Backstage with Ron Onesti: A ‘Beach Party’ birthday with Frankie Avalon
By RON ONESTI - firstname.lastname@example.org
I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, “What a cool job you have!”
They see me on stage, hanging with celebs, and are filled with warm-hearted envy.
What they don’t see is the other 97 percent of the time when I have to create the shows, produce them, sell the tickets and pay the bills. But there are those experiences that make it all worthwhile.
Sixties heartthrob, “Beach Party” movie legend and “Grease” Teen Angel Frankie Avalon recently played at the Arcada Theatre a couple of days before my May 8 birthday. We have worked together countless times before so it’s always an exciting homecoming when Frankie comes to town. This time however, was very special.
He came in Friday night (the show was on Saturday) and we had our customary dinner peppered with a couple of bottles from our favorite Italian vineyard. The stories about Fabian, Chubby Checker, The Big Bopper, Bobby Rydell, James Darren and many other ”Philly sound” rock ‘n’ roll superstars from “the neighborhood” were flowing.
Did you know that just five years before Bobby Darrin’s death, he painfully found out that the lady he thought was his mother his whole life was actually his grandmother, and his sister Nina was actually his mother!
He also talked about passing on an offer to get involved with a project another buddy was working on. He wasn’t big on investing in musicals, and it really didn’t seem like it was going to go anywhere. Even his buddy wasn’t too sure how it was going to go, being a show about the rise of his band’s career. The show … “Jersey Boys!” Oops.
It’s always a great time with Frankie and the stories are priceless. His live show featured “Venus,” “Beauty School Dropout” and other songs with stories that just tug at your heart and bring back wonderful memories. Of course, the most touching moment of the evening was his remembrance of his on-screen love, Mouseketeer beauty Annette Funicello. His finale was a musical tribute that ended with that iconic Mickey Mouse Club Show theme song. Not a dry eye in the house.
He still has that teen-idol look. It’s hard to believe he is 72 years old – he even tugs on his full head of hair to prove it’s his.
After his show I went back on stage to bring him back out for a question and answer session. As I was about to bring him back, Chicago radio legend Dick Biondi joined Frankie and came back out to center stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is nobody who continues to do more for rock ‘n’ roll music in Chicago than Ron Onesti,” Biondi said.
Then Frankie took the microphone and also said some very kind words and informed the audience that it was my birthday. Out came a cake that had a photo of me and Frankie right on top. Frankie sang “Happy Birthday” to me and I shared a piece of the huge cake with 900 of my closest friends.
The night continued for a few more hours of wood-fired pizza and Chianti.
The next day, I was being honored by The Order Sons of Italy in America, a national Italian-American organization, with its Leonardo DaVinci Award (I was having a good week). It was a recognition of my entrepreneurial endeavors held at a beautiful luncheon.
I was surrounded by my family as I was humbled by this honor.
Just as the program was to start, in walked Frankie Avalon and Dick Biondi.
Frankie actually changed his flight plans so that he could present the award to me. His words were so wonderful and he being there was nothing short of unbelievable.
No, they just don’t make entertainers like they used to.
Frankie Avalon is a neighborhood guy that never forgot where he came from. He gave me a birthday weekend I will never forget.
Yes, show business is definitely a tough game. But this weekend was one of those times when it really wasn’t horrible to be me.
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corp. and the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. He provides personal recollections of events and people that he has encountered over the years. Send comments to email@example.com.