In "Who's Sorry Now?" Connie Francis -- Italian American princess, high priestess of bubble gum -- stages a comeback every few paragraphs.
"Book me at Carnegie Hall," Francis shrieks, hopping over still another stumbling block. It's her mantra -- a rallying cry that never fails to get the juices flowing, those goose pimples popping. And the setbacks are plentiful, if, even to the most sympathetic of readers, rather puzzling. So much dark emotion is spent on early trivialities -- her first bra, a star-crossed teen-age romance with Bobby Darin, a tantrum on the rehearsal stage "the first time I ever heard that 'f' word" -- that when the real tragedy starts flooding in later -- a rape, the subsequent trial, the gangland murder of her beloved brother Georgie -- the hopped-up hyperbole has no kick to it, no pity or terror attached to it.
Francis begins her memoir well. Where most performers are evasive and diplomatic about their early lives, Francis is nuttily specific and bursting with comic enthusiasm. Born Concetta Maria Franconero in 1938, Francis comes on like an irreverent Geraldine Ferraro, alternately basking in and poking fun at her Italian American roots.
When the singer's mother, during hard times, told her father about Francis' impending birth, "he didn't speak to her for three months. (This is shocking only if you are not Italian.)" She grew up "everybody's little princess, always dressed in something new and starched." But she was determined to escape the grim fate of thousands of other insulated Italian women ("ambulatory talking Xerox machines"), for whom "sex is a spectator sport." Francis insists that as a teen-ager she was so ignorant of the ways of the world that, "Sex, to me, was some fancy store on Fifth Avenue in the city."
However, with the advent of her teen-age success, Francis turns cutesy and moony -- a literary nerd. The memoir for the next 200 pages takes the form of diary entries, sprinkled liberally with such antiquated expressions as "groovy" and "fantabulous," describing the singer's conquering of the world, The Dick Clark Show, and the heart of Bobby Darin.
Francis, who was not allowed to date (not even attending, alas, the prom), fell madly in love with Darin, later helping the teen idol to deal with the revelation that his "sister" was really his mother. "Ours was a world of starry-eyed romance," Francis writes, "hand-holding over shared egg salad sandwiches in Hansen's drug store, and dreaming the most stupendous dreams of a future together."
But this "time of bliss, a time of real love -- a sure-fire ticket to Heaven" was not to be. Francis' father scared Darin off by charging backstage at The Jackie Gleason Show, brandishing a pistol and "announcing his intention to obliterate Bobby once and for all." Darin escaped through a men's room window. Later, Darin married Sandra Dee. "For my father, it was VE day," Francis writes. "For me, well, I was an old Parisian lady sobbing openly on the Champs Elysees because the Nazis had just occupied my world."
Francis continues in this mawkish vein, describing her "seasonless and loveless tinsel world," relieved only by the applause of the crowd and a string of hits (in November 1959 alone, MGM released five Connie Francis albums. The singer claims to have sold more records than any female vocalist in history). The years 1960 to 1974, however, are disposed of in just two pages -- although during this period Francis apparently went through three husbands, a nervous breakdown, a nose job, and a touch of typhoid. The subsequent accounts of Francis' rape (despite its characterization as the "night when the music died") and the subsequent trial are vividly chronicled, but the memoir never recovers from this terribly written midsection.
Francis is not attractive in the thick of melodrama or with the continuous Vegas routines. (When she makes a funny, she nods parenthetically, "Thanks, Joanie Rivers" or "Thanks, Gabe Kaplan.") The singer is, however, appealing when frankly discussing her career or, in a stirring chapter, making arrangements for her brother's funeral. For such a self-described emotional pushover, Francis displays a kind of chilling resilience that still makes the book oddly worthwhile in this age of throwaway show business memoirs.
"Who's Sorry Now?" ends on a high -- a successful 1981 comeback at Westbury, the site of her 1974 rape. Since then the entertainer's highly publicized troubles lead one to believe that this catharsis was merely a flamboyant first curtain, a busy prelude to still another comeback. And, one hopes, a better-written sequel in which Francis plays hostess to her own survivor party.