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Robert P. Marcucci dies at 81; talent manager discovered Frankie Avalon, Fabian

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Robert P. Marcucci, the former Philadelphia record company owner and legendary talent manager who groomed and launched teen idols Frankie Avalon and Fabian in the late 1950s, has died. He was 81.


FOR THE RECORD:
Robert Marcucci: In the March 16 LATExtra section, the obituary of Robert P. Marcucci, the former Philadelphia record company owner and talent manager who launched teen idols Frankie Avalon and Fabian, said he discovered Philadelphia teenager Fabiano Forte sitting on a stoop. The singer was born Fabian Forte. —


Marcucci, whose career inspired the 1980 movie "The Idolmaker," died March 9 of respiratory complications and severe infections at a hospital in Ontario, Calif., said Marco Rufo, a longtime friend.

The Philadelphia-born Marcucci and his songwriting partner Peter DeAngelis were the owners of Chancellor Records, a small independent label they started in the late 1950s with a $10,000 loan from Marcucci's father.

With DeAngelis supplying the musical direction for the label, as Dick Clark once put it, "Bob was the promoter, manager and dreamer."

"Bob was one of the most imaginative talent managers I ever met," Clark, whose nationally televised "American Bandstand" was then based in Philadelphia, said in a statement. "He had tremendous creativity. These qualities and his never-ending enthusiasm made him truly unique."

The Philadelphia-born Avalon was a 16-year-old trumpet player and singer in a small rock 'n' roll band called Rocco and the Saints when Marcucci and DeAngelis signed the band to their new label.

But it wasn't long before Avalon was singled out as a solo artist.

"Bob was the one who really got me into the singing career," Avalon told The Times on Tuesday. "He said to me, 'Kid, you got it, and I think you can become a star.' "

In late 1957, Marcucci and DeAngelis wrote a song for the young singer: "DeDe Dinah," which became the first in a string of hits for Avalon that included the 1959 chart toppers "Venus" and the Marcucci-DeAngelis-written "Why."

Marcucci's role as a star-maker ranged from offering Avalon a few dance moves for performing "DeDe Dinah" on stage to suggesting he wear the sweaters that became his trademark.

"He was my mentor, he was my creator, and he really put all of his time and efforts into creating a star," Avalon said. "He had so much zest for life. And with his enthusiasm for show business and the people that he believed in, he just wouldn't stop."

After launching Avalon, Marcucci didn't waste time looking for his next young star.

He found him in another handsome Philadelphia teenager; Fabiano Forte, who Marcucci spotted sitting on a stoop.

Marcucci reportedly promoted his new discovery with large posters asking, "Who Is Fabian?" "What Is a Fabian?" and "Fabian is Coming!"

In his 1976 book "Rock, Roll & Remember," Clark recalled telling Marcucci to bring his new young singer to a Friday night record hop he was hosting.

That Friday, Clark wrote, Marcucci "had Fabian dressed in a blue sweater, tight-fitting pants and white bucks. Fabian gave me a smile as I introduced him, pushed back a few strands of his pompadour, and crooned into the mike, lip-synching to an acetate Bob had brought of his first record, 'I'm a Man.'

"The little girls at the hop went wild. They started screaming and yelling for this guy who didn't do a thing but stand there. I've never seen anything like it."

Fabian went on to record hits such as "Tiger," "Turn Me Loose" and "Hound Dog Man."

Marcucci later served as technical adviser on "The Idolmaker," starring Ray Sharkey as a hustling, Marcucci-like character named Vincent "Vinnie" Vacarri, who molds and manages two young teen idols.

" 'The Idolmaker' is not based entirely on Fabe or Frankie or myself," Marcucci said in a 1980 interview with the Washington Post. The Post story quoted a production company spokesperson, who described the movie as "a fictitious story with many parallels loosely based in real life."

"The two boys aren't really Frankie and Fabe to me when I look at the movie," Marcucci said.

Fabian, who had bought out his contract with Marcucci after about two years, was not happy with the film: He filed a $64-million lawsuit in which he charged defamation of character and invasion of privacy, contending that one of the young men in the movie was a representation of himself.

The lawsuit, which named Marcucci and others as defendants, was settled out of court with what Fabian once described as "a good settlement."

Marcucci, who was born Feb. 28, 1930, managed a number of actors and other performers later in his career. He also was a producer of "The Razor's Edge," a 1984 movie drama starring Bill Murray; and a producer of the 1985 TV movie "A Letter to Three Wives."

He is survived by his son, Marc; and two grandchildren. His son Robert A. Marcucci, an actor, died in 2003.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at at Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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