[An earlier version of this text incorrectly stated that Frankie Valli grew up in the same Philadelphia neighborhood as Fabian. It was Frankie Avalon who did so.]
In a current day climate in which auto-tuned vocals rule the airwaves and correct even the most-off key vocals, the plight of 1950s heartthrob Fabian offers an indication of how much times have changed.
The teen idol’s high-flying career was ruined by the payola scandal of the early 1960s, when he acknowledged that his vocals had been doctored to sweeten his voice. These days it’s common knowledge that even the most popular singers fiddle with their vocals in order to hit notes. But 50 years ago, such maneuvers derailed the career of Fabian, who achieved fame based on an amazing head of hair, a beautiful smile and the powerful hands of Dick Clark.
Fabian was born Fabian Anthony Forte in Philadelphia, and was discovered by record producers looking to build on the success of Frankie Avalon, who grew up in the same neighborhood. By the age of 15, Fabian had charted, and harnessed that success to land a spot on American Bandstand, which propelled the young star even higher. From the late 1950s through the early 1960s, he hit with a string of Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman penned songs, including “Turn Me Loose,” “Tiger,” “I’m a Man” – even if he was still a boy – and “Hound Dog Man.”
In the early 1960s, the U.S. Congress started investigating the radio and record business, and during congressional hearings it discovered that the industry was rife with tacit agreements and back alley deals that tarnished both radio DJs and record men. Fabian’s reputation as a singer was sullied beyond repair, at least as a musician.
Over the next decade, the handsome young man turned to movies, and appeared in a long line of popcorn chompers, including “High Time,” which starred Bing Crosby and Tuesday Weld; “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” with Jimmy Stewart; the war film “The Longest Day,” about the Normandy invasion during World War II; and “Thunder Alley,” which starred the beautiful Annette Funicello alongside Fabian.
As his mainstream ranking declined, Fabian stripped naked – literally, when he was shot partially nude for Playgirl magazine in 1973, and since then he’s continued to harness his early fame on the nostalgia circuit. One of his fans, in fact, was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who acknowledged that she was a member of the Fabian fan club in 1959.
Fabian has been married twice and has a daughter, Julie, and a son, Christian, the latter of whom is a screenwriter.