Thursday, August 17, 2023

Keeping Up With Connie Francis

1961 photo of Connie Francis

“I tried to see humor in everything, even when I was in a mental institution. But I have to say the support of the public has also been incredibly uplifting. They saw me through the best and worst of times and never stopped writing from around the world to encourage me.”

- Connie Francis, as quoted in The Jackson Sun, September 29, 2017

Connie Francis's sense of humour has helped her through a life of tragedy.  The versatile singer has performed a wide variety of songs from many genres, from pop, to rock to old standards and non-English language.  She has been plagued by misfortune, but she has been a survivor.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Connie Francis was one of the most popular female vocalists in the world.  Connie was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in Newark, New Jersey on December 12, 1937 or 1938 (according to various sources).  She was the first child of working-class Italian Americans George and Ida ( (née Ferrari-di Vito) Franconero.  With the encouragement of her father, Connie entered talent contests and pageants at a young age.  At four years old,, she performed at the Olympic Amusement Park in New Jersey, where she played the accordion and sang "Anchors Aweigh."

Some of Connie's earliest years were spent in the Crown Heights district of Brooklyn, New York, an Italian-Jewish neighbourhood. She learned how to speak Yiddish and later recorded recorded songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.  In 1951 and 1952, Connie attended Newark Arts High School.  Her family then moved to Belleville, New Jersey, where she graduated from Belleville High School in 1955.

In 1950, Connie appeared on Arthur's Godfrey's nationally televised Talent Scouts program;  It was Godfrey's who advised her to change her name to "Connie Francis." because he found it difficult to pronounce "Concetta Franconero."  Godfrey also advised her to drop the accordion, and Connie gladly complied.  She was pleased to rid herself of the instrument, which she found to be heavy and and cumbersome.

Between 1953 and 1955, Connie appeared on Startime Kids, a children's TV variety show in New York City.  In 1955, Connie signed a contract as a vocalist with MGM Records, but her earliest recordings failed to attract an audience.  In the autumn of 1957, she finally achieved chart success with "The Majesty of Love," a song she had recorded with Marvin Rainwater.  The song eventually went on to sell one million copies.  Nevertheless, MGM Records informed Connie that her contract would not be renewed.

Connie then considered a career in medicine.  She was all set to accept a four-year scholarship offered by New York University when fate and her father got in the way.  On October 2, 1957, she  recorded what was to be her final single for MGM   It was a 1920s standard called "Who's Sorry Now?," which Connie sang as a rock ballad.  Connie didn't particularly like the song, but recorded it at the insistence of her father who was convinced that it had the potential to be a big hit.  He felt that adults were already familiar with the song and that teenagers would dance to it if it had a contemporary arrangement.  

"My father was the one that insisted on 'Who's Sorry Now?'.  "I fought him all the way, she told  .  "Although I didn't want to do that song, we had 16 minutes left in a session in the studio, so my dad told me to record it even if he had to nail me that microphone.  I did it in 1.5 takes, and I had a big hit, thanks to my father."  

Connie's father was right about "Who's Sorry Now?"  The song became a huge hit when it was promoted by Dick Clark on his popular American Bandstand television show for teens.  After the success of "Who's Sorry Now?," Connie searched for a follow-up hit.  She found it in "Stupid Cupid," a song written by Neil Sedaka  and Howard Greenfield.  

Sedaka and Greenfield presented Connie with ballads, which she rejected.  She requested a more up tempo song that would appeal to the teenage market.  At the urging of Greenfield, Sedaka played "Stupid Cupid" for her and she said "That's it. You guys got my next record."  "Stupid Cupid" was the first of a sting of hits that Connie recorded while working with songwriters Sedaka and Greenfield, including "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Everybody's Somebody's Fool, ""My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" and "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You."

1958 Billboard Ad

At the pinnacle of her fame, Connie appeared frequently on television, performing on American Bandstand and on The Ed Sullivan Show. On August 27, 1961, she was the mystery guest on the quiz show What's My Line?  She also guest-starred in a 1964 episode of The Jack Benny Program. Connie acted in several teen-oriented movies for MGM, most notably Where the Boys Are (1960), for which she sang the title song, as well as Follow the Boys (1963), Looking for Love (1964) and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965).  She stated that "I should have made more movies or better movies."

Connie with Jack Benny in 1964

By the mid-1960s,, Connie and other performers were overshadowed by the Beatles and the British Invasion.  With her popularity waning and her vocal abilities limited by nasal surgery, Connie was forced to put her career on hiatus.  In November 1974, she attempted a comeback by performing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York.  After a performance, she was brutally beaten, raped and robbed at knifepoint by a bugler who had broken into to her suite at the Howard Johnson Motor Hotel in Westbury, Long Island.  On the morning of November 8, police found Connie naked, bound and gagged, and tied to an overturned chair. After such a nightmarish and traumatic experience, she once again put her career on hold,

In 1974, Connie won a landmark lawsuit against the motel, which she claimed failed to provide enough security.  She returned to Westbury in November of 1981, but her assailant was never apprehended.  "For seven years, I was virtually in total seclusion after being raped at Westbury.  But I was getting thousands of letters from people who'd had bad experiences," she told the Washington Post in December 1981,

The savage attack led to Connie having a nervous breakdown, ruined her marriage to her third husband, Joe Garzilli, and stifled her career.  Unfortunately, the singer suffered another devastating blow in May if 1981 when her brother, George Franconero, Jr., was gunned down in the driveway of his North Caldwell, New Jersey home as he was scraping ice from his car  Franconero, 40, was a former partner in the law office of then-New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne.  He had pleaded guilty to bank fraud charges and served as a government witness.  Police indicated that it was a mob killing.

As result of all her trauma, Connie spent much time undergoing psychiatric treatment. Yest, she  resumed her singing career, even appearing on the American Bandstand 30th Anniversary Special. on October 30, 1981.  The revitalization of Connie's career, however, did not last long.  She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attempted suicide in 1984.  

Connie resumed her recording and performing career in 1989.  She recorded a double album for Malaco Records entitled Where the Hits Are.  The album contained re-recordings of 18 of her biggest hits as well as six classics that Connie had wanted to record.  She continued performing right into the 21st century.  In late December of 2004, she headlined in Las Vegas for the first time since 1969.  In March and October 2007, she performed before capacity crowds at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.  On February 14, 2008, she appeared in concert in Manila, Philippines.  In 2010, she did a show at the Las Vegas Hilton with Dionne Warwick.

Connie Francis has been married four teams, and all of her marriages were short-lived. The longest of those marriages lasted five years, while the shortest survived a mere four months.  In 1964, she was briefly married to Dick Kanellis, a press agent and entertainment director for the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas (now Planet Hollywood).

In January of 1971, Connie wed Izzy Marion, the owner of a hair salon, but she divorced him ten months later.  In 1973, she married for the third time, to Joseph Garzilli, a restaurateur and the owner of a travel agency.  They adopted a baby boy named Joey, but divorced in 1977.  On June 27, 1985, Connie entered into her fourth marriage, this time to TV producer Bob Parkinson.  They divorced in late 1986.

Singer Bobby Darin, of  "Mac the Knife" fame, was the great love of Connie's life, the one who got away. Connie told Fox News that she first met Bobby in 1956 when he came into her office one day to show her a song.  At first, she didn't get along with him, but they eventually developed a bond over their Hollywood dreams and aspirations.

Bobby Darin and Connie

The growing romance between Connie and Bobby never came to fruition, due to the interference of Connie's controlling father, George, who opposed the relationship because he viewed  Bobby as a threat to his daughter's career and reputation.  In an article for the website AmoMama, Daniella Segell wrote, "Connie and Bobby Darin met when they were both youngsters in the music industry.  When they met, Connie was beginning to excel in her career, which her father believed should be her sole focus."  

Connie's dad controlled her career and, unfortunately, her personal life, with an iron hand.  According to Connie, her father had an intense dislike for Bobby.  "He even tried to shoot him," she explained to Fox News.  "He came with a gun in his pocket.  And Bobby had a bad heart.  He had rhematic fever as a child, which is why he died at the age of 37.   I was really afraid of my father retaliating against Bobby.  So I stayed from Bobby as far away as I could.  So during that period of time, we kept in touch through letters."

In January of 2022, Connie's long-time partner, singer Tony Ferretti, passed away.  They had been together for 18 years.  Their romance began when they recorded some of her old music as duets, especially "You Made Me Love You."   

In December of 2022, Connie Francis celebrated her 85th birthday with a magnificent party at her home in Parkland, Florida. Connie still has the support of numerous fans and family members. She proclaimed that her party must have been "the largest gathering of lifelong friends."  Note: Since Connie celebrated her 85th birthday in 2022, she must regard 1937 as the year of her birth.


* Connie Francis became an advocate for the rights of victims of violent crime and for mental health awareness. In 1981, she joined the board of directors of the Crime Victims' Legal Advocacy Institute, which was founded in 1979 by presidential cousnsellor Edwin L. Meese.  

In May of 2010. Connie was appointed National Spokesperson for the Trauma Campaign of Mental Health of America for the servicemen and women who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.  "That was important to me," she told Digital Journal.  "I spent eight years in a mental hospital, so it was very important for me to do something to help the mentally ill."

* In August of 1959, at the suggestion of her father, Connie travelled to London and recorded an Italian album at the famous Abbey Road Studios.  The title of the album was Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites, and it was well-received.  It was released in November and included "Mama," which Connie claimed as her personal favourite in her extensive catalogue.

Connie's father encouraged her to record in foreign languages.  Besides Italian and Hebrew, she's sung in German and Japanese, among other languages.

* In 1960, Bobby Darin married actress Sandra Dee. Sandra and Bobby had a son, Dee, born in 1962.  They divorced in 1967.  On June 25, 1973, Bobby wed Andrea Yeager, a legal secretary whom he met in 1970.  In October 1973, the couple divorced amid Bobby's health problems.  Bobby died on December 20th of that year, when he was only 37 years old from the heart condition that plagued him for most of his life. He failed to take antibiotics to protect his heart prior to a dental visit.  As a result, he developed sepsis, a deadly systemic infection that weakened his body and affected one of his heart valves.

It turn out that Bobby had saved all the letters that Connie had written him.  After Bobby's death, The Daily Mail reported that the letters had fallen into the possession of Bobby's brother, Gary Walden.  In 2016, Walden decided to sell some of  Bobby's memorabilia, including the love letters between his late sibling and Connie Francis.  The letters went on sale on eBay and Connie eventually got them back from a Virginia woman, a fan of Bobby's, who beat her out with a $1,000 bid.  Connie contacted the woman who won the bid, and she voluntarily gave the letters to her.

* Connie formed Concetta Records, her own recording, so that her music wound be available to her fans worldwide.

* Connie has written two autobiographies: Who's Sorry Now?, published in 1984, and Among My Souvenirs: The Real Story Vol. 1, published in 2017.

* As far as I can determine, Connie Francis has not scheduled any tour dates for 2023.

SOURCES: Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Connie Francis: American singer;" AmoMama (, "Singing Legend Connie Francis Turned 85 in 2022 - She Still Uses Lipstick, Dresses Smart & Lives in a Cozy House," by Wian Prinsloo, December 16, 2022; Fox News (, "Connie Francis reflects on her romance with Bobby Darin before his untimely death," by Stephanie Nolasco,  February 9, 2018; The Washington Post, "Connie Francis' Crusade, by Richard Harrington, December 16, 1981; Digital Journal, "Interview with Connie Francis: The First Lady of Rock and Roll," by Markos Papadatos, February 23, 2022;AmoMama (, "Connie  Francis' Father Saw the Love of Her Life as a 'Threat' and Went to Lengths to Keep Them Apart, Daniella Segell, September 21, 2021; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

- Joanne

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