Frankie Avalon: “I Feel Sort Of Shy And All Alone”
And if it hadn’t been for girls, I guess I’d still be hiding myself under a bushel. Gee, but I was scared when I was a kid—scared of meeting people, scared of going places . . . almost scared of my own shadow! Who helped me get out of myself, out of that lonesome, let-me-alone world I lived in? Girls! And dating.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I was a dating whiz, or full of clever conversation like the stars on those TV panel shows. I was shy, but girls drew me out, helped me get over my shyness.
I’d play music on my brass trumpet—“Tenderly” or “Blues in the Night” or “Put the Blame on Mame, Boy”—and sit in my wallpapered room and look out the window at the buckeye trees in the backyard. The neighbors would complain about my trumpet playing, but I couldn’t help it. I just had to play.
Moms never do quite understand how kids feel, do they? Oh, they try all right, but they never manage to tune in completely.
But girls, they were different. They understood.
The first girl I want to tell you about is Mary Jo. I was nine years old (my birthday’s September 18, 1940) when I met her. That summer she came to visit my grandmother on Croskey Street in Philadelphia. I was still Frankie Avallone then. One day one of the gang asked her to play Giant Steps with us.
She seemed so pleased we’d asked and said she’d love to. And she was wonderfully friendly with everyone, and so nice.
Well, Mary Jo played with us every day. She had short, dark hair cut in bangs and big brown shoebutton eyes. We played Giant Steps or Go-Stop, and then we’d sit on somebody’s front porch and talk about movie and TV stars.
Always, at those front porch bull sessions, I’d listen to my friends. I never wanted to say what I thought. But Mary Jo was always interested, and she’d ask me, in a soft way, “Frankie, what do you think of Doris Day?” And I’d nod my head to agree she was great. Then Mary Jo would smile and ask me something else, and before I knew it, she had me talking.
Then one July day, my Aunt Betty said, “Hey, Frankie, why don’t you take Mary Jo around the corner for a pizza?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. “What?” I said.
Aunt Betty suggested the date again. I stuttered something back to her and then ran upstairs to my room. Alone with Mary Jo! I wouldn’t know what to do or say.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to take Mary Jo for a pizza, but I was afraid she wouldn’t want to go with me. I kept wondering what we’d find to talk about, just the two of us, and I got nervous.
But my Aunt Betty, who’s pretty and full of life, asked me again. I told her I’d like to take Mary Jo to the pizzeria, but . . . and she said, “Okay, Frankie, I’ll arrange it.”
Well, the next day came and all too soon the sun started to go down over the housetops. Before I knew it it was after supper; the time when I’d promised Aunt Betty I’d pick up Mary Jo and take her around the corner to Tessie’s Pizza Parlor.
I was all dressed up in a brand-new white shirt and my white summer pants which Mom had pressed that afternoon so there’d be a fresh crease.
My sister Theresa, who’s a couple years older than me, my dad, who had come home tired from work at the machine shop, my Aunt Betty, and my mom, all smiles and proud-eyed—everybody came out on the porch to watch me walk over to Mary Jo’s.
Outside, on the street, the kids were all in their bathing suits and splashing each other with the water from the fire plug. On how summer days the Police Athletic League would come around and unlock the fire plug for us all to have some fun. Oh, how I wished I was with the rest of the kids, getting wet.
When I got to Mary Jo’s, she was waiting for me on her grandmother’s porch, all dressed up in a pretty pink dress.
Then the two of us walked to Tessie’s Pizza Parlor, and we sat in a booth and ordered a slice of pizza apiece. We didn’t say very much to each other. Mary Jo must have felt sort of funny, too. When we finished the pizza, I said, “You want to go walking a little bit?” and she said okay.
The two of us walked along another street so that no one we knew would see us, and we watched the red sun fade in the summer sky. We still didn’t talk much, but it was nice being together, just Mary Jo and me. When the shadows started falling I figured it was time to bring Mary Jo home. We said goodbye by her porch steps. Then I ran to the fire plug. But it was turned off. I wanted to put on my bathing suit and jump in the cold water. I was so happy. Our date was a success! Mary Jo said she had a good time!
Toward the end of the summer, one of the neighborhood kids had a party, and all of us were invited. It was on a Saturday night, and everyone talked about it all week long.
There were Cokes and ham sandwiches and potato salad—and a game called Post Office. I’d heard about it, sure, but I had never played it, and I tried desperately to get out of it. But one of the fellows pushed me into the hall to kiss Mary Jo. I just stood there in the dark trembling, and then I said, “I . . . I don’t know how to kiss,” and Mary Jo said, I . . . I don’t either.” So we promised we’d tell everybody we kissed, even though we didn’t. . . .
Then Mary Jo told me that her visit to her grandmother was almost over and she would be leaving on Labor Day weekend. On the Sunday before she left we had another pizza date at Tessie’s. I told Mary Jo I wished she lived in Philly.
“I wish I did, too,” she said.
We took our little walk again and watched the sun duck behind the treetops in the yellow summer sky. When I brought her home, the two of us stood on her porch, saying goodbye over and over again. She promised she’d come back to Philly, but, of course, she didn’t.
I said, “Mary Jo, if you close your eyes, I’ll close mine, and we’ll pretend we kissed!”
“All right,” she said.
So we closed our eyes, and suddenly we were drawn together—just like in the movies—and I kissed her quickly on the cheek. To this day I don’t know what happened to my shyness. There was some strange force—like a magnet—pulling me, and I just had to reach over and give her a little peck.
“Gee, Mary Jo,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
“Frankie!” she whispered. “Don’t be sorry. I wanted you to kiss me.”
Oh, I felt good all over, and I walked home with my hands in my pockets wondering why Mary Jo had to go now when we were really getting to know each other. That night I went to sleep thinking of her, and I got up real early. I ran to my mother’s bedroom window to see if Mary Jo’s father’s car was still in her grandmother’s driveway.
But it was gone, and I moped around the house all day.
Shortly after that I started playing the trumpet. At first I couldn’t make a sound, not even a flat noise, when I blew it. My sister was better than I was, so I would watch the way she put her lips up to the mouthpiece and I’d imitate her until one there was this funny: purrrrrr, and I jumped up and down and yelled, “I can play it! I can play it!”
I locked myself in my room that afternoon and practiced for five hours until I learned how to blow “Put Another Nickel in, in the Nickelodeon”
Studying the trumpet and keeping up with all my school work in St. Edmund’s School wasn’t easy. Mr. Rosenfeld, my trumpet teacher, who was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, kept encouraging me so I didn’t want to neglect it. And that was around the time I saw “Young Man With a Horn” with Kirk Douglas. Harry James played the trumpet, and he was out of this world. I saw that movie three times, and I made up my mind to be a musician. I played with a couple of local neighborhood bands—three or four piece combinations. And at home we’d all play together. We’re a musical family. My father plays the piano, and my sister can make mighty sweet music with an accordion, and my mom—well, she sings whenever she’s in the mood or she claps time to whatever we play. Last summer, when anybody visited our house, they’d have to listen to our rendition of “Volare!” Man did we go wild for it!
Well, when I was almost eleven, I won a prize—a refrigerator on the Paul Whiteman show. I just couldn’t believe my trumpet playing could actually win anything. About a year later, I went on the Jackie Gleason show, and Jackie asked me to do a little tap dance. I didn’t mind that, but I began to grow more and more shy be- cause everyone made such a fuss over me.
But when I met Sandy, she gave me a boost. I was twelve or thirteen, and Sandy lived a couple of blocks away from me. Her girlfriend, Phyllis, came up to me one day after school and said, “Frankie, can I let you in on a secret?”
“Sure,” I told her.
“Promise not to tell?”
“Sandy . . . she likes you!” Phyllis blurted and then she turned around and ran down the street without looking back.
Now what was I to do? I liked Sandy, too. She had blue eyes and long brown hair and a slow smile. I don’t like flashy smiles, the kind that are so big the person’s teeth look like headlights.
I started hanging around the street more often. I was too old for Giant Steps or Go-Stop. But I’d sit on the front porch steps and listen to a dance program on someone’s portable radio or else talk about records and rock ’n’ roll. Sandy was a part of the “talking” gang, and she had a way of making me feel comfortable if she asked a question. She never pointed a question directly at me. She’d say, “Hey, I wonder what Frankie thinks . . .” and she’d get me to speak up.
We began seeing each other pretty often that way; and somehow—I don’t know how these things happen—word got around the gang that we were going steady. But we never dated, not even once. Not that I minded. She was so easy to get along with.
One day I asked her if it bothered her that people were saying we were going together, and she said no. So I got up my courage and bought her a friendship ring to make the rumors true.
We started going to the movies every Saturday afternoon, and sometimes I’d put my arm around her. All the other fellows did with their dates. Some of the fellows even kissed their girls. But I never kissed Sandy.
We saw each other every day that spring, even if it was for just a little while. We’d have Cokes or grape rickeys at Humphrey’s (now it’s called Chez Joey) or we’d eat a pizza at Tessie’s Pizza Parlor. In May her parents decided to spend the summer in Wildwood-by-the-sea; and by midsummer Sandy wrote her girlfriend Phyllis that she had found a new boyfriend. When Phyllis told me the news, I didn’t see any of the gang for two weeks. My mother scolded me for being so moody, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to talk to a soul. I holed up in my room most of the time, trying to study my music but I just couldn’t concentrate. My heart felt as if it was going to burst. All I had to do was just think of Sandy, and I’d hear my heartbeats getting louder and louder and louder.
When Sandy returned from Wildwood, she came over to say hello. We were sitting on the front steps of my house. It was a hot. sunny afternoon in late August.
She tried to tell me she still liked me, but I couldn’t believe her. I felt cheated. But she did look very cute with her suntan. She kept asking me what was wrong, why was I so quiet, and finally I blurted out, “Gee, Sandy, why don’t you level with a guy!” And I ran inside. I just didn’t want to talk with her anymore.
I went to all the school hops that year in Vare Junior High in South Philly. I wanted to get over being shy, and I made myself dance with different girls. The girls would tell me it was a fellow’s personality that counted. If he was fun to be with, that’s what a girl cared about. So I tried to forget Sandy, and I started dating Annette Cella who went to St. Monica’s an all girl’s school.
How did we meet? Well, St. Monica’s always let the students out earlier than Vare Junior High, and every time Annette passed our school on her way home, she’d look in the window of our English class and wave. She waved every day until finally I got enough courage and I waved back. My owl-faced English teacher yelled at me, but I didn’t care. I wanted Annette to know I noticed her.
One day the girl who sat behind me gave me Annette’s picture. She said she was a friend of Annette’s, and Annette had asked her to give me the snapshot.
I liked Annette’s looks. She was exotic with tumbly dark hair and high cheekbones. She was slim as a whistle, and I liked that, too. I don’t like it if girls let themselves go and lose their figures. I know it’s not easy to say no when I see a plate of spaghetti or a piece of chocolate cake. But I’ve learned. If you want a normal weight, you have to say no.
Annette’s girlfriend, the one who gave me the picture, finally introduced us, and we dated. We got along at first, but after a while she became bossy and I began feeling shy.
And there was something else that bothered me. . . . She was on a new kick, some silly starvation diet, and she got too skinny. No fellow likes a girl to look as if she’s missed a month’s meals. When Annette came over to the house one night to talk with Sis, I told her how I felt. We were in the kitchen having a snack. Mom made hero sandwiches (you take a loaf of Italian bread, slice it in half and fill it full of cheese, ham, salami, tomatoes, and cut it up into two or three sections), and we sat around the table, eating and talking about opera.
I was telling them I don’t always understand what an opera means, but there’s so much “feeling” in them . . . that’s why I love them, especially anything by Puccini. Soon we got to talking about Frank Sinatra who I think’s the greatest, especially his “Only the Lonely” album. He sings from his heart. I had just finished my first recording of “Cupid” around that time, and I told Annette and Mom and Sis how awful I thought my recording was.
Annette told me to come off it, to quit knocking myself.
And I said, “You know something? I wish you’d stop dieting and eat some of this hero sandwich. You’re skinnier than a toothpick!”
Boy, did she get mad! She got up and started to chase me around the kitchen. Finally she grabbed a flyswatter and slapped me with it.
But, just the same, telling her did the trick. She got my message and went off that stupid diet. And she never acted bossy again. Sure, she was mad at me for a couple of days, but then we made up and went together. One thing about Annette: She understood my silences. When we’d sit and listen to records, she was never cross or angry with me for not talking. And if I wanted to play the progressive jazz of Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers, she was willing to listen even if it wasn’t quite up her alley.
We had a good time doing simple things—like going over to her house to dance. The bop, stroll and calypso are my favorites. Once when she mussed my hair, I told her to never do that again. That’s one thing I hate. And she never did. Although she threatened to . . . !
We’d go swimming when the weather was good; and the two of us flipped for Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis and Susan Hayward movies! Both of us were bug-eyed over “The Man With the Golden Arm” with Frank Sinatra, and that’s when I decided Frankie was my favorite actor as well as singer. We loved the Looney Tunes and Donald Duck cartoons; and one day, after the movies, I found a stray collie dog I took home with me. Annette named him Stumpy, and he followed us everywhere. Now I have another collie, almost a year old, and I call her De De after my first hit record, “De De Dinah.”
Then, one night that summer, she told me the news that almost broke my heart. “We’re going to move,” she said. Her father had a new job in Atlantic City.
Before I knew it, it was goodbye-time, and I was seeing her off on the bus.
We said we’d keep in touch, but the way things turned out, we couldn’t. I started to make personal appearances everywhere, and then I heard Annette had another boyfriend—someone with carrot red hair!
Always my luck, I thought. Soon as a girl moves away, she finds another guy!
So I’ve been running here and running there ever since, singing at rock ’n’ roll places just about every week, hopping planes to California for TV appearances, visiting Dick Clark on his American Bandstand and on his Saturday show.
And I’ve had my eyes peeled for a girl that’s going to give me another boost, someone who’s going to help me climb another step on my shy-guy ladder. I say it’s the girls who help a guy the most. Girls give a guy a chance; they don’t rush things.
Lately I’ve been seeing Angela Curcio, who’s got bright blue eyes and light brown hair like Stephen Foster’s Jeanie. I met her on a picnic a few summers ago, and we’ve been good friends—that’s all.
But mostly when I have time to myself I go driving in my new, bright-red sports car. I drive along the sidestreets of South Philly and sometimes I think about the girls who gave me confidence, the girls who liked me for what I was—a shy guy from a plain Italian family in Pennsylvania.
And all I can say is—gee, how can a guy ever get along without girls, huh?
—BY FRANKIE AVALON as told to GEORGE CHRISTY
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1959
zoritoler imol23 Nisan 2023
Wow, wonderful weblog layout! How lengthy have you ever been blogging for? you made running a blog glance easy. The overall glance of your website is magnificent, as neatly as the content!