Day 71: The Unmade Film – The Connie Francis Story

originally published March 11, 2012

So where the hell is the Connie Francis biopic?

I’m going to skew this toward my younger readers (meaning under 50 – most of my audience is shockingly geriatric) who might not know who Connie Francis is. According to Joel Whitburn (the only true music chart historian you’ll ever need) Connie was the top female adult contemporary vocalist of the 1960s. She has sold over 90 million records in the US alone. And she apparently has a singing voice that rivals that of this woman:

So why does she deserve a biopic, apart from the fact that everyone else seems to have one? Let’s start at the beginning.

Young Connie was pushed into show business by her father. He also forced her to play the accordion. She appeared on a few TV shows, but the record companies kept turning her down. Finally MGM scooped her up, but even then it was only because the song she demoed was called “Freddy”, and that happened to be the name of an MGM exec’s kid. She was signed as a token birthday present, and the single was a flop.

Ready to accept a four-year scholarship to study medicine at NYU, Connie recorded what could have been her final song, a cover of a 1923 tune called “Who’s Sorry Now”. The single found its way onto American Bandstand in January 1958, and Connie became an instant star.

Another singer saved from the dreadful and unrewarding life of practicing medicine.

Her first great love interest was singer Bobby Darin. They met to write songs together, and fell in love. Her father, the guy who had cattle-prodded her into a music career, wasn’t crazy about his daughter hooking up with a guy who was so Italian-y, and to punctuate this he literally chased Bobby away when he heard their plans to elope. Chased him away with a gun. What a guy.

Weeping yet? Just wait, this movie could break the two-and-a-half-hour mark. Connie kept recording hit after hit (none of which I could identify, but then I’ve always been more into kazoo music), songs like “My Happiness”, “Among My Souvenirs” and “Lipstick On Your Collar.”

Honestly, that’s a weird place to kiss a dude.

By 1960 she had transitioned from rock ‘n roll into adult contemporary music, thus ensuring her obscurity from my musical radar. She recorded an album of Italian favorites, then began to record quite regularly in foreign languages. There are fifteen languages in her repertoire, which is actually a pretty clever tactic to snare some overseas sales and keep the cash flow rolling. I don’t know if people were lining up for Hebrew, Japanese or Neapolitan Connie Francis records, but there must have been a market.

Connie did all the things a 60s star did: she played for the Queen, she entertained the troops in Vietnam, and she acted in a number of important and influential films (classics like Where The Boys Are (1961), Follow The Boys (1963), and When The Boys Meet The Girls (1965), all of which won Oscars, Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes).

Also like most 60s artists, being non-British in 1964 was a swift kick in her otherwise healthy career. Her American audience was no longer firing her singles up the Billboard charts. She did land on board one trend in 1973: after hearing the smash hit “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, she had a modest success with her own sequel, “(Should I) Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree?” I’m not entirely sure how asking a question that has already been answered in another song generates a hit, but just in case, I’m calling dibs on “(Should I) Rock You Amadeus?”.

Yes I should!

The 1970s is where the biopic will get meaty, and the tears will flow in rivers, washing the sticky muck of old Fanta off the theatre floors and drowning every wayward husk of popcorn that had trickled off anyone’s lap.

Connie was sexually assaulted at a Howard Johnson’s in New York, and nearly suffocated under the huge mattress that her assailant had tossed upon her. She sued HoJo for having crappy security and won 2.5 million bucks off them. Three years later she underwent nasal surgery and lost her voice completely. It took several more surgeries (which could be done in a soulful yet dynamic montage sequence) and had to take voice lessons, but she returned to music.

Cleverly hitching herself to yet another trend, Connie recorded a disco version of “Where The Boys Are” in 1978. I haven’t heard this, but I’m sure the boogie is… thick. Or however they described the boogie back then.

Also, her hair got taller, as mandated under disco law.

She put out a song called “I’m Me Again” in 1981 which was her last charting single. A few months later her brother was clipped by mafia hitmen. Are you kidding me? They haven’t made this movie yet?

By the mid-80s Connie was diagnosed with manic depression. She was hospitalized in seventeen institutions. The upside was that she had the wherewithal to write an autobiography in 1984. Her later career plays out like someone who has made it through her own little hell to the other side: a Buddy Holly tribute album, headlining in Vegas, a minor success of one of her records in Germany, and one of her classic hits being illegally used during a sex scene in a horrible teen slasher flick.

If this isn’t enough tragedy and redemption for a movie, why not throw in some more of Connie’s love life? She was married four times: once for three months (it ended because of domestic violence), once to a hairdresser named Izzy (we can draw our own conclusions about this one), and twice more, all ending in divorce.

The capper here is that there actually was talk of a movie about her life, with a screenplay concept co-written by Connie and Gloria Estefan. The picture was dropped when they couldn’t agree on a writer to come in and polish up the script. Rumor has it Valerie Bertinelli was conceived as someone who might be right to play her. Kind of a safe choice – I’d do the whole thing with puppets. Every biopic would be better with puppets.

Hopefully I’ve inspired some young screenwriter out there into tapping into this goldmine of a story. And to the majority of my readers, I hope you enjoyed the lovely musical memories I inspired today. Now close your computers and hurry or you won’t make the early bird special.

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