29 October 2005 | garytheroux
Nice biopic -- if you think Lymon's wives were more important than he was
It was true in the '50s and still is today: it's no exaggeration to state that most hitmaking careers are over in 18 months. Teen idols fare the worst, and such was the fate of Frankie Lymon, who scored but three Top 20 hits between February 1956 and the summer of 1957: "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," "I Want You To Be My Girl" (both with The Teenagers) and "Goody Goody" (as a soloist). After that, the industry and music buyers considered him to be yesterday's former fresh face. And, like most young teens who become overnight sensations, Frankie's firework-long popularity came to cripple him later as a) people would not accept him as anything other than a 13-year-old and b) he was utterly unprepared to cope with real life once his flash of fame had ended. An insightful peek into Frankie Lymon's mercurial life would have made a great movie -- but this isn't it. Instead, we get only a superficial look at Lymon, as the movie focuses instead on the three women who claimed to be his wife. Lymon does not deserve to be shoved into the background of his own biopic, especially as his story is representative of the rise and fall of many flash-in-the-pan artists who find themselves revered by the public one minute and then dumped into history's ashcan the next -- often before they really reach the summit of their skills. (Believe me -- as the writer of "The History Of Rock 'n' Roll," I know this all too well.) The three women battling over his estate were more a footnote to his story than the real drama and far too much time is allocated to letting the three female leads each take a star turn. Yes, Zola Taylor was the best-known of the three, but she is portrayed following her run with The Platters as an in-the-money solo star headlining live shows with her giant hit "Only You." Are the producers kidding? Zola Taylor didn't even JOIN The Platters until AFTER "Only You" had become a million-seller! The Platters scored big as the most successful hitmaking singing group of the late '50s (1955-9), despite the fact that the "group" was really lead vocalist Tony Williams -- with the others as mere background singers. (What were The Doors, for example, without Jim Morrison?) Zola only sang lead on a couple of minor Platters chart items -- and after leaving the act, immediately sank into near total obscurity. The Platters' golden era ended in 1960 after Tony left on his ill-fated solo career. (I explored this in great detail while assembling a 60-track Platters career retrospective 3-CD box set.) None of The Platters really made much money at all -- as they were mere salaried employees of their manager, Buck Ram. Ram wrote much of their material, told them what to sing and how, produced their records, owned The Platters' name and (no surprise) kept nearly all of the loot himself. The portrayal of Morris Levy, who owned several labels including Gee (the recording home of Lymon and The Teenagers) was pretty accurate. Not all record labels screwed artists as thoroughly as Levy's did, but his methods were none too unusual for the time. In fact, they're not much different than what the industry does today!