The Talented Fabian Part One
Fabiano Anthony Forte (born February 6, 1943), professionally known as Fabian, is an American singer and actor.
Fabian in 1959
Fabiano Anthony Forte
February 6, 1943 (age 74)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Kathleen Regan (m.1966–1979)
Kate Forte (m.1980–1990)
Andrea Patrick (m.1998)
Forte rose to national prominence after performing several times on American Bandstand. He became a teen idol of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Eleven of his songs reached the Billboard Hot 100 listing.
Fabian Forte is the son of Josephine and Dominic Forte; his father was a Philadelphia police officer. He is the oldest of three brothers.
Forte was discovered in 1957 by Bob Marcucci and Peter DeAngelis, owners of Chancellor Records. At the time, record producers were looking to the South Philadelphia neighborhoods in search of teenage talents with good looks.
Marcucci was a friend of Fabian’s next door neighbor. One day, Fabian’s father had a heart attack, and, while he was being taken away in an ambulance, Marcucci spotted Fabian. Fabian later recalled, “He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, ‘So if you’re ever interested in the rock and roll business… and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was out of his mind. I told him, “leave me alone. I’m worried about my dad’.”
When Fabian’s father returned from hospital he was unable to work, so when Marcucci persisted, Fabian and his family were amenable and he agreed to record a single. Frankie Avalon, also of South Philadelphia, suggested Forte as a possibility. “They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks”, recalled Fabian, “and out I went.” “He was the right look and right for what we were going for”, wrote Marcucci later.
Fabian was given an allowance from the record company of $30 a week. He also kept working part-time at a pharmacy as well as studying at South Philadelphia High School, while practicing his singing. Fabian later said “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew my goal, to try to make extra money. That meant a lot to our family. I rehearsed and rehearsed, and I really felt like a fish out of water. And we made a record. And it was horrible. Yet it got on [the legendary Philadelphia rhythm and blues radio program] Georgie Woods. For some reason, Georgie Woods played it.”
The song was “Shivers”, which was a local hit in Chicago. This helped Fabian meet Dick Clark, who eventually put the young singer on American Bandstand where he sang “I’m in Love”. Fabian later admitted this song “was not very good either” but “the response – they told me – was overwhelming. I had no idea. All during that period, I was doing record hops. Not getting paid for it, but for the record company promotions. Just lip synching to my records. The response was really good.
Marcucci then gave Fabian a song written by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus, “I’m a Man”, which Fabian later said he “liked a lot and was very comfortable with, was giving me more experience, but I still felt like a fish out of water.” The song made the top 40.
Marcucci heavily promoted Fabian’s next single, “Turn Me Loose”, using a series of advertisements saying “Fabian Is Coming”, then “Who is Fabian?” then finally “Fabian is Here”. It worked and “Turn Me Loose” went into the Top Ten, peaking at number 9. This was later followed by “Hound Dog Man”, (US #9; UK #46), and his biggest hit, “Tiger”, which reached #3 on the US charts. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. Other singles that charted included “String Along”, “About This Thing Called Love” and “This Friendly World”, which reached #12 on the US charts. At age 15, he won the Silver Award as “The Promising Male Vocalist of 1958.” His first album, Hold That Tiger reached the top 15 within two weeks.
In 1959, Forte told a judge he was earning $250,000 a year. He kept up his studies and graduated high school in June 1960.
During the payola scandal of the 1960s, Forte testified before Congress that his recordings had been doctored electronically to “significantly improve his voice.”
His career in music basically ended when he was 18 after he bought out of his contract with Marcucci for a reported $65,000. “I felt controlled. I felt like a puppet”, he said in 1974. “It was frightening, like a three-year nightmare.”
Marcucci later admitted to punching Fabian on one occasion when the singer sat in the aisle of a movie theatre, not in the middle of the row like Marcucci had asked; Fabian was spotted by a teenage fan who screamed. Marcucci was angry that he did not see the film and hit the singer. In 1963, he signed a contract with Dot Records. He spent the next thirteen years concentrating on acting.
Acting: 20th Century Fox
20th Century-Fox had enjoyed success casting teen idol pop stars in movies, such as Elvis Presley and Pat Boone. They decided to do the same thing with Fabian and signed him to a long term contract. His first leading role was Hound-Dog Man (1959), based on the novel by Fred Gipson (who had written Old Yeller) and directed by Don Siegel. He co-starred alongside the more experienced Stuart Whitman and sang several songs, including the title track. The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film featured a photo of Forte’s screen test where he appeared in the same outfit that Elvis Presley wore in Fox’s, Love Me Tender. “Acting came natural to me,” said Fabian. “I don’t know why”, Fabian said later.
Fabian’s recording of the Hound Dog Man title song was a top ten hit but the film was not a financial success – in contrast to Presley and Boone’s first films. However, the studio tried again in two smaller roles, supporting a bigger star – High Time, with Bing Crosby, and North to Alaska, with John Wayne. Both films were popular especially the latter and in November 1960 his contract with the studio was amended with an increase in salary – it was now a seven-year deal with an option for two films a year. He later said that “acting wasn’t like the singing, because it was very private – quiet on the set. No screaming [teenage fans]. It was a wonderful experience. I got to meet and work with John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Peter Lorre. Elvis came over to meet me when I was on the lot. Marilyn Monroe was on the lot. Natalie Wood. Gary Cooper came over. I was on the plane with Marlon Brando for eight hours coming back from Tahiti.”
The Fox contract included television series as well as films. Fabian was cast by director Robert Altman as a psychotic killer in “A Lion Walks Among Us”, an episode of the television series Bus Stop. This episode was highly controversial due to its violent content, with many affiliates refusing to run the program, and was mentioned in the US Senate. However, the series was good for Fabian’s acting career, and saw him regarded with more respect. He later said he regarded this as his best performance.
Paramount borrowed him from Fox to co-star opposite another teen idol, Tommy Sands, in Love in a Goldfish Bowl (1961). He co-starred opposite Tuesday Weld in “Run Till It’s Dark”, an episode of The Dick Powell Show. In Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), he romanced (and sang with) the daughter of a family man played by James Stewart; this was a big hit. So too was The Longest Day (1962), Fox’s all-star epic about the D-Day landings; Fabian appeared among a number of other teen idols as US Rangers. Less popular, though still widely seen, was Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), Irwin Allen’s take on Jules Verne; Fabian sang one song but again it was a support role.
When Fox temporarily shut down following cost overruns on Cleopatra, Fabian was one of the first actors whose options were exercised after the studio re-opened. He was to have supported Stewart again in Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) but did not appear in the final film. Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures said he wanted Fabian to play the lead in Beach Party (1963) but was unable to do it because of his Fox contract.
Fabian had not become a film star but was in demand as an actor, appearing in episodes of series like The Virginian, Wagon Train, The Greatest Show on Earth and The Eleventh Hour.
He had a good role in a surf movie made for Columbia, Ride the Wild Surf (1964) (with Tab Hunter), and was reunited with James Stewart for Fox’s Dear Brigitte (1965) – the film failed to repeat the success of Hobbs. Harry Alan Towers cast him as one of the victims in Ten Little Indians (1965).
In October 1965, Fox announced it had picked up Fabian’s option to make three more films for the studio, starting with Custer’s Last Stand. However, that film was not made and Fabian made no further films for Fox.
In November 1965, he signed a seven-picture deal with American International Pictures. His first film for the company was alongside Beach Party stars Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in the 1966 stock car racing film Fireball 500. AIP then sent him to Italy to play a role originally intended for Avalon, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), supporting Vincent Price and directed by Mario Bava. Back in the United States, he made another stock car racing film for AIP, Thunder Alley (1967), opposite Funicello and directed by Richard Rush. His fourth movie for AIP was Maryjane (1968), where Fabian played a school teacher fighting the evils of the marijuana trade.
He returned to racing car dramas with The Wild Racers (1968), partly financed by Roger Corman and shot in Europe. This was not a big hit on release but has developed a cult following; Quentin Tarantino described it as his favorite racing car movie.
The Devil’s 8 (1968) was an AIP rip-off of The Dirty Dozen (with a script co-written by John Milius).
He also played Josh Ashley in Little Laura and Big John (1973) for Crown International Pictures.
He performed in John Loves Mary in summer stock in 1962.