Full name, Fabian Forte; born February 6, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pa.
Though many critics complained of his lack of vocal talent, singer Fabian used his good looks and publicity to become an extremely popular teen idol during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Viewed at the time as being the leading pretender to the pop throne vacated by Elvis when the king was drafted into the Army in 1958, Fabian scored Top Forty hits with "Tiger" and "Turn Me Loose," and gained even more exposure when he began to appear in films, featured along with actors such as Bing Crosby and John Wayne. As Ed Ward summed up in his book Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Fabian "was a very clever, very calculated product," but also, for a time, a very successful one.
Fabian was born Fabian Forte on February 6, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not displaying any particular interest in music beyond that of a normal teenager, it was perhaps as much a surprise to him as to anyone else when he was discovered by the writing-producing-recording team of Bob Marcucci and Pete DeAngelis--the owners of the Chancellor record label who were also instrumental in the career of Frankie Avalon. There are varying accounts of how Forte was recruited; Fabian himself was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying that it happened while his father was being carried out to an ambulance after suffering a heart attack. "Marcucci was walking by and we were introduced. He was intrigued by my name and he wondered if I'd be interested in the recording business."
Marcucci, however, quoted by Ward, claimed that Avalon was responsible for the meeting, and recounted his reactions: "Somehow I sensed that here was a kid who could go. He looks a little bit like both [Elvis] Presley and Ricky Nelson. I figured he was a natural. It's true that he couldn't sing..." But it was a fairly common practice during the late 1950s for record producers to look for handsome young men that could induce joyful sighing and screaming in young female music fans, and thus, while still in his late teens, Fabian was signed to a contract with Chancellor Records. The young man took it in stride; he told Dennis Hunt in another Los Angeles Times article that "when I got the offer ... I took it because I thought it might be exciting. Besides, my father was sick and the family needed money."
Despite the fact that DeAngelis and Marcucci provided Fabian with singing lessons, his career did not take off right away. His first single, "I'm in Love," met with little but critical derision when it was released. But the proprietors of Chancellor were unwilling to give up; they stirred up massive amounts of publicity about Fabian, and booked him for an East Coast tour of many theaters and auditoriums. Fabian began to build up a following among teenagers, and by 1959 he was having hit records--his first was "I'm a Man." "Tiger" and "Turn Me Loose" followed quickly.
But after his banner year of 1959, Fabian's ability to produce hits began to fail him. For a time this mattered little, because he was exploring a career as an actor. Because of his popularity, he was approached by Hollywood, and his first featured role was in 1959's Hound Dog Man. He began to rise above the teen music exploitation film genre the following year, when he appeared with Bing Crosby in High Time and John Wayne in North to Alaska. Unfortunately, though, as his musical fame faded, Fabian's film offers grew scarcer; one of his last memorable roles was the portrayal of a psychopath in Bus Stop.
Like many other performers of his period, however, Fabian experienced a resurgence in popularity when music fans in the late 1970s and 1980s began to feel nostalgic for the songs of the 1950s and 1960s. He still sings his hits in oldies' shows, though he has not recorded any new material.
by Elizabeth Wenning
Worked for a time in a drugstore and as a janitor's assistant; recording artist and concert performer, beginning in 1957 and temporarily ending during the early 1960s; performer in clubs and in nostalgia shows, beginning in the 1970s. Appeared in films and television shows, including Hound Dog Man, 1959, High Time, 1960, North to Alaska, 1960, Love in a Goldfish Bowl, 1961, and Bus Stop.
- Singles; on Chancellor Records
- "I'm in Love"/"Shivers," c. 1957.
- "I'm a Man," 1959.
- "Tiger," 1959.
- "Come on and Get Me," 1959.
- "Got the Feeling," 1959.
- "Hound Dog Man," 1959.
- "This Friendly World," 1959.
- "Turn Me Loose," 1959.
- "String Along," 1960.
- "About This Thing Called Love," 1960.
- "Kissin' and Twistin'," 1960.
- Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.
- Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Summit Books, 1986.
- Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1973; July 5, 1974.