Ron Onesti: Frankie Avalon and the 'Good Guys' who win
Aside from the music itself, the best part of my job is reliving memories with the audiences at our shows, especially at The Arcada. As I walk through the crowd welcoming our guests, so many stop me to share quick stories of the first time they saw a particular act, or how it was their first concert, or how it was their first date.
Then, during the show, I sit in the balcony, overlooking the audience. I spend more time watching folks sing at the top of their voices and dance with "ants in their pants" then I do actually watching what is happening on stage. That's MY entertainment!
Last week, we hosted Frankie Avalon at The Arcada. He is truly one of my favorite performers, and has become not only a good friend, but also a sort of mentor to me. We have had many conversations about business diversification and other entrepreneurial issues. And of course, he is never shy with his stories. He also has the best hair of any 79-year-old (In fact, he has many of them).
Recently I happened upon an original press photo of Frankie on "The Jack Benny Show" in 1963. When he saw it he burst into a grand smile. "You see that Coca-Cola machine in the background. Jack made everybody laugh at the end of the scene when he tried to inconspicuously check the change thing for a leftover dime," Frankie said.
Then I pulled out another historic "find," an original movie poster of "Beach Blanket Bingo." He was so excited to see it. Linda Evans was cast in the film as "Sugar Kane," but he told me Nancy Sinatra was originally supposed to play that character. "A few months before shooting began, Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped. The plot of the film involved a kidnapping, so Nancy was uncomfortable and pulled out," he said.
Then the topic of the most famous "Mouseketeer" came up, Annette Funicello. You can see on his face how much he loved her, how much he misses her. "It was such a shame," he said, referring to the MS that ultimately took her life at 70.
They always were great friends. Frankie was even the godfather of Annette's daughter, Gina. Annette was actually pregnant with Gina during the filming of "Beach Blanket Bingo" and Gina was who called Frankie to tell him of Annette's passing.
Another close connection I have to Annette is an "uncle" of mine, Paul Anka. "Mr. A" plays the Arcada on an annual basis, and we speak frequently.
They were a "thing" back then. Talk about a cute couple! "She really wanted to get married," Paul said as we had dinner after his last show at The Arcada. "But I was so focused on my career and on what I was doing musically, I didn't feel right about it. I just thought we were too young. But I definitely loved her," he said.
Back to the Frankie show.
It was a career retrospective filled with family home movies, stories, funny lines and musical memories. He referenced his wife and eight kids many times, especially Frank Jr., who is also his drummer.
The guitar player in the band is a contemporary of Frank Jr.'s -- Edan Everly, whose father Don and Uncle Phil were the legendary Everly Brothers singing duo. Frankie references him quite a bit, even doing a short Everly Brothers set with Edan. "Bye, Bye Love" and other hits continue the musical stroll down memory lane.
A highlight of the show is Avalon's song about the way it used to be. "I recall those nights when families got together to watch the world in black and white, Desi loved Lucy, my neighbors all knew me and lying used to be a sin, once upon a time when the good guys used to win," he sang.
What a song.
And that's the beauty of bringing these "heritage acts" in to perform. Their music takes us back to a better time. A time when the streets were safer, families were closer and life was a bit simpler.
"And every day in school the kids were safe in school, but that was way back then." A poignant lyric today.
Frankie, Neil Sedaka, Paul, thank you for keeping these memories alive. For me getting through today is only possible by remembering yesterday.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.