POP-MUSIC LEGEND DECIDES TO CONNECT WITH FANS BY OFFERING CLOTHING, PERSONAL ITEMS FROM HER STORIED CAREER
By Ana Veciana-Suarez
Chart-topping singer Connie Francis’ career spanned decades and took her to famous stages and private receptions around the world, often giving her the distinction of being the first performer to introduce American music to foreign audiences. She sang for presidents and queens, celebrities and servicemen, and her signature songs— think Where the Boys Are, Who’s Sorry Now?, Stupid Cupid, Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool — became the soundtrack of an entire generation.
“I think of those years as a kind of innocent time, a sweeter time,” Francis tells The Intelligent Collector. “It feels as if life was simpler then. And I think my fans may see it that same way.”
Connecting with her fans, some of whom have followed her since her American Bandstand days in the late 1950s and early ’60s, is the primary reason Francis decided to consign about 1,400 items to Heritage Auctions for an auction Oct. 1, 2017, in Beverly Hills. The items chronicle a stellar career — she recorded 3,000 songs and in 12 different languages — as well as an offstage life with its share of obstacles and personal challenges.
Many of the items in the auction once hung on the walls of her spacious south Florida home, but others were kept boxed “all over the place” – the garage, the attic and a storage unit. Now she’s hoping the beloved pieces will find a home with the people who fondly remember Dick Clark and the movie and song that inspired years of college spring breaks in Fort Lauderdale. “I wanted to have the auction while I was still alive,” says Francis, who turns 80 in December. “I have a close relationship with many of my fans, so I thought it would be good for me to enjoy this.”
Garry Shrum, consignment director for Heritage Auctions’ entertainment and music department, believes the Francis items will attract bidders from all walks of life. “It could be a dentist, a doctor, a retiree, a housewife – even a restaurant that has a rock ’n’ roll theme or a lawyer who wants to put a shadow box in his office,” he says. “These are people who want a particular item because it speaks to them about a particular time in their lives.”
The singer’s fans will have plenty to choose from. It took Francis and a couple of helpers about a year to sort through the items to be auctioned. The collection includes numerous awards, dozens of gowns and personal items, such as jewelry and handbags, as well as autographed albums and singles, photographs and music sheets hand-annotated by famous composers who arranged songs for the New Jersey native.
Some notable pieces in the auction include her original “Best Female Vocalist” awards, voted by American Bandstand viewers for five straight years; three Bravo Otto awards, 18-carat gold medallions from Germany; a 1950s love letter from Bobby Darin, the man she considers “the love of my life”; and a 1967 jacket Vietnam servicemen gave to her with patches from the places she performed.
Fans will also find letters from various politicians and celebrities, including Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon; a cocktail emerald ring surrounded by diamonds that she considers “one of my favorites, it’s just so beautiful”; the original gloves she wore to an audience/ performance for Queen Elizabeth II in 1963; and a beaded gown by American designer Nolan Miller that she wore for a comeback performance at the Diplomat Hotel in 1989.
“It’s like leaving behind an old house full of memories,” says Francis, of sorting through her possessions. “You have a lot of mixed emotions.”
Part of the auction proceeds will go to ETHOS Together, a non-profit Francis founded for military veterans. Supporting U.S. servicemen has been a cause close to Francis’ heart ever since she was a child performer playing the accordion for soldiers.
Putting together the collection for auction coincided with the writing of her autobiography. Among My Souvenirs: The Real Story, Vol. 1, is scheduled for release in September. Working on both, she admits, forced her to relive both the low and high points of a life that saw professional successes but also heartbreaking setbacks, including a 1974 rape in a motel room, nasal surgery that left her temporarily without a voice, and a very public struggle with mental illness. While any memorabilia connected with Dick Clark triggers a smile — “Those were the happiest years of my life. It [American Bandstand] was like a big rock ’n’ roll party every day.” —she also admits to weeping jags when handling certain items.
“Some brought back very painful memories,” she explains. “I cried going through the love letters I wrote to Bobby [Darin]. It gave me insight to who I was at 18.”
Despite the emotional hardships she has faced, Francis maintains her sense of humor. “I don’t like to exercise, so I say that if it weren’t for my mood swings, I wouldn’t get my exercise at all,” she quips in a perfect deadpan delivery.
ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ is a syndicated columnist for Tribune Content Agency and author of The Chin Kiss King: A Novel. She collects autographed books from her favorite authors.