“The Ab Duo,” Frankie Avalon’s saying. “This machine, it’s amazing.”
We’re in Florida, fresh off the plane, having been conveyed by Lincoln Town Car to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and deposited at a crowded breakfast table with The Man Himself, he of the black hair, the smooth voice, and the Beach Blanket Bingo swim trunks. Avalon grew up blocks from Jerry in South Philly, and shares his preoccupation with muscle tone. He looks fit in a t-shirt and a black ball cap. Pretty immediately, Jerry tells Avalon the story of his recent brush with death. “There is no need for them to ever again cut you,” Jerry says, “unless you need a massive surgery.”
This comment triggers a round of surgery stories. The guy next to Avalon in the turquoise jacket turns out to be Dick Fox, Avalon’s manager, who also represents Jerry Lewis. Fox pipes up about his quadruple bypass. A woman at the next table hears this, leans in, and says, “If you’re not careful, I’ll talk to you about my brain surgery.”
“Are you kiddin’? … ”
“ … I got dizzy,” she says, “and I got a cyst. And the cyst started growing.”
“Check please,” says Dick Fox. “I just had breakfast.” He shakes his head. “I was 60 last week! Six-oh. It’s killin’ me.”
The Geator turns to me and says, “He’s one of the real old-time guys left. There’s no longer guys. Everything’s big agencies.”
What happens next is an informal game of Showbiz Trivial Pursuit. Avalon gets it going. “You know that song?” he says, and starts to sing, softly:
There’s a small hotel, with a wishing well …
Avalon’s asking who wrote it.
“Rodgers and Hart?” the Geator says.
“Charlie Chaplin,” Avalon says.
“ … I think he stole it from Rodgers and Hart,” the Geator says.
“Can you look it up?”
They’re looking at me. At my laptop.
I load Wikipedia, read the song’s entry out loud:
“‘There’s a Small Hotel’ is a 1936 popular song composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. … The song is a reference to El Encanto, a hotel in the Riviera neighborhood of Santa Barbara, California. … ”
“So I was half-right,” says Avalon.
This is more than mere trivia; it’s the marrow of the showbiz tribe. None of the institutions that created and sustained these guys are around anymore — no American Bandstand (just its tawdry copy, American Idol), no records (just singles, on iTunes), not even any record stores, the kind where a kid could walk in, spin a 45, and listen to the entire record before buying it. “You can’t do that today,” the Geator says.
“Well,” I say, “with iTunes, actually, you can listen to a 30-second preview of any song — ”
“Stick it up your ass with your iTunes,” says Dick Fox.