She could sing pop, rock, country, jazz and R&B. She translated her hits (all 35 million records' worth of 'em) into French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and German. She was the first female pop-rock superstar, one as comfortable on the set of American Bandstand as she was on the stage of The Sahara in Vegas. She was the girl next door in a prom dress and pearls, and a larger than life diva with hair to match. She is Connie Francis, and she was our latest Mystery Guest!
It's this dichotomy in her public image -- Doris Day, by way of Annette Funicello, with a large helping of Agnes Moorehead-as-Endora anachronistic glamour -- that make Connie Francis' paper dolls so much fun, along with your guesses! Any one celebrity whose wardrobe calls to mind perky Debbie Reynolds, wacky Lucille Ball, frilly Loretta Young and Amazonian Julie Newmar is tops in our book.
From the start, there was something different about Connie Francis. Among the homogeneously pretty, blond-and-blue-eyed ingenues crowding the music, television and film industries when she came along in the 1950's, Connie, with her proud Italian-American heritage and dark, ethnic beauty, stood out among the Tuesday Welds and Sandra Dees. And then there was that voice -- a voice which seemed to incongruously belong to a junior Judy Garland or a femme Al Jolson. Like her equally talented contemporary, Brenda Lee, Connie was the proverbial Little Lady with the Big Voice -- but, unlike Brenda, Connie's versatility was so astonishing, it was almost self-parody. Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites. Sings Jewish Favorites. Sings Irish Favorites. Sings German Favorites. Sings Folk Songs Favorites. There were Fun Songs for Children, and Award Winning Motion Picture Hits, and Country Music, Connie Style. In a delicious bout of musical schizophrenia, she was Hawaii Connie and Connie Francis On Broadway Today and Connie Francis at the Copa and A New Kind of Connie. If you were a Connie fan, you could Do the Twist!, or indulge in Greatest American Waltzes.
Frankly, we find Connie the most interesting after her chart success fell into sharp decline around 1964. All of her major, teen-oriented hits were well behind her ("Who's Sorry Now," "Stupid Cupid," "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Where the Boys Are"), but Connie continued to be a major concert and nightclub draw, as well as a prolific albums artist. She always had a hipper cachet than, say, Vikki Carr or Eydie Gorme; but listening to her splendid recordings of such standards as "Stardust," "The Shadow of Your Smile," and "Where Can I Go without You," or watching her performances on the variety shows of the day, it's clear that Connie relished the chance to really show off her jazzy, cabaret bent.
There's an image embedded in the public consciousness of a maudlin Connie Francis sobbing her way through a soggy ballad; and it's undeniable that quite a few numbers in the Franconero repertoire have a healthy dollop of sentimentality. The singer's own well-publicized woes -- a brutal 1974 rape which effectively ended her performing career for half a decade; her brother's murder at the hands of the Mafia; four failed marriages and seventeen involuntary stays in mental institutions -- only serve to burnish her reputation as, if not necessarily tragic, a tragedienne in the most dramatic sense. But Connie Francis is made of stronger stuff than that. What we love most is her chutzpah -- the ballsiness and salty humor she hid behind the bouffants and crinolines, which served her well in going toe-to-toe with MGM Records executives, truculent musicians and songwriters, and her irascible father, with whom she shared a complicated, love-hate relationship. She blazed a trail for every female pop-rock star to follow, and she did it on her own terms, called all the shots, studied every detail -- and still remained a lady. Not incidentally, she also did it in a variety of fabulous Don Loper frocks, with enough chiffon swags, net panels and fur trim to make Danny LaRue sigh with envy.
The mysterious Plum was the first to correctly guess Connie's identity -- so we extend our congratulations and huzzahs as we pack Plum off on full scholarship to the Joey Josephs Connie Francis Impersonators Academy. We can scarcely wait to see the results!
As always, thanks for playing, darlings! We had a lot of fun with this one. Here's a little more Connie Couture for inspiration.