Back to high school

Say one thing for Frankie Avalon:

He’s no beauty school dropout. Nope, it’s his real hair. And let’s face it, we can’t necessarily say the same thing for Golden Boy buddy Fabian.

Yep, a showbiz career spanning three media, 40 years of marriage, eight children and almost eight grandchildren later, Avalon has maintained that Beach Blanket hairline. So one of the first things this non-’50s-era reporter chick wants to know is, just how old is the guy who is better known to this generation as the teen angel serenading the pink-coifed Frenchy in Grease?

"Oh, I’m 63 going on 40. I still have all my hair, and my weight hasn’t changed — must be all that Italian olive oil."

So you can take the Golden Guy out of South Philly at age 19, stick him in Hollywood, sit him next to the lovely Annette Funicello on the beach for a bevy of blockbusters, get him famous with a bunch of merry sing-along tunes, and reincarnate him again and again with a cameo on a movie whose popularity just won’t die — but you can’t take the Italian olive oil out of the Golden Guy.

On Tuesday, he’ll be back in town to reprise his teen-angel role in a six-day stretch of Grease at the Academy of Music. Though his part involves singing only the one song — Beauty School Dropout — he’ll give fans their money’s worth by taking the stage again after the show to sing a sampling of his own numbers. (Hey, Venus!)

Most of us in South Philly know Avalon’s real name is Francis Avallone, and many of a certain era either knew him back in school or have seen him onstage at the former Palumbo’s or, more recently, the casinos just an hour away. His Boys are still his Boys — Frankie, Fabe and Bobby Rydell still play the circuit together, and will make their typical July 4 weekend appearances in Atlantic City, at the Hilton.

Avalon’s sister still lives in Jersey, meanwhile, and he gets back to the old neighborhood now and then for the typical fare of Pat’s and Geno’s. (He also asked about the fate of the Triangle Tavern.)

Young Frankie lived on a few different blocks: Ninth and Carpenter, 20th and Snyder, 20th and Moore, 20th and Mifflin. He went to St. Edmond’s grade school — which he was sad to hear has closed in recent years — and St. Monica’s dances. Old hangouts that came to mind are Fatty’s, 17th and Jackson, and Edie’s, next to South Philly High, his other alma mater. Of course, he emulated legendary Southern band leader Jay Speck.

One time, Avalon took all eight of his kids to his old house on the 1900 block of South Hemberger Street and knocked on the door, surprising the newer residents.

"South Philly has treated us guys, including me — they’re the best. We’re neighborhood kids," he says, referring to the multitude of boyz from the ‘hood who have gone Hollywood. He gets together with fellow native Jimmy Darren at least twice a month out west, where Avalon lives with his family in California’s San Fernando Valley.

He met his wife, Kay, on the West Coast, and the couple married in 1963. Four decades later, Frankie’s greatest production has been his family — four boys (Frankie Jr., Tony, Joseph and Nicholas) and four girls (Dina, Laura, Kathryn and Carla), and an eighth grandchild on the way.

Obviously, he’s a zealous producer. And, though he appeared in at least 30 films, a poll conducted while Avalon was doing TV ad spots revealed he is known more for his music than his movies. (Can you say De De Dinah?)

Then, five years ago, he performed his teen-angel cameo onstage for a Grease mini-tour. When approached this time, he told the producers he’d do it if he could pick his dozen or so cities in which to tour — Philly, of course, being one of them.

Avalon also has made his foray into the product-development world. The star of his pain-care line, which he peddles on the Home Shopping Network (yes, you did see him on HSN), is called "Zero Pain" ( Thus, he keeps busy even offstage.

"My hand is always dabbling in the pie somewhere, and I’ve always been that kind of guy," he says.

His products have been well-received, meanwhile. And when did South Philly’s showbiz boy get the yen to create, well, stuff?

"I’ve always fooled around with different products, different things. I remember starting to get ideas and even doing a piece of film bringing private programming into your hotel room. And when I had the idea, I went to cigarette companies and asked for their advertising dollars.

"My mind has always been out there — and some things work, and some things don’t."

Something else that worked: Avalon and Funicello’s undeniably fun Beach Party films of the ’50s. And, the revisited Back to the Beach he worked on for 10 years to get produced — an example, he says, of how he sticks with something until he gets it done.

Avalon also created the idea for the "Frankie and Annette Beach Party" state lottery cards and slot machines in Atlantic City and casinos the world over.

On a somber note, he describes his old friend Funicello’s continuing struggle with multiple sclerosis as "downhill."

"I tell people to keep her in their prayers," he says. "It’s very, very sad."

Back to cheerier topics, Avalon acknowledges that his nightclub act with the other Golden Boys plays to an audience of a certain age. But Grease? "It plays to everyone, ages 3 to 70."

Though the ’50s were an era all their own, he says, it’s not hard to understand why kids still relate to the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It’s the innocence, the entertainment … and of course, the music.

"Grease is still the word," Avalon says, and indeed it’s become the catch-phrase of the current stage tour. He’ll perform in Atlanta after the Philly run.

So how does he maintain that hairline?

Frankie says the traveling, the special projects, his kids and grandkids, showbiz in general — they all keep him young.

"When I bring people back with my music, I’m doing the same thing for myself. When I sing Venus or Ginger Bread, I’m back there. Everything I do in my business is up — it’s wonderful."

Tickets to Grease at the Academy of Music, $25-$72.50, can be purchased by calling 215-893-1999 or online at