Sergio Franchi - Career - Stardom in America - The 1960s

The 1960s

The American debut: Ready to begin his tour, Sergio Franchi arrived in New York on September 25, 1962, and RCA had already begun an all-out saturation campaign to launch his American career. Concurrent with the release of his debut album, RCA provided the industry introductions in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York. His album was also advertised extensively. Sergio Franchi made his American television debut with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on October 14, 1962; and his Sol Hurok concert debut at Carnegie Hall on October 21, 1962. Singing the whole concert without a microphone, a New York reviewer commented favorably upon Franchi's "big, healthy voice," his penchant for ad-libbing, and upon Franchi's ability to establish instant rapport with his audience. Ed Sullivan was in the audience that night and soon contracted for future Franchi appearances—including a second TV appearance on his show the following week (October 28, 1962). . Within a week of these initial debut appearances, the feedback on sales of Franchi's first LP album proved most pleasing to RCA Victor, the album was listed as a "Favorite Album" by Mr. Pop History; and it peaked on the Billboard 200 at number seventeen at the end of December. The year was concluded with successful concert appearances in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, and in Boston's Music Hall..where he played to packed audiences (capacity 3,600) for four days—-two shows per night.

The Franchi star ascends in 1963. Sergio Franchi made his night club debut at the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. While he was there he met Metropolitan Opera star, Anna Moffo, with whom he was to collaborate on two albums that year. Franchi's next appearance was at Miami's Eden Roc Hotel in a double-billing with Barbra Streisand, and an American Cancer Society benefit at the Paramount Theater in West Palm Beach hosted by Bob Hope. Next, he traveled to Chicago for a concert debut at the Palmer House Empire Room. Two more Ed Sullivan appearances facilitated national exposure, and Franchi made his Nevada casino debut starring in The International Follies at the Nugget Circus Room in Sparks, NV. Franchi made his Las Vegas debut (also noted by Mr. Pop History) at the Sahara Hotel as the opening act for Bob Newhart. These successful performances were interspersed with three European events: one to appear in a German television production in Austria (recorded on the 1963 DVD, Sing, aber spiel nicht mit mir); another trip to Vienna to collaborate with Anna Moffo for Franchi's only opera recording, Great Moments from Die Fledermaus; and a trip to London to record another album with Wally Stott-- Women in my Life (released in 1964). Franchi recorded three more Red Seal albums for RCA released in 1963 - Our Man From Italy, The Dream Duet, and Broadway, I Love You. All three of these classical Red Seal albums peaked on the Billboard 200 Pop charts in 1963. His debut album, Romantic Italian Songs continued on the Billboard 200; and with four albums on the Billboard 200, Franchi's star in America had truly ascended! He completed the year as the opening act for Juliet Prowse (they knew each other in Johannesburg) in an acclaimed performance at the Coconut GroveLos Angeles' most opulent supper club.

"New Favorite Son of Las Vegas" Sergio Franchi's February 1964 appearance at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas attracted the attention of Time magazine, as his performance eclipsed that of the star performer, and "he kept getting standing ovations and multiple encores." Time magazine called him the "new favorite son of Las Vegas." His Las Vegas appearances were now regularly covered by Mr. Pop Culture and Mr. Pop History. Reviewers began commenting upon his new relaxation, development of a warm persona, and noted the emergence and appreciation of his innate sense of humor. Franchi returned to Chicago's Palmer House Empire Room (teaming with Pat Cooper) for an "extended stay," and the versatility of his repertoire was duly noted. In New York he opened as a headliner at the Copacabana, and Franchi's talents in singing, dancing, and comedy were prominently featured on six television specials: with "Victor Borge at Carnegie Hall" ("the evening's major hit"), Meredith Willson's Texaco Star Parade special ("..a rich, virile.. baritone...with a thoroughgoing sense of musicianship.") a Bob Hope Chrysler Special (Franchi "stole the show right out from under me!") and three appearances on The Hollywood Palace. Franchi teamed with Jimmy Durante's troupe for a tour of the Northwest, with appearances in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. Sergio Franchi made a noteworthy appearance at the "35th Annual Chicagoland Music Festival" in August 1964. Franchi was featured with such stars as Pete Fountain, Johnny Cash, June Carter, and Wayne King—and all of the performers were ecstatic at their reception by an audience of 56,000 at Soldier Field. Sergio Franchi's year was capped with a starring performance at the Coconut Grove, (where he recorded his Sergio Franchi - Live! at The Coconut Grove album on October 15, 1964). and a headlining return to Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel with Phil Silvers. 1964 was an important year to Franchi for other professional and personal reasons. In a decisive move towards attracting a more main-stream pop audience, he changed from the Red Seal to the Black Seal label with RCA (recording The Exciting Voice of Sergio Franchi album), and changed his professional representation to the William Morris Agency. He moved his family from London to a Park Avenue apartment in New York City, filed the first papers in declaration of his intent to become an American citizen, and negotiations for a role in a Broadway musical were successfully concluded.

Do I Hear a Waltz?-- It was Meredith Willson who initially brought Sergio Franchi's name and talents to the attention of Richard Rodgers when he was casting the leading role of the romantic Venetian shopkeeper, Renato Di Rossi. But, as pointed out in a Billboard Magazine article, a successful show-business personality like Sergio Franchi was taking on a new importance for Broadway...especially in selling blocks of theater party tickets. (Regarding the financing for "Waltz;" Richard Rodgers provided $450,000 and Columbia Records provided about $105,640 of initial financing. Advance ticket sales of $900,000 indicated a lengthy run despite mixed reviews.) Franchi liked the score and embraced the idea starring in a Richard Rodgers production, although it meant giving up a large portion a year's income from his concert dates. Rehearsals started on January 25, and the Broadway show would be the focus of Franchi's endeavors until the musical closed on September 25, 1965. Rodgers wrote the song "Bargaining" especially to showcase Franchi's vocal dexterity and to provide comic relief in the score. With his powerful voice, Franchi sang all of his "Waltz" performances without a microphone. Having made his mark on Broadway with acclaim for his vocal performance (and some positive ones for his acting). the demand for Sergio Franchi appearances continued strong in 1965...with performances at the Congressional Club's huge annual luncheon honoring the First Lady; a televised Madison Square Gardens Benefit; a United Nations delegates concert; and continued activity in recording albums and singles for RCA.

Franchi Continues Success as RCA Album Artist 1965 was a very big year for Franchi in terms of notable RCA Victor albums. RCA released Franchi for the caster of Do I Hear a Waltz? which was recorded by Columbia Records; his Live! At The Coconut Grove album was released early in the year; he recorded The Songs of Richard Rodgers; and he recorded his evergreen Christmas album, The Heart of Christmas (Cuor' Di Natale). Franchi's Live! and Christmas albums both peaked on the Billboard 200. Capitalizing on Franchi's popularity, three albums of the Durium recordings he made in Europe were also released this year. Franchi also recorded two singles in 1965: one containing two selections from "Waltz," and "Moon Over Naples." For all of his successes with his albums, Sergio Franchi never had a "hit single," and at least one reviewer stated that Franchi "was in need of better material" for the singles market. RCA appeared happy to have a successful album artist, and used their Franchi album emphasis when signing other artists (e.g. John Gary) There is some anecdotal evidence that Franchi wished to have more influence on musical choices for his singles recordings. He had heard a Bert Kaempfert tune and asked to record it. The lyrics for "Moon Over Naples" were then written by Charlie Singleton. When this Franchi single did not take off right away, it was re-written as "Blue Spanish Eyes," but given to another artist. Franchi was very upset over this turn of affairs, did not record another single with RCA for at least a year.

In-Demand Entertainer Over the next several years, Franchi's career shifted into high-gear with a packed schedule of memorable concert bookings. He did take time out in 1966 to welcome his sister, Dana Valery, to the States and catch her acclaimed Broadway performance in "Wait a Minim!" In 1968 he also took time to see "Waltz" co-star, Elizabeth Allen (actress), in her starring role in the "Cactus Flower" road show in Chicago. On the casino circuit, Franchi appeared in Las Vegas in a series of three Sahara Hotel bookings (usually 3–4 weeks each) co-starring with Buddy Hackett... and a gig at the Nugget Circus Room in Sparks, NV with the Osmond Brothers opening for him (Franchi now "one of the world's top entertainers"). He also starred in notable return engagements at the Copacabana, and at the Plaza Hotel Persian Room in New York; a debut with packed performances at the Century Plaza Hotel's Westside Room (with Phil Silvers) in Los Angeles; his debut at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel; and several weeks at The Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel Blue Room Gala Reopening. On the International scene, Sergio Franchi was a regular annual performer for about a decade at the El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico during their high winter season; and he made several Centennial-related concert dates in Canada.. including the televised CBC Centennial International series. At the start of his popular annual appearances at Palumbos in Philadelphia, Franchi received a standing ovation before he sang a single note! Another memorable concert date (See Chicagoland above) in the Chicago area was in April 1968 when he was the featured guest at the 78th Annual Sveas Soner ("sons of Sweden") Men's Chorus Concert in Rockford, IL. His performance garnered front-page coverage and a rave review in which the reviewer noted Franchi's meticulous pre-performance rehearsals, a strong desire to please his audience, and humor directed at himself as key ingredients (including his voice) leading to audience acclaim. In spite of a crowded schedule, Franchi found time to continue appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Hollywood Palace," The Tonight Show and other television specials ...punctuated with regular benefit performances on behalf of his various philanthropies. Sergio Franchi had become one of the most popular acts in show business...a highly successful multimedia entertainer.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria and Other Projects As noted elsewhere, the handsome Italian tenor had received numerous movie offers, but none that suited him. Touted as a "Mario Lanza with sex-appeal," the connections between the two tenors would diminish but not stop. In 1963 (noting that RCA got as much fan mail for Mario Lanza as for Elvis Presley), Franchi turned down an MGM offer to star in Lanza's life story. Hedda Hopper quoted him as saying "If I did it well, I'd always be remembered as the man who played Lanza. If I didn't do it well, heaven help me." On a more personal note Franchi stated, "I don't want go down in history as the man who played the role of Mario Lanza...I want to be remembered for myself." In 1968 Franchi accepted a non-singing, supportive role in MGM's The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Franchi was in awe of his co-stars, Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani, but soon got tired of all the waiting around. He stated he preferred performing on Broadway, where each night is different and a challenge to make it new. Unlike Mario Lanza before him, the opportunities for musical films had almost completely disappeared. However, Franchi was considered for, but did not get the role he really coveted...starring in the film version of Man of La Mancha. Franchi was hoping good reviews of "Vittoria" would help... and, indeed, Franchi's performance drew strong praise from critics: Stanley Kramer was delighted by Franchi's performance, and stated that Franchi "went from slick nightclub performer to peasant beautifully." But "La Mancha" was envisioned as a block-buster in need of a major star, and Peter O'Toole got the lead with singing dubbed by Simon Gilbert. After his Broadway role in "Waltz," Franchi continued to be considered for new roles on stage. At one point it was announced that he was to play in Meredith Willson's planned production of "Christopher Columbus—1491;" but for various reasons it never was produced on Broadway, but produced in 1969 by the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Association. Also mentioned in the 1970s was a Broadway role in a Rudolph Valentino show ("Ciao, Rudy") that Marcello Mastroianni did in Rome. In several later articles, it seemed that Franchi's appearance in a revival of South Pacific was eminent, but those production plans were not finalized. Franchi's return to Broadway was more than a decade away. His down-time in Italy did afford Franchi some valuable reflection time, some considerable new fame (Ed Sullivan traveled to Italy to interview his friend Sergio Franchi and Virna Lisi), and Franchi returned from the five months filming in Anticoli Corrado, Italy ready to make some changes in his life. Franchi had recorded several more albums for RCA: From Sergio - with Love, and There Goes My Heart in 1967; I'm a Fool to Want You and Wine and Song in 1968. However, Franchi did not renew his contract with RCA in 1969: he signed instead with United Artists Records, with whom he had made the soundtrack recording, The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Then later (in 1971), he signed his next recording contract with Metromedia. Without a contract for new recordings by Franchi, over the next decade RCA Victor then issued a series of compilation albums (would be titled "Greatest Hits" today) for the popular Franchi...and dozens of collaboration albums featuring one or more of Franchi's Christmas songs. Also in 1969 Franchi moved his family residence to where he and many of the other great singers of the day were working...Las Vegas!

Read more about this topic:  Sergio Franchi, Career, Stardom in America

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