Legendary songstress Connie Francis appears at the Castro Theatre
Connie Francis, the top of the pops singer of the fifties and sixties, comes to the Castro Theatre on Oct. 16 to sing a whole roster of her many hits. They include “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You,” “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” “Mama,” and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.”
She played here a couple of years ago and was a smash hit. This time she celebrates the 50th anniversary of her hit song, “Where the Boys Are,” which is the theme from the movie in which she appeared.
“I love playing the Castro,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Florida. “I describe ‘Where The Boys Are’ as the gay national anthem.”
Yes, Connie, as she insists on being called, is a very funny woman.
She also brings a 21-piece orchestra with her, something uncommon in these spartan times.
“I bring all those musicians because I need all the help I can get,” she quipped. “I like the sound of strings, and I like the big brass sound too. I was raised on the big bands. These days it’s unheard of. I used to make records with a live orchestra, all of us in the studio at the same time, the way that Frank [Sinatra] used to record. It’s very exciting.”
That was before music videos, many of which Francis finds unacceptably vulgar.
“I’ve lost all faith in the FCC,” she said, “for allowing this stuff to get on the air.”
But music videos, in a sense, might have arrived earlier than we know.
“In 1959 or so, I got a call from ‘the boys’ [the New Jersey mafia] in Newark,” Francis recalled. “They had an idea to put films, or kinescopes, on juke boxes. I thought the idea was brilliant. I warned the boys they weren’t going to deal with Bing Crosby or artists like that. They gave up. They couldn’t take dealing with blacks. They could not control them.”
The mob did infiltrate the smaller record labels, such as Reprise or Roulette. There was a lot of brutality. She remembers when her good friend Jimmy Rodgers of “Honeycomb” fame was beaten so badly by mob thugs that his singing career ended. The assault was actually carried out by an off-duty cop in the Los Angeles Police Department.
It’s been a busy summer for Connie Francis, still irrepressible at 71. She held a “Where the Boys Are” concert in Ft. Lauderdale, where the movie was shot. To her astonishment, 30,000 people showed up. Over the years, her popularity has endured, particularly in Europe – Germany, specifically, where she is still considered a major star.
She recently has played to sell-out houses in Hong Kong, Manila and Malaysia, where the queen of the country shouted out requests.
Francis has also remained very political. In the sixties, she worked on the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, but her perspective has changed greatly.
“I call myself an independent progressive now,” she said. “Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are frightening. To me, the GOP stands for Greed Over Principle.”
She still uses her music as a weapon of mass diplomacy.
“The Iraq War was a horrible mistake,” she said. “It only empowered Iran to do what it’s doing. I was the first American to sing in Romania. I performed on Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Luxembourg. It was great to promote America in those days, but this is not the America I grew up in. Yet we were born at the right time to see the advent of many great things. Now the great entertainers are all gone – Sinatra, Sammy Davis and all.”
And there was Bobby Darin. After being married and divorced four times, the love of her life remains Darin. They met in the fifties at the famed Brill Building in New York, where the songwriters created hits. Fearing an elopement, Connie’s father chased Darin through a theater with a loaded pistol. He later married Sandra Dee from the “Gidget” movies. Not marrying Darin, she said, was the biggest mistake she ever made. He was only thirty-seven when he died of a congenital heart defect.
“I knew he would die young,” Francis said. “He told me the doctors said he would not live past twenty-five.”
In 1984, she published an autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now? Her story is compelling, a tale of overcoming some tough episodes. She has just published a new book, Among My Souvenirs.
Many of the great entertainers may be gone, but Connie Francis is still here.
Connie Francis: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at Market), 8 p.m. Oct. 16; tickets $49–$99 at 415-392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com