Monday, February 28, 2011

Presenting "The Oscar"!

This year’s Oscar ceremony is over now and all that’s left to do is to examine the clothes and perhaps ruminate on a couple of the results. It’s always a big night with cinematic history being made, sometimes the way we like, sometimes not. In The Underworld, however, when we celebrate Oscar, we mean we’re celebrating that simultaneously swanky and tacky, emotionally garish, expensive, yet cheap, monument to the obsessive desire for Hollywood’s top honor. We’re speaking, of course, of the 1966 film The Oscar.

The type of movie (think Showgirls or Battlefield Earth) that was a camp classic practically upon release and which becomes more and more so with each year that separates it from the time in which it first appeared, it is manna from heaven to those who enjoy that period in the mid-60s when studio films still clung to that clean, sharp, sleek visual style while the subject matter was beginning to turn more sordid than in previous decades. Then, of course, there is the female hair of that period, when it was de rigueur to tease it as high and full as possible and, often, to augment it with skyscraping appendages, anything to achieve that Nouveau-Grecian look.

The movie kicks off with footage from an actual Oscar ceremony (the 37th Annual), with shots of limousines pulling up as the staggering rundown of stars’ names appear in the credits. Produced by Joseph E. Levine (the same man behind The Carpetbaggers, Where Love Has Gone and Harlow, if that tells you anything!), it relates the tumultuous journey of one man, Stephen Boyd, from small-time stripper agent to Hollywood leading man and Academy Award contender.

The ceremony begins (featuring perennial Oscar host Bob Hope, who helmed the ceremony an impressive eighteen times in all) with Boyd seated on the aisle, anticipating his category. Looking on is his former best pal Tony Bennett (in his big screen acting debut and, fortunately, his swan song as well!) Bennett stares at Boyd with an expression of grim woodenness that will become exceedingly familiar to the viewer over the course of the rest of the two hour film. He is heard in monotonous voiceover chastising Boyd for what it took to get him to the place he’s in and the screen begins to blur, signaling the beginning of a flashback.

Cut to Boyd, Bennett and Boyd’s curvy girlfriend, Jill St. John, several years prior as they attempt to make ends meet in a smoky, dingy nightclub. St. John is done up in a tiger print ensemble complete with black gloves that have copper claws on each finger. Boyd is her “manager” and lover while Bennett serves as their sidekick/helper. To the delight of the men in the club (and, to be honest, to my own delight as well!), St. John begins taking off pieces of her outfit and bumping her way around the small stage. She looks fantastic (better than anyone in her position should. After all, what lowdown strip artist has hair by Nellie Manley, Wally Westmore makeup and a six-piece Edith Head costume?!)

When the dive's owner tries to chisel them out of the money they're owed, Boyd roughs him up and the trio flees the town. Unfortunately, local sheriff (and real life Oscar-winner) Broderick Crawford, who's in on the sting operation, tracks them down and jails them. By the time they've bought their way out of trouble, they have little but the clothes on their backs. Soon, they hit New York where St. John secures a job with Ed Begley. Alas, this leaves Boyd free to carouse around town while his lady works nights. One of the hot spots Boyd and Bennett go to is a crowded swingin' party where the chief attraction is plates of chili & spaghetti!

Here, Boyd meets pretty fashion designer Elke Sommer and the two flirt and spar with one another in dialogue that really could only have been written in the '60s. (One of the three screenwriters for this gem was Harlan Ellison, a man who did a fair share of science fiction and this movie could almost qualify!) St. John finally has her fill of Boyd's shenanigans and he is tossed out. He takes a job as a stockman in a dress factory in order to be near Sommer.

One day, while accompanying Sommer to deliver costumes to a nearby theatre, he witnesses a pair of actors engaged in a knife fight and (having defended himself from one in the small dive town) he hops on the stage to teach them how it is really done. This display of intensity catches the eye of a talent scout (Eleanor Parker) who decides to take him under her wing (and under some other things of hers!) The fact that he's an arrogant, explosive jerk nearly all the time doesn't seem to phase her.

Sommer now put to one side, he and Parker work on his acting (and, offscreen, work on each other, too! This publicity photo shows them canoodling and headed for the bedroom, but the scene isn't in the finished picture. It's a shame because I love Parker's hair and clothing here.) Before long, he's out in Hollywood being presented to the head of (the fictional) Galaxy Studios, Joseph Cotten. Cotten derisively refers to Boyd as “meat,” but eventually takes him on. Boyd also lands the skillful Milton Berle as his agent (the whole movie is like this... star after star filling each role right down to some of the bits!)
Before he's really established himself in the movies, Boyd must be the studio-arranged date for one of its successful starlets. The divine Jean Hale (who never worked enough for my tastes) essays the vain, self-serving, eternally bitchy actress who treats Boyd like less than a dog on a leash. She's filled to the brim with rules, conditions and demands. She also has a hilariously bug-eyed, surly maid who probably gets the brunt of the blasts when no one else is around to take it.
Later, once he is better established, he and Hale have a second date and this time it's all about him. Hale has, by now, started to slip out of favor and the tables are turned. They are approached at their table by legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in one of the last things she did before passing away. When she waves goodbye, it's like seeing the woman herself say goodnight to decades of ink-wielding power (and, for a time, a bit of a reign of terror!) in Hollywood. She gets a pretty good scoop, though, when Boyd decides he's had enough of Hale's attitude and dumps a gargantuan Green Goddess salad into her lap!

Boyd's career starts to rise and he is reunited with his old buddy Bennett, who, like a moth to the flame, can't seem to quit Boyd. Boyd also runs into Sommer again, who is now ensconced at the studio as a sketch artist for Edith Head. Somehow this job enables Sommer to have a stunning tudor-style mansion?? Boyd begins to win her over again and the pair trots off to Tijuana to watch the bullfights.

While there, they encounter married couple Ernest Borgnine and Edie Adams and the foursome gets along like a house on fire. When Borgnine and Adams ask the younger couple to help witness their divorce at a Justice of the Peace, the seed is planted for Boyd and Sommer to elope. They do so and share about 45 seconds of happiness before he's treating her like all the other women he's ever known.

Back in H-Town, Boyd is making heavy demands on Cotten and causing a strain with Berle as well. While lunching with Berle, he comes upon a former actor (Peter Lawford) who's lack of career momentum has led him to become the maitre de at the restaurant! Lawford hands Boyd some advice and unsettles him with his reflections on the cruel nature of the biz.
When things continue to fall apart with Sommer (who languishes at home in an array of platinum creamy-whip hairdos and eye-popping lingerie ensembles), Boyd looks up old flame Parker and barges into her home, seducing her and then lashing out a few insults over her age. Here, Parker gives Boyd a run for the money in chewing the scenery. Lying face down on the bed and clutching a pillow, she rails on and on about his selfishness. Nonetheless, her raw, emotionally charged performance is a far cry from the confident, tightly-controlled one she gave as Baroness Schraeder in The Sound of Music the year before.

Whenever Boyd deigns to sleep with Sommer, she gets the same sort of treatment. In fact, in one of several parallel scenes in the movie, Sommer is shown in the same body position as Parker, being looked at in a mirror by Boyd, as she pleads with him for some level of understanding or attention.

As Boyd's position in the industry grows, he continues to alienate anyone and everyone around him, his head swelling in a similar way that Patty Duke's would the following year in Valley of the Dolls. Sadly for him, his most recent picture is one that Cotten (fed up with Boyd anyway thanks to the contractual squeeze he put on him) wants to offload as a second feature. He also decides to end Boyd's tenure at the studio. This coming at a key time of financial crisis for Boyd, he is reduced to considering a role on TV, where (real life Oscar-winners) James Dunn and Walter Brennan haggle over Boyd's ability to hawk the sponsor's product in between scenes.

As he agonizes over his dreadful career turns, he has one of those hooty cinematic nightmares in which smoke drifts in and various peoples' faces appear, repeating dialogue from earlier in the movie.
Just as he is about to fall off his place in the Hollywood totem pole, it is announced that he is up for the Best Actor Oscar for the “throwaway” film against other heavyweights like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Foaming at the mouth to win, he decides to take matters into his own hands and has ads placed in the trades of him glamorously photographed in elegant poses with only the word “Consider” for text (this is a joke... No, unlike Melissa Leo, he decides to try reverse psychology and deliberately leaks the hoary old information about his scuffle back at the strip club and subsequent arrest for assault and prostitution.) He gets his old acquaintance Borgnine to anonymously smear him with his police record, believing that this will make voters suspect sabotage on behalf of the other four nominees.

Things seem to be working fine until Borgnine decides to press Boyd for more money in order to stay quiet about it. Here, the wheels really come off as Boyd manages to drive away everyone in his life from wife Sommer to best friend Bennett to even his Asian butler Jack Soo. As Bennett and Sommer flee the house, Boyd delivers a three-act mini-Shakespearean monologue to the presumably empty driveway, standing in the door yammering until long after they've gone!
Segueing back to the big ceremony, the movie has gone on for close to two hours, though, even at that, it is less time than a real actor would have to sit in his seat awaiting his fate on Oscar night! The elegant Merle Oberon (with hair to the heavens) is on hand to present the award for Best Actor and everyone grits his or her teeth as the result nears. The climax is one of the greatest, most hysterically awesome things ever put on film. I've put several spoilers in this review, but I would never spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it!

Boyd, so deliciously menacing and intense in Ben-Hur about seven years prior to this, is off-the-hook from the start. There is almost no modulation in his performance, nor is it ever realistic. He's a high-strung, quick-tempered, selfish, reckless lout with virtually no redeeming qualities. There are maybe two flashing instances in which he displays some degree of humanity, but otherwise he is like something out of Starship Troopers in his ferocity and wired physicality. I actually really like Boyd (there's a mini-tribute to him on this site) and think he was a handsome, lean, talented actor who looked terrific in (and out of) those crisp '60s clothes, but here he needed to be reined in and molded a little bit more in order for anyone to care what happens to him. Sommer, just as she was in many of films of this period, is stunning to look at and gives a pretty heartfelt performance. She has just the right figure with which to display a wide variety of sleek, chic, elegant Edith Head creations. Her relationship with Head in the film, though, is hysterical! First they are seen consulting each other on one of the streets of the studio lot, then they are shown celebrating Boyd's Oscar nomination, then at a glitzy Hollywood party, Sommer arrives and Cotten goes, “Edith is over at the bar” as if, out of the two hundred people there, Sommer is going to ignore every soul in sight and beeline it over to Edith as she stands there in one of her own concoctions! She has no lines in the film, which makes her appearance all the more amusing. She's like a prop for Sommer to use! It surely must be the only case of a costume designer being nominated for an Academy Award for her costumes while she also appears in the film herself three times in said costumes!

The Oscar for costumes went to A Man for All Seasons, by the way. The only other award it was up for was Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (and the sets in The Oscar are absolutely gorgeous), but that award was won by Boyd's subsequent film Fantastic Voyage (the one in which he and a team of scientists are shrunken down to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a dying man with instructions to save him.)
Bennett is positively dreadful. He has, maybe, one and a half expressions and his lines have that swinging, “socko” quality that comes off as so phony and uncool now. (Boyd's are this way, too.) Given horrific makeup and lighting, he resembles a Hollywood Wax Museum figure of Dean Martin that was left on a sunny front lawn for a couple of hours. Near the end, he has a marathon meltdown sequence that has to be seen to be believed. It's hard to believe that Bennett wasn't enlisted to provide a credits song or some other tune in the film, but perhaps he was attempting a career as a legitimate thespian. Anyway, the whole experience was so unpleasant, he never did anything but play himself after this. (Incidentally, when Harlan Ellison wrote the screenplay for this turkey, he envisioned Steve McQueen and Peter Falk in the leading roles. That casting just might have saved this from being the camp riot it became, but then we wouldn't have the pleasure of laughing at it now.)

Parker is mostly very glamorous and yet sincere. She brings a lot of savvy and skill to her part before she gets torn down by Boyd. Another woman with a long, lean physique, Head had fun whipping up things for her to wear. I've always been amused by the drapey, hood-like thing she wears to Cotten's office, though she was frequently given unusual headgear in the early-'60's. She has interesting hats in Madison Avenue and for the courtroom scenes of Return to Peyton Place, she wore some sort of wrap around her head. The same year as The Oscar, she played Stuart Whitman's nasty, drunken shrew of a wife in An American Dream, but, sadly, was dropped off a balcony before the credits had even rolled!
Berle is surprisingly believable and world-weary as the put-upon agent. He makes no effort to ham it up or overplay, a smart thing when faced with the histrionics of Boyd. Cotten serves up an acceptable level of authority as the studio chief, though he, like most of the cast, is given a couple of silly lines along the way. St. John is likeable enough in her role, but some of the more demanding sequences seem beyond her somehow. Her big break-up scene is particularly bad, with a lot of unmotivated pacing and gesticulation.
Borgnine is reliably effective and very slick. He's one of the few actors who gets to perform more than one dimension and does so rather well. Adams is also good, though she is saddled with some incredibly awkward blocking. In her most significant scene, she is asked to lean over onto a sofa that is about three feet off the ground. Thus, she's all hunkered down, looking preposterous, as she speaks to Boyd, and then the camera gets her from the rear, splaying her hot pink-clad behind across half the screen! WTF?

Here's a little trivia about Hale. She was married from 1961 to 1984 to Dabney Coleman and had four children with him! Soo, of course, went on to a supporting run on the police station sitcom Barney Miller. Dunn, an Oscar-winner for his touching work in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, struggled with alcoholism for most of his life and would be dead about a year after this, his final feature film. His secretary in the film is Jean Bartel, a statuesque spokesperson/actress who had been Miss America 1943 and played several nurses and receptionists over the years.

The writer-director Russell Rouse and his frequent co-writer Clarence Greene found themselves in something of a career slide after this. They had to their previous credit the tight little noir B-picture D.O.A. and the colorful, fluffy Pillow Talk, but after The Oscar was presented to audiences, they only worked together on one more film. The film was Color Me Dead, a rehash of D.O.A. With Tom Tryon in the lead. Rouse directed one more time, a film called The Caper of the Bulls, but then he departed the scene. Amazingly, after the fairly disastrous pairing he'd just made with Stephen Boyd, Boyd was the star of Bulls as well! It was a Spanish made caper film that made little impact at the box office.

Watching The Oscar is like having a meal of whipped cream with a side of cotton candy. It isn't substantial, nor is it nourishing, unless you are a person like myself who craves the kind of cinematic badness that can only come about when money, talent and resources are being poured into a project that has an inferior foundation (i.e.- a crappy script!) It was released onto video with rather inferior quality many years ago, but hasn't seen the light of day since except in infrequent movie channel airings. Why oh why couldn't they put out a DVD with commentary from Miss Sommer and Miss St. John? (Even the still-thriving Ernie Borgnine could partake!) The fact that StudioCanal owns it ought to make this situation easier rather than harder. Please make this happen and time it to coincide with Oscar's impending 85th anniversary?!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Now this is my Forte!

The mid-'50s was a white hot time for cute, young singing sensations with dubious musical backgrounds. It was all about finding a good-looking guy with a passable voice who could get the teenage girls to scream and yell and spend their allowances on his records. Today's featured furball became an international sensation through his recordings, but segued into an acting career. When that petered out after a time, he went back to his roots, with the same guys he'd started out alongside back in the hot wax era. I'm speaking, of course, about Mr. Fabian Forte, known by most people as simply Fabian. Fabiano Anthony Forte was born in Philadelphia on February 6th, 1943 to a policeman named Domenic and his wife Josephine. The oldest of three boys, his father became ill from a heart attack in 1957 and couldn't work any longer. The family of five now facing the specter of surviving on $45 per week disability checks, Fabian's traffic-stopping looks and eventual singing ability gave him the avenue with which to support them. He was discovered at the tender age of fourteen by Bob Marcucci, the co-owner of Chancellor Records, who was given his name as a potential clinet by prior discovery Frankie Avalon, another boy from South Philly. Marcucci approached the boy on the front steps of his home the very day his father was taken away in an ambulance, but Fabian reportedly told him to “go to hell.” After some time had passed and he realized that Marcucci was serious, he reconsidered.

Avalon, three years Fabian's senior, had been previously playing with Bobby Rydell in a group called Rocco and the Saints. Avalon, Rydell and Fabian, all acts who would eventually play on Dick Clark's American Bandstand multiple times, would draw upon their history together as boy singers later in life. But in 1957, Fabian's career was just beginning. After a sputtering start, he began turning out hit records for label owner Marcucci (who was, himself, only thirteen years older than Fabian.) He was given singing lessons and instructed on how to look, how to dress and how to behave as part of the star packaging concept (though Clark felt that Fabian definitely possessed that all-important “It” factor, the trappings notwithstanding.)
His huge, beautiful eyes, impossibly thick and high pompadour hairdo and puppy pout combined to make for one serious teen idol. His voice alone had initially made little impact, but once TV viewers got a look at that face on Bandstand, the rest was history! He became so popular it was hard to get around at all in public without a police escort. After less than two years with Marcucci and Chancellor Records, 20th Century Fox came calling in order to turn Fabian into a movie star. It was necessary for him to buy out his record contract with Marcucci, but he did so in order to be free to sign with the movie studio.

He was front and center in his very first feature film, Hound Dog Man, in 1959. Still, in order to hedge its bets against this untried young man, the studio surrounded him with an array of other names (such as Stuart Whitman and current teen favorite Carol Lynley) as well as seasoned veterans of the silver screen (such as Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field, Edgar Buchanan and Jane Darwell - shown here beaming with the fledgling actor.) The rural story had little to do with the city-bred Fabian, but the setting allowed for fans of Memphis-born Elvis Presley, who was THE singing sensation of the time (with a prior hit called Hound Dog, no less) to be suitably intrigued enough to check it out as well. The film resulted in a hit record for Fabian when he sang the title song.

He was frequently splashed across the covers of movie and teen magazines such as this one that references Dodie Stevens, a Hound Dog Man ingenue (and you can also bet that the story inside this one did NOT reveal exactly what was going on between Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner!) Note also how the magazine somehow seems to give a hoot what older comedian George Gobel thinks about teenagers!

The next year, he was paired with two established stars. First came the extraordinarily fluffy High Time, which starred Bing Crosby as a fifty-one year-old returning college student. If you've been waiting all your life to see Crosby in drag, this is your chance. He has a dream sequence in which he attends a school dance, dolled up in feminine finery. Wook how sewious our wittle boy seems to be as he studies in the cwasswoom! (I don't know, so don't ask me... why this shot brings about the need to talk baby talk!)

Fabian, natch, played a fellow student along with Richard Beymer (soon to play Tony in West Side Story) and Tuesday Weld. Other names in the cast included Yvonne Craig (later to be Batgirl on Batman) and Gavin McLeod (of The Mary Tyler Moore and The Love Boat fame.) The already inane film (directed by Blake Edwards in one of his weaker moments) ends with Crosby flying around in the air during the graduation ceremony...

A bit more serious (but only a bit) was his next project, the John Wayne western adventure film North to Alaska. Concerning prospectors in the frosty territory, Fabian played the younger brother of Wayne's costar Stewart Granger. Also on board were Ernie Kovacs and Capucine, who played a (very refined!) prostitute meant as a sort of mail-order bride for Wayne, who nevertheless catches Fabian's eye instead.

The title song was sung by Johnny Horton, but Fabian did get to croon another ditty within the film. The middling film was not the first time Wayne worked with a young male singer (like Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo) nor would it be the last (Glen Campbell in True Grit.)
1961 brought Love in a Goldfish Bowl, a three-cornered teen romance that also starred Tommy Sands and an ingenue named Toby Michaels. Jan Sterling played Sands' mother. Fabian played upon his Italian heritage by portraying a character named Guiseppi La Barba while Sands' hair was bleached pale blonde! All I can say is that from where Sands is situated in this publicity still, he had a tough decision to make! (It wouldn't have been for me, however! Ha!)

Incidentally, Sands had starred in a film called Sing Boy Sing in which he played a country boy gospel singer exploited by an opportunistic manager. The whole shebang was allegedly inspired by the story of Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker. Years later, Fabian would find himself represented in a similar type of film loosely based on his own story, but that was many years to come at this point.

This same year, Fabian worked on an episode of the television series Bus Stop, playing a sociopathic killer. Directed by Robert Altman, it was a major departure from the image he usually projected, though it didn't lead to any significant changes in his acting career.

Next, he appeared with yet another veteran actor, this time James Stewart in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, one of several innocuous, colorful, family films Stewart made during this time (others being Take Her, She's Mine and Dear Brigitte.) He and costar Lauri Peters sang a minor number during the film. At this stage of his career, Fabian need only appear on a movie screen in order to kick off waves of screaming an crying from his youthful female fan base. It was not unusual for rafts of dialogue to be drowned out as the screeches continued.

Unlike Presley, who was drafted into the U.S. Army at a time when his career was just on the cusp of exploding even further, when Fabian received a draft notice during The Vietnam War, he reportedly presented a doctor's note that caused him to be classified 4F, excusing him from duty. The note allegedly stated that doing time in the military posed a significant risk of causing him to develop homosexual tendencies. (Because making films in Hollywood certainly posed no such risk!!)

From here, he joined an all-star cast in one of producer Irwin Allen's adventures (prior to his becoming the Master of Disaster.) Five Weeks in a Balloon starred Red Buttons, Barbara Eden, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre, Richard Haydn, Herbert Marshall and Barbara Luna. Adapted from a Jules Verne story, it was a colorful, but mostly silly, affair with Fabian mostly occupied with scantily clad Luna, a female chimpanzee and an accordion he uses to back him up as he (incessantly) warbles the title song.
Rounding out 1962 was an appearance (along with practically every working male actor in the business) in the mammoth WWII film The Longest Day. In the wake of this film, Fabian would find himself turning to television more and more, at least for a while. He worked on anthology shows such as The Dick Powell Theatre and The Eleventh Hour as well as Wagon Train.

1964 brought what many folks consider to be one of the best beach movies of the '60s, though it was completely apart from the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello series. Ride the Wild Surf featured Fabian alongside Tab Hunter and Peter Brown with love interest supplied by Shelley Fabares, Barbara Eden and Susan Hart. This movie tried to present an ever-so-slightly more serious take on the genre versus the inherently campy and wacky Frankie & Annette shenanigans.
What's really strange about it is that Fabian was one of the few performers allowed to keep his regular hair color! Hunter's dirty blonde hair was dyed light brown, Brown's brown hair was bleached to a putrescent shade of yellow, Fabares' dark hair is white blonde and Eden's normally blonde hair is dark auburn! According to Hunter, the hair colors were changed in order to match the footage of the stunt surfers, but what an odd situation.

The three guys are all cute, but very different. You've got Porterhouse Hunter with his mature, seasoned body, Sirloin Strip Brown with his lean, low-fat cut and Ribeye Fabian with his adorable baby fat cheeks--both sets!
James Stewart must have gotten on with Fabian during Mr. Hobbs because when it came time to film Dear Brigitte, he was back again. The story of a professor (Stewart) whose young son Billy Mumy writes to Brigitte Bardot every night until finally she invites the family to visit her in France, Fabian was cast as a love interest to Stewart's on screen daughter Cindy Carol. (Carol, a child actress who grew into a rather gawky looking young lady, would retire directly after this.)
His recording career virtually over thanks to The British Invasion of The Beatles and other trendier and wildy popular performers and groups, Fabian struggled to maintain a career in films. He took a role in Ten Little Indians as an unbelievably jerky alcoholic singer who is the first murder victim to be bumped off (and not a moment too soon considering the surly, obnoxious personality he was delivering in the part!) In the film, he sat at a piano and sang the numb-inducing nursery rhyme, at no one's request!

He then appeared in one of his pal Frankie Avalon's teen-oriented movies, a rare Frankie and Annette film that doesn't involve sand and bikinis, Fireball 500. This was an attempt to use many of the same cast members from the Beach Party films, but in a more serious setting. Avalon and Fabian played race car drivers involved in running moonshine and tussling over Funicello. Playing a smarmy, cocky creep, Fabian seemed to have finally found the type of role he could essay effectively (this after years of critical carping about his acting skill.)

Fabian's connection with Avalon would continue as he approached his next movie. Avalon had done a campy, wacky, Italian-made spy film with Vincent Price called Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. Somehow, a sequel was conceived and put into motion called Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs only, this time, it was Fabian who costarred with Price. The messy, garish film has a small gaggle of admirers, but is mostly considered something of a disaster. In 1966, he married his first wife Kathleen and they soon had two children together. Supplementing his irregular film roles, he worked on the TV shows Daniel Boone, The Rat Patrol and The Virginian (appearing in three episodes of that series, a rare show that ran for ninety minutes each week.) He finally took Avalon's place completely in the film Thunder Alley, where he was Annette Funicello's primary love interest. He had the benefit of also getting to romance blonde Diane McBain in the film, a sexy, perennially underrated actress. By now, in 1967, Funicello's good girl antics were becoming stale and Fabian, at twenty-three, was in the throes of becoming a has been!

While his film career to date had included the campy, the tacky and the wacky, he would now begin to appear in films with an exploitive slant. He was reunited with Diane McBain in Maryjane, all about a youthful art teacher (Fabian) who is reluctantly coerced into investigating and exposing the use of marijuana in his school. McBain played a frosty teacher who continues to resist his advances. Despite the sound of this, the film is reportedly one of his better efforts and contains more than a few good scenes, though it does have its detractors, mostly among the more experienced drug users of the world.
Yet another race car flick, The Wild Racers, had him as a Grand Prix driver experiencing romantic troubles with '60s starlet Mimsy Farmer. (This was also the film debut of Talia Shire, who would later enjoy featured roles in The Godfather and Rocky.) This was followed by The Devil's 8, one of many films to knock off The Dirty Dozen. Though not set in wartime (it involved convicts being recruited in order to stop moonshiners!), it borrowed heavily from the more famous film's premise.

Fabian's notorious looks were parlayed into the gangster film A Bullet for Pretty Boy, in which he portrayed real life criminal Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd. Just as The Devil's 8 was a cash in of The Dirty Dozen, this flick was riding the coattails of the hugely popular Bonnie and Clyde. Floyd had begun his life of crime avenging the death of his father, giving the story a similar “good” bad guy flavor as that which was found in the early portions of Bonnie and Clyde. This type of outlaw film became very common in the early '70s.
The only period detail to speak of was found in the cars and a few of the clothes. Certainly Fabian's hair, as well as that of his female costars, was completely anachronistic. The good news is that he stripped down for a bathtub scene, showing the world his now furry twenty-seven year-old chest (but doesn't he look older?!) The lady shown here is Jocelyn Lane, one of Elvis Presley's many, many cinematic female costars. This, by the way, was the first time he had billed himself with his full name of Fabian Forte, an attempt, perhaps, to move into a more mature phase.

This attempt was brought home in a far more significant way just a couple of years later when Fabian made the eye-opening decision to pose semi-nude in Playgirl magazine. The year was 1973 and the periodical was still in its infancy. Fabian was photographed in the altogether in his pool and with his motorcycle. Though he showed no full-on frontal nudity, the angles were such that Fabian Jr. could be distinctly made out (not so much in this particular shot.) Years later, he considered the decision to be a bad one, referring to himself as looking “fat and stupid.” While the shots are hardly worthy of being hung in an art museum, I don't know that he looks stupid. Maybe, considering the almost four decades that have passed, a little goofy or quaint. I mean, it was 1973! I admire men with the confidence to let it all hang out. And he isn't fat either, unless one is going by today's tanorexic standards.
He followed up his revealing spread with the starring role in a low-budget film called Soul Hustler, that had him playing the sleazy, drug-addicted musician in an evangelical tent-show. He eventually becomes an influential gospel rock star, but one haunted by many vices and demons.
Continuing in his newfound realm of antiheroes, he teamed with '70s actress Karen Black (who, seriously, was in every fourth movie of that decade!) in Little Laura and Big John. Just another piece of low-budget trash involving Prohibition-era gangsters, booze-running, robbery and other crimes, this time set in the Florida Everglades circa 1928. The now-forgotten film had him sporting a patch over one eye which allegedly is shown on the opposite eye during one scene of him running down a dock! This marked the end of his acting career for a five year span of time. He made a return before the cameras in 1978 when he joined several folks from his heyday as guests on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Others in the episode, some looking quite rough, were Edd Byrnes, Gary Crosby, Troy Donahue, Tommy Sands and Deborah Walley. (He's seen here with semi-regular cast member Susan Buckner. Rob, if you're still out there, this one is for you!) This seemed to reignite his interest in acting and soon he was working in things like the TV-movie Getting Married with Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong (singing a song to Armstrong that was penned by Thomas' character.)

He also appeared as a beauty pageant emcee in the legendary telefilm Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold. The cast of this one included Kim Basinger in an early role, Vivian Blaine, Tab Hunter, Don Johnson, Dorothy Malone, Don Stroud, Melanie Mayron and Nan Martin!

This being 1978, he was the star of a chintzy flick called Disco Fever, all about a disco owner who signs a former teen idol (played by Guess Who) to a performing contract only to use him as the opening act for a new and younger singer! Casey Kasem played Fabian's agent while Michael Blodgett was cast as the up and coming vocalist.
Fabian's story, of being a pretty youth plucked out of obscurity and turned into a staggeringly successful teen idol was an integral part of the 1980 film The Idolmaker. The movie focused on the charismatic and driven talent manager (played by Ray Sharkey), but also included thinly veiled versions of Fabian and Frankie Avalon. Bob Marcucci served as advisor on the film and Peter Gallagher played a character named Guido who eventually is known professionally by the one-word name Caesare. Feeling infringement upon the story of his own rise to fame, he threatened the makers of the film with a lawsuit, eventually settling on Macrucci's 7.5% interest in the project. (As the film was not a raging success, it isn't known how much, if any, money Fabian netted from this gesture.)

A few more low-budget flicks along with the requisite appearances on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island led up to Fabian's eventual exit from TV and movie screens. By now, he was embarking on a whole new chapter in his life. Remarried in 1980 (to a production assistant and later successful producer named Kate), he, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell answered the call of nostalgia for the type of music that had initially brought them fame and began performing regularly across the country. Billing themselves as The Golden Boys, the trio traveled all over, to the delighted screams (though now of a lower pitch, if not volume) of loyal female fans.

His marriage to Kate having ended in 1990, he remarried for a third time in 1998 to Andrea Patrick, a beauty queen turned talent agent, who is close to twenty years his junior, the couple resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, not too far from his birthplace and the region where it all began. It has proven to be the longest lasting of his marriages. His now-grown children, Christian and Julie Forte, have dabbled in behind-the-scenes show business, he as a writer and she as an animator. Fabian limits his appearances to around twenty or thirty a year now and involves himself in charities (a couple of which benefit the veterans, one of which he is not.)

Despite all the records and all the movies, what Fabian really excelled at was making his fans swoon in the aisles. He may not have possessed the pipes of a Sinatra or a Presley, nor the acting talent of those legendary actors he worked alongside, but good gravy what a puss he had on him. He was able to use what he had to supplement what he didn't, resulting in a performing career that has lasted over half a century.