You may or may not remember Fabian. In the history of rock 'n' roll he was sort of a short paragraph.
He had a couple of gold records in the late '50s. But the thing that music critics noticed most about him then, fairly or unfairly, was how he was discovered. Or actually, not so much discovered as invented.The story still dogs him wherever he goes, and it's apparent that he is both tired of it and is resigned to its retelling. In town earlier this week to sing at a Westminster College fund-raiser at Trolley Square, the 45-year-old singer endured yet another interview about his Past.
The most common version of the story is that Fabian, then 14, was sitting on his front stoop in South Philadelphia when Frankie Avalon's manager, Bob Marcucci, happened to walk by and thought he looked like someone who could be a singer.
Those were the early days of rock 'n' roll, when, if you were a singer, it didn't hurt to look like Elvis Presley or Ricky Nelson. Fabian Forte wasn't a singer, but he looked like Elvis and Ricky.
The real story, like most real stories, is more complicated. A friend of Marcucci's lived next door to Fabian, and as Marcucci drove by that day he noticed an ambulance stopped in front of the friend's house. So Marcucci stopped, only to discover that the ambulance was really waiting in front of Fabian's house, where his father had just suffered a heart attack.
In the real story, too, Marcucci was struck by Fabian's star quality, but according to Fabian it took the manager a couple of weeks to persuade the teenager to sign a contract. Fabian says he relented when he discovered that his father could no longer work.
"That's the only thing that motivated me," he explains now.
Marcucci marketed Fabian so well that he became an actual star, although he could never escape the critics' dismissal of him as merely a contrivance. His two biggest hits were "Tiger" and "Turn Me Loose," neither of them what you would call a classic.
But who knows. The Contours enjoyed a fair amount of popularity when their record "Do You Love Me?" first came out in 1962, but it wasn't until 1988, after the song was featured in the movie "Dirty Dancing," that the group has suddenly become an "overnight" success. Maybe Fabian's turn is just around the corner.
In the meantime, the singer does 30 to 100 concerts a year, sometimes appearing alone, sometimes touring with one of two nostalgia acts - Fabian's Good Ole Time Rock and Roll or The Golden Boys of Bandstand. The golden boys also include Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon, both, like Fabian, from South Philly. (The 10-square-block area that could be called Fabian's neighborhood also produced Mario Lanza, Eddie Fisher, Chubby Checker and Joey Bishop.)
Fabian's appearances are well received. Often his audiences are made up mostly of 30- to 50-year-old women, and sometimes these women rush to the stage as if they were 13 years old again.
Fabian has been an on-again-off-again singer over the past 30 years. He quit singing the first time in 1962, at the age of 19, after he became weary of being managed by the manipulative Marcucci. Twenty years later he sued his former manager for fraud and slander after Marcucci acted as a consultant on the movie "The Idol Maker," which was based on the Marcucci-Fabian relationship.
Fabian was not asked to star in "The Idol Maker," but he has enjoyed success as an actor over the years, appearing in such disparate films as "Hound Dog Man" in 1959 and the 1983 cult film "Get Crazy."
These days, when he's not touring, he works with his production company, Forte Inc., developing what he hopes will be a weekly TV musical sitcom. He's also working on a made-for-TV movie.
The conventional wisdom in 1957 was that Fabian probably wouldn't survive. But it looks as if he has proved conventional wisdom, and most of his critics, wrong.