Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell in Dick Fox’s Golden Boys.

Fabian says the three performers grew up in a golden age of teen idols in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Guys with a certain look were making it in those days,” he says. “Especially with Elvis Presley in the Army. Everybody, all these managers and promoters were looking to grab a buck somewhere else.”

Avalon, now 73, had six Top 20 singles, including the No. 1 Venus —from 1958-‘59. He later starred in two dozen movies 1960-‘65, most notably a half-dozen beach movies - many with the late Mickey Mouse Club star Annette Funicello.

Rydell, now 71, had a dozen Top 20 hits 1959-‘64, including the No. 2 hit Wild One and Top 5’s Volare and Forget Him. He also starred in movies, most notably Bye Bye Birdie in 1963.

But Fabian notes that there has always been a music market for good-looking young men.

“It all started with, I guess, the original teen idol was Frank Sinatra,” he says. “Well, before that was Valentino.”

The difference, Fabian says, is that unlike Avalon and Rydell, he had no designs on a show business career.

“They were born to be in show business,” he says. “Me, I wanted to play football, be an engineer. But my father got very sick, we were broke, we had no money, we were down and out.” That, he says, is when an agent approached him on the street in Philadelphia and asked, “How would you like to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer?”

“First, I told him to go to hell,” Fabian says with a laugh. “But then I knew how bad we were, our family, with a bad situation, and he came back and I met his partner and that’s how it worked out.”

Fabian says Dick Clark’s Bandstand show was based in Philadelphia, and he got on it as a performer.

“My first two records were, uh, really bad,” Fabian says with a laugh. But record producers worked their magic — something else he has in common with some teen idols of today — and he got better, and more popular.

“The audience was, uh, very nice to me,” he says with a laugh. “I got major hits.”

Fabian says people with the movie studio 20th Century Fox saw him on “‘The Ed Sullivan Show” and signed him to a contract.

“God, I worked with the best - John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby,” Fabian says. By the 1970s, his career slowed. He did several television movies into the 1980s, but returned to singing on the oldies circuit and performed in the hit show “The Original Stars of Bandstand” at The Dick Clark Theater in Branson, Mo.

These days, Fabian says he’s semi-retired. He says promoter Dick Fox came up with the Golden Boys idea in the mid-1990s, and “we’ve been doing the show ever since, anywhere you can imagine.”

“It’s three goofy guys reminiscing,” Fabian says with a laugh. “We do all our hits and lots of 1950s and ‘60s video is shown. It’s a very produced show, but everything is live as far as singing and the band is concerned. We have a lot of fun on stage; we reminisce a lot and we laugh a lot.”

Asked what he thinks the appeal is after all these years, responds, “Memories! People like to go back and remember.”

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

As for still playing the teen-idol role in his 70s, Fabian says, “it comes with the territory. That’s what you sowed, that’s what you shall reap.”

“I am not against it at all - I think it’s flattering,” he says. “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of being able to help my family all through the years. You have no idea how appreciative.

“There’s people out there, they gave everything to me. I don’t know what the hell I did for them,” he says, laughing, “but they did everything for me.”

He says there is one difference between Justin Bieber’s escapades and his - it wasn’t the media or authorites that came down on him, it was his family.

“This sounds corny, but if I messed up - really, really messed up - my father would knock me out,” Fabian says with a laugh. With media reports that Bieber’s father was a participant in the street race that got him arrested, Fabian says, “I guess Justin Bieber’s father’s having just as much fun with him.”

Fabian says he enjoys the work of other young artists, including Bruno Mars and Adele, but one young performer puzzles him.

“Miley (Cyrus), you know, I don’t know where she’s coming from,” Fabian says in a way that you can almost see him shaking his head. “She’s . I mean, I don’t get that. It’s a shame.”

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©2014 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

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