Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wrapping Up Our Exclusive Forgotten Hits Interview With Bobby Rydell (Part 3)

Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits:  Folks want to know more about your first impressions of Ann-Margret when you worked with her on "Bye Bye Birdie" and if are you still friends.  "Bye Bye Birdie" has always been one of MY favorites ... one of my kids' favorites ... and now one of my grandkids' favorites ... it's just a timeless piece of history.  How often do you get the chance to see each other these days?  There was a certain infectious chemistry between you two in "Bye Bye Birdie" that still comes across on the screen today after all these years.  Her next film was "Viva Las Vegas" with Elvis Presley ... and obviously that relationship sizzled both on screen and off screen.  What were your thoughts on this at the time?  

Bobby Rydell:  Yeah, right, right ... well, it's a classic ... it's like "Grease" ... "Bye Bye Birdie" is like "Grease" and they do it in high school and plays all over the country.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  It's no coincidence that the high school in the hit musical "Grease" is called Rydell High.]

Ann recently wrote a blurb in my new book, you know, which was very sweet of her, and she called me a couple of weeks ago and I was in Florida and she just said, "Bobby, I just never knew all of this stuff that you went through.  I just finished reading your book and it's absolutely marvelous and God bless you" and Ann and I have been in touch since '63 when we made "Bye Bye Birdie".  As a matter of fact, I called her a couple of weeks ago ... I was leaving the Orlando airport and I called her and we spoke about the book and how are you doing and how's Roger (her husband Roger Smith) doing and then I said, you know, out of the blue, I said, "Ann, back in 1963 you were 21 and I was 20 ... why didn't we get married?  (laughing)  

kk:  LOL   

BR:  (laughing)  And she laughed ... she's a sweetheart ... she really is a VERY nice person.

 Bobby and Ann ... then and now

Bobby and Ann ... with Bobby's original manager, Frankie Day

kk:  And the timing of it all, if you think about it ... the very next movie ... she's sweet, innocent Kim McAfee in "Bye Bye Birdie" ... and then the very next movie is "Viva Las Vegas' …  

BR:  Yeah, right, right ...  "Viva Las Vegas" with Elvis Presley ... (laughing) ... I think that's why we never got married!  (laughing)  

kk:  (laughing) Yeah, that probably had something to do with it  (lol)   

BR:  Yeah, I think it had something to do with Elvis (lol) and I can't blame her ... I can't blame her.   

kk:  Yeah, she certainly sizzled in that one!  (both laughing)  A bit of a jump from sweet and innocent Kim McAfee to sex kitten Rusty Martin in "Viva Las Vegas"!   
You worked with some real seasoned veterans at the time ... George Burns took you under his wing and got you some key gigs in Las Vegas ... I know he worked out a similar arrangement for Bobby Darin early on in his career right before "Mack The Knife" shot thru the roof ...  

BR:  Bobby Darin AND Ann-Margret  

kk:  Oh yeah, that's right!     


BR:  Yeah, yeah, Ann-Margret worked for George and that was my first appearance in Las Vegas, back in 1960 .... I did two weeks with George Burns at The Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and what a thrill that was to work with him.  And I remember I would do my thing and he would call me back on and we would do a soft shoe together with a derby and a cane and the people absolutely loved it.  You know, the old man with the young kid doing steps to "Some Of These Days", the old tune "Some Of These Days", and when I was done, every night for two weeks I used to stand in the wings and watch him ... EVERY night ... and studied the way he delivered a line, the timing that he would use, he was incredible.  And I was very fortunate to work with people like him ... George Burns, Jack Benny and Red Skelton ... Danny Thomas and Perry Como .. Milton Berle ... and I was a puppy at that particular time ... I was a very young guy ... I was in my early 20's and the whole idea was to learn ... LEARN from these people, just by watching them.   

kk:  And Red Skelton ... you guys seemed to really click together to the point that he made you a semi-regular on his television show ... what was he like to work with?  How did that bond develop?  Why do you think you two clicked?  

BR:  Red was very, very close to me and I was very close to him.  And I think he took me under his wing because, you know, he lost his son Richard ... I think he was 15 or 16 years old ... to leukemia.  

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Skelton's son died ten days shy of his tenth birthday]  

And we became very close, to the point where he invited me out to his house in Palm Springs after we taped  one of The Red Skelton Hour shows and his wife said to me, "Bobby, I can count on one hand the number of people that Red has invited to his home in Palm Springs" ... and he flew me and my manager out to Palm Springs ... and then flew us back out from Palm Springs to Los Angeles and then we took a commercial airliner ... at that time TWA was the airline that was flying ... and so we got TWA and they flew us back from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.  But yeah, he was very close.  Matter of fact, I just did an infomercial with Darlene Love, and she's wonderful, and it's for Time-Life as well, and it'll be coming out, I guess, in a month or however long they take, you know, to get these things ready ... cut it, master it and so on and so forth ... and after that I believe they're coming out with some of the Red Skelton videos and they asked me to stay and talk about him, which I did, and I totally lost it.  I started crying. (gets choked up)  

kk:  Yeah ... well, that was a big step in your career, especially to happen so early on.  

BR:  Oh yeah, I did something like twelve shows with him.

kk:  But talk about a mentor for a young kid coming up ... I mean, George Burns and Red Skelton ... you mentioned Milton Berle earlier ... they don't get any bigger than that!  

BR:  And Jack Benny as well.

kk:  These are people who shaped and defined the early days of television.  Incredible, really.  Somebody told me to ask you about Paul Whiteman.  One of your first big breaks came from appearing on the Paul Whiteman Show.  Although now long since forgotten, Paul was a pretty big deal back in the day.  Tell us a little bit about what that meant to you and how you feel it helped your career.   

BR:  Yeah, I was ten years old.  It was an amateur show here in Philadelphia that actually came out of the American Bandstand studios, where they actually broadcast American Bandstand ... that was the studio ... it was WFIL-TV here in Philadelphia, Channel 6, and it was a way to give amateur talent a chance to get a break in the business and I won on the show and I became a regular.  So I'm ten years old and I'm on the show for about a year and then it went off the air and at eleven years old, I'm out of work!  I had no job!  (laughing)   

kk:  You know it's funny because his is not a name that everyone immediately recognizes but somebody had sent me some information and, oh my God, the career that guy had!    

BR:  Yeah, as a matter of fact, when I did the show, he had a live orchestra with the show and the piano player was Bernie Lowe!   

kk:  Is that right?!?  

BR:  Yeah, who then seven years later became my boss with Cameo!  But back then he was the piano player on The Paul Whiteman Show.  I think the thing that he's most known for is his version of "Rhapsody In Blue", which was a marvelous, marvelous piece of material.   

kk:  Somebody told me that that was actually written FOR him.   

BR:  Well that I don't know ... that's very possible. I don't know the answer to that for sure.   

kk:  Again, someone told me that, dating back to the '20's, he had over 200 hit records.   

BR:  Oh yeah, for sure.   

kk: And yet his is not a name that typically comes up ... you don't realize that there's a connection to where he also helped some of these soon-to-be rock stars make a name for themselves, too.   

BR:  Yeah, yeah.  Sure, yeah.    

kk:  You've been singing most of these songs for a long, long time now ... what are some of your personal favorites?  Obviously, I would have to think that "Volare" and "Sway" would have to be up there ... these two seem to have stood the test of time ... they seem to keep goin' and goin' and goin' and have become "signature tunes" for you ... but what are some of the others that really stand out for you … maybe some of the "not so obvious" choices?  


BR:  Oh,  "Volare", "Forget Him", "Sway" … "Old Black Magic" and, of course, "Kissin' Time", which was my first … you know a LOT of the songs I recorded for Cameo were just good pieces of material … "We Got Love", "I'll Never Dance Again" was another one, "Cha Cha Cha" …


kk:  Oh yeah, "The Cha Cha Cha" ... that's one I really like …

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Our Yorkie's name is Cha Cha!]

BR:  Yeah, "I've Got Bonnie", you know, even the B-Side of "Wild One", "Little Bitty Girl" was a hit record … as a matter of fact, it was a double-sided hit, "Little Bitty Girl" and "Wild One" … they both charted.

kk:  Yeah, you had a couple like that, I think.

BR:  Yeah, I  did, yeah.

kk:  I know you've mentioned before that "Wildwood Days" was a personal favorite because of the connection to what it meant to you at the time, coming from that area.

BR:  Well, my grandmother used to have a boarding house in Wildwood for years ... and I used to go to Wildwood every summer, dating back to when I was an infant, we would go down to Wildwood, and really up until the time I started traveling on the road and even then, when I came off the road, if I had a couple of weeks or a week off, I'd go down to Wildwood, New Jersey, and stay with my grandparents and just go out on the beach with all the guys and girls from South Philly and just have a wonderful time.  These were great times to be around.

kk:  We were down there a few years ago for the first time and Paul Russo, who I guess you know from Cool Scoops, he sent some photos of you that were taken at his place and we're going to run some of those as part of the series ... and we went down there a few years ago and got to see his place.

BR:  Oh really?

kk:  It's an interesting place ... a lot of fun.  Having grown up and lived my whole life in Chicago, it's interesting to see another area.  I mean, Chicago's got a rich musical heritage, too, of course, but you guys kinda had a lock on the market for awhile there.

BR:  Yeah, I guess we did.  It was myself and Avalon and Fabian and Anka … The Everly Brothers ... oh my God, there's so many ... Bobby Darin ... yeah, it was a wonderful time for all of us.

kk:  Reading your book, it kinda sounds like that's what you're trying to do now ... more from "The American Songbook" along with the hits ... it's become a big part of what you do now when you perform.  I know you do a little Bobby Darin thing as part of your show and all that. Certainly this music means a lot to you.

BR:  Well, yeah, absolutely ... and it's like we said earlier when my dad used to take me around, I was always, as far back as I can remember, I was always a big band lover ... from a very, very early age ... and I listened to big bands and jazz and then, around 11, 12 years old, Sinatra, my champion, even when I was that young ... so in my shows today, of course, I incorporate most of my hits, but I love doing tunes from The American Songbook.

kk:  And, of course, Sinatra became a close friend, too, didn't he?

BR:  Yeah, the first time I met him, I was nineteen years old at the Copacabana and he was sitting there with Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and Joe DiMaggio and here I am, nineteen years old, and I was in awe ... I just sat there with my jaw open ... I didn't say two words ... I was just in awe of just sittin' with them, with these four wonderful people.  And then through the years, I used to go see the old man and he'd always introduce me, I'd always see him backstage and so on and so forth, and the last time I was in his company, while he was here at the Sands in Atlantic City and that's quite a few years ago, my kids were, I don't know, I think twelve or something like that, twelve years old, and I took them to see Sinatra and my son was in awe of him and he said, "Man, he sure can sing!"  I mean, his pipes were something ... and whenever he was around and I was around, we'd always hang out together and one of the last times was in Vegas ... he was married to Mia Farrow at the time ... that's how far back I'm talking about ... and we just sat in the lounge and we talked ... and then he went out into the casino and started conducting a blackjack game.  He was behind the dealer and once he got seen at the table the whole casino was now at that table, you know.  And Sinatra was dealing blackjack for crying out loud!

kk:  So obviously he's one of your favorites ... who are some of the other ones who were your recording idols prior to your own career in music?  Who inspired you early on?  And were there any other big influences along the way?

BR:   Well, you know, he's really the only one that really inspired me ... a guy I'm very close to, and he lives in Vegas now, is Steve Lawrence, and he's one hell of a singer ... just a great singer ... him and Eydie, when they used to do shows together, they were awesome ... just the music alone and the arrangements and they both could just sing like crazy, my God, the both of them were just wonderful.  And really all of those people, you know ... Tony Bennett, Perry Como ...

kk:  Tony Bennett, who's still doin' it and now he's singing with Lady Ga-Ga!

BR:  Yeah, God bless him, God bless him ... he just recorded an album with Lady Ga-Ga ... I mean he's still doin' it and I think he's eighty-something ... 89 years old ...

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Tony Bennett will turn 90 on August 3rd!!!] 

kk:  Another I would think, and maybe only because you recorded some of the same songs ... like "Sway" and "Volare" ... Dean Martin?  You were kinda the younger version of Dean Martin, appealing to the younger crowd with these same classics.  He had his own appeal and his own audience ... but you made those songs crossover so that younger audience could enjoy them, too ... and that's what makes those songs timeless.

BR:   Right ... yeah, for sure, absolutely, yeah.  As a matter of fact, a guy who I like today is a guy by the name of Michael Buble ... and I think one of his first tunes that introduced him to the public was "Sway" ... he did a version of "Sway" ... I think that was one of the very first songs that he recorded.

kk: And he's got quite a following now, too.

BR:  Oh, absolutely ... and rightfully so.

kk:  Looking back, what do you consider to be some of your landmark career milestones?  Which are the ones that blew you away and really stick out in your mind?  Maybe your most exciting public appearance experience?

BR:  Oh, doing The Red Skelton Show, doing the The Jack Benny Show, doing Danny Thomas / "Make Room For Daddy", doing The Perry Como Show, The Kraft Music Hall, all of those shows were big moments … and then I was with Milton Berle for six months … unfortunately, that was on ABC and after six months, ABC cancelled the show, but, you know, I worked with the GIANTS back then.

kk:  We can't do an interview like this and avoid these next two topics.   

The two biggest bombshells revealed in the book was your relationship with your mother and your years of drinking.  Addressing your mother first, I got the feeling early on in the book that your mother was indifferent to you pursuing a career in show business ... but by the end it sounds like she was the over-the-top, bi-polar stage mom of everybody's nightmare, wanting to call and coordinate every shot and every aspect of your career choices.  One of our readers, who actually read your book before I did, told me "You don't hear much about Bobby's mother early on in the book ... but she really gets a lot of attention toward the end."  You make no secret of the fact that your dad was in your corner from day one ... and did everything he could to help facilitate the advancement of your career to the point that his encouragement helped make you stick with this and expand your abilities.  When did things change with your mom?

BR:  Well, first of all, she didn't know what my father knew, as far as the talent that was inside me … like I say in the book, my father was the first one to see it … and the only reason I'm in the business is because of my dad.  I think it's written in the book at some point where she says "What are you doin' with the kid?"  I'm seven years old and my father would answer back, "Jennie, the kid's got talent" and my mother would say "Of course you're gonna say that … you're his father."  And that's the way things stood until things started happening.

kk:  And then it almost sounds as if she tried to take control.

BR:  She'd tell me how to dress … what to wear … how to wear my hair, which shoes, you know, all of that.  I think at one time she used to buy practically all of my clothes.

kk:  That had to be kinda strange for you, too … I mean after NOT being involved early on, to assuming that kind of control later on … that's something you had to be aware of at the time, right?  It must have seemed odd to you right away to see this kind of change ... and then have to deal with it.

BR:  Well, yeah, I did … like I say in the book, everybody thought that my mother was the greatest person on two feet until she came into the house behind closed doors and then she became the person that she was.

kk:  The book delves deeply into your battle with the bottle (hence the title "Teen Idol On The Rocks").  Knowing that this chapter would eventually be coming up, I found a certain irony in that early on in the book you describe a new member of your band, a drummer who, after coming offstage, thought that he had just given the greatest performance of his life when, in fact, because he was so intoxicated, it was awful and embarrassing, only he couldn't see it ... yet later in life you tell how you took the stage hundreds of times after drinking heavily ... I cannot help but wonder if these performances weren't considerably worse than you ever could have possibly imagined ... or remember.  (Big time credit has to go to Frankie Avalon and Fabian for putting up with all your nonsense … is "tolerant" the right word?  Your friendship went WAY back but still it had to be painful for them to see you in this state.)  You must have had some moments like this yourself where you "overrated" your performance?

BR:  Ahh, not before my wife passed away.  Up until then, I was pretty cool.  But once Camille passed in 2003, that's when the drink became a very dear friend.  Even if I had a few drinks before a performance I was always cool enough to be able to get up on stage and do what I do.  I don't think I was really ever, you know, drunk out of my mind when I did the shows with those guys.

kk:  Had there not been an intervention of some type at the point that there was, we would have likely have been reading a very sad obituary about teen idol Bobby Rydell several years ago.  For you it really came down to life and death surgery at one point … and you were strong enough afterwards to be able to turn things around.  Is there a day that goes by that you don't think about this and the pain you put some of your loved ones through?   How hard is it for you today to avoid those pitfalls?  Alcoholism is a sickness, it's a disease … are you still tempted by the bottle from time to time?  I mean, it's a lifelong battle, isn't it?  I mean it never really leaves you.

BR:  No, no, absolutely not … once you get your life back again, it's just like the book says … a tale of second chances … why screw that up again?

kk:  That's so good to hear … like we said earlier, you're working with a total rebuild at this point … a real bionic man … you've got to take care of yourself!

BR:  Yeah, yeah.

kk:  Unlike many show biz biographies, your book was not the typical tell all romance novel in any sense - in fact, other than your two wives (and perhaps a passing but unattainable fancy toward Ann Margaret), no other women are really mentioned between the covers of your autobiography.  Now surely there had to be SOME action "between the covers" enjoying the riches of the teen idol lifestyle!  The way the book is written, you come across as some sort of either a saint or a monk. Without going into any explicit details … I mean, this isn't the Howard Stern Show … come on - give us some dirt!  Before history writes you off forever as the perfect boy scout, share at least ONE story ... share just one "Wild One" with our readers!!!  I mean, c'mon … everybody knows the lifestyle of a teen idol.  (laughing)  Is there ANYTHING you can tell us?  

BR:   Yeah, yeah (Laughing ... followed by a very long pause)

kk:  I'm not asking you to name names or anything … but we all know this had to be a pretty wild and exciting time for a young kid coming up in the business.  A pretty exciting lifestyle.

BR:  Absolutely.  (laughing)

kk: You're not gonna tell us, are you?

BR:  No.

kk:  And leave it at that?

BR:  Yes.

kk:  OK, here's a good one … and this may be a good way to wrap things up … 
In hindsight, given the opportunity, the choice and the chance to do it all over again, is there anything you'd do differently?  What, if anything (other than the double organ transplant I presume!) would you change?

BR:  Well, I wouldn't have drank as much as I did (laughing)  It almost killed me, for Christ's sake!

Order Bobby's book here ...