Small Wonder

Where the girl is

Maybe Jackie Wilson was singing about Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero when he sang "Reet Petite" -- and if he wasn't, he should have been, because Connie Francis was definitely the thing back in the late '50s and early '60s, the Teen Diva of Pop.

Tuesday Weld opened her lips to sing in Rock, Rock, Rock (1956), but it was Francis' voice they heard. Same with Jayne Mansfield in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958). "They had me doing Kay Starr, Patti Page," says Francis. "It took a while before I found my own voice." But when she did, she hit the big time. With a pronounced nudge from Bandstander Dick Clark, the full-throated Francis started having hits: "Who's Sorry Now?," "Where the Boys Are," and "Lipstick on Your Collar," to name but a few of her million-sellers.

Meantime, the five-foot-one Jersey girl was trying to make a life of her own while being micromanaged by her micro-father, who, she tells New Times, was even shorter. A tough first-gen Calabrese, Papa Franconero is famous for chasing the love of her life, Bobby Darin, across the stage at The Jackie Gleason Show with a gun.

Connie Francis
Connie Francis

"He saw Bobby as a threat to my virginity," says Francis, laughing. "No one came within a 700-mile radius of my body. That was it. In those days, a nice Italian girl left her father's house in a casket or a wedding dress."

Times may have changed, but Francis' classic set list is a reminder that teenage turmoil reigns eternal. Even in the 21st century, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool."

 
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