Perhaps best known for his roles in a series of 1960s musical films about young people on the beach, pop singer Frankie Avalon was also an important part of the Philadelphia sound of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He had hits like “Dede Dinah” and his smash “Venus” during this period; later Avalon concentrated more on film and television, appearing in the 1978 film musical Grease, and guesting on shows like Fantasy Island. In 1987, he reunited with his beach movie partner Annette Funicello to make the comedy musical Back to the Beach.
Avalon was born Frank Avallone on September 18, 1940, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became interested in music during his childhood, and was taking lessons on the trumpet while still in grade school. The boy began playing professionally when he was almost thirteen years old, playing with a teenage group in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In this way, Avalon became something of a local celebrity, and he was soon playing on Paul Whiteman’s television show in Philadelphia. Within a few years, he had gone on to nationally-broadcast programs, including Jackie Gleason’s.
Meanwhile, Avalon had also developed a good singing voice. He was discovered by songwriters Bob Marcucci and Peter de Angelis, who, in addition to their creative activities, also owned Chancellor Records. They signed Avalon to a contract; his first recordings were released in 1957. These singles enjoyed a small measure of success, but Avalon’s 1958 release, “Dede Dinah,” became a nationwide hit. The young singer had his best year as a recording artist, however, in 1959. Avalon scored with “Just Ask Your Heart,” which was quite popular, and then followed it up with the musical plea to the Roman goddess of love, “Venus.” The latter tune climbed to the Number 1 spot on the charts. In 1960, Avalon had another hit, “Why.”
But Avalon had been exploring a career as an actor concurrent with his one as a vocalist. Even before “Dede Dinah” made him a celebrity throughout the United States, he had won his first screen role, making his debut in the motion picture Disc Jockey Jamboree. Avalon also made films such as Guns of the Timberland and The Carpetbaggers during the early 1960s before settling into the series of beach movies he starred in with Funicello. The first of these low-budget fun-fests, which always featured Avalon’s vocal talents as well, was simply titled Beach Party, and it was released in 1963. In the next two years he starred in four more such motion pictures—Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.
Though Avalon continued to be interested in his singing career—like many other popular artists of the late 1950s and early 1960s—the demand for his talents
Name originally Frank Avallone; born September 18, 1940, in Philadelphia, Pa.; married Kay Deibel; children: four daughters, four sons.
Began playing the trumpet professionally in 1953; played trumpet on television shows during the mid-1950s; vocal recording artist, beginning 1957. Appeared in films, including Disc Jockey Jamboree, GunsoftheTimberland, The Carpetbaggers, Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuffa Wild Bikini, Fireball 500, Grease, and Back to the Beach. Appeared in television programs, including Love, American Style, Fantasy Island, and T.J. Hooker.
Addresses: Residence —Malibu, Calif. Record company —De-Lite Records, Worldwide Plaza, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.
was drastically reduced with the advent of the British Invasion. He still performed in small clubs, though he admitted to Eric Sherman in the Ladies’ Home Journal that “sometimes there wouldn’t be more than forty people in the audience.” Avalon supplemented his income with guest appearances on television shows, including Love, American Style and Fantasy Island. For almost a decade he did not record, but in 1975 he cut a disco version of his old hit “Venus” that made it into the Top 40. In 1978, Avalon made a winning cameo appearance in the musical film Grease, performing the song “Beauty School Drop Out.”
But the 1980s nostalgia for the music of the 1950s and 1960s brought an upswing in Avalon’s fortune. The audiences for his concerts grew way beyond forty people; in fact, according to Sherman, the performances were often sellouts. From this, Avalon got the idea to make another beach movie. At first, screen producers were skeptical about the film’s appeal, but television people were interested. But Avalon told Jeff Yarbrough in People: “I didn’t want to do a movie of the week that would be on one night and be over.” Eventually, however, he got the backing of film producer Frank Mancuso Jr., famed for the Friday the Thirteenth series of horror films, and Back to the Beach was made in 1987. The musical motion picture took a look at the Avalon and Funicello characters of the old beach movies as middle-aged adults with children of their own. According to Yarbrough, Avalon and Funicello have considered doing a sequel to Back to the Beach.
“Dede Dinah,” Chancellor, 1958.
“Just Ask Your Heart,” Chancellor, 1959.
“Venus,” Chancellor, 1959.
“Why,” Chancellor, 1960.
“Venus,” (disco version), De-Lite Records, 1975.
Hits of Frankie Avalon, United Artists, 1964.
Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1987.
Maclean’s, August 17, 1987.
People, August 10, 1987.
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