Marcucci was a friend of Fabian's next door neighbour. One day Fabian's father had a heart attack, and while he was being taken away in an ambulance, Marcucci spotted Fabian. Fabian later recalled:
He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, 'So if you're ever interested in the rock and roll business...' and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was fucking out of his mind. I told him, 'leave me alone. I'm worried about my dad.'"
However when Fabian's father returned from hospital he was unable to work, so when Marcucci persisted, Fabian and his family were amenable and he agreed to record a single.
Frankie Avalon, also of South Philadelphia, suggested Forte as a possibility.
"They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks," recalled Fabian, "and out I went." "He was the right look and right for what we were going for," wrote Marcucci later.
Fabian was given an allowance from the record company of $30 a week. He also kept working part-time at a pharmacy as well as studying at South Philadelphia High School, while practicing his singing. Fabian:
I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew my goal, to try to make extra money. That meant a lot to our family. I rehearsed and rehearsed, and I really felt like a fish out of water. And we made a record. And it was horrible. Yet it got on [the legendary Philadelphia rhythm and blues radio program] Georgie Woods. For some reason, Georgie Woods played it.
The song was "Shivers" which was a local hit in Chicago. This helped Fabian secure an appearance on Bandstand. Fabian:
I got to meet Dick Clark. He talked to me for a long time, and then put me on the show. The daytime show, before it went national. The response – they told me – was overwhelming. I had no idea. All during that period, I was doing record hops. Not getting paid for it, but for the record company promotions. Just lip synching to my records. The response was really good.
The song he sung on Bandstand was "I'm in Love" which Fabian later admitted "was not very good either."
Marcucci then gave Fabian a song written by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus, "I'm a Man" which Fabian later said he "liked a lot and was very comfortable with, was giving me more experience, but I still felt like a fish out of water.” The song made the top 40.
Marcucci then heavily promoted Fabian's next single, "Turn Me Loose" using a series of advertisements saying "Fabian Is Coming", then "Who is Fabian"?" then finally "Fabian is Here". It worked and "Turn Me Loose" went into the Top Ten, peaking at number 9. This was later followed by "Hound Dog Man", (US #9; UK #46), and his biggest hit, "Tiger", which reached #3 on the US charts. Other singles that charted included "String Along", "About This Thing Called Love" and "This Friendly World", which reached #12 on the US charts. At 15, he won the Silver Award as "The Promising Male Vocalist of 1958."
In 1959 Forte told a judge he was earning $250,000 a year. He kept up his studies and graduated high school in June 1960.
During the payola scandal of the 1960s, Forte testified before Congress that his recordings had been doctored electronically to "significantly improve his voice."
His career in music basically ended when he was 18 after he bought out of his contract with Marcucci for a reported $65,000. "I felt controlled. I felt like a puppet," he said in 1974. "It was frightening, like a three-year nightmare."
Marcucci later admitted to punching Fabian on one occasion when the singer sat in the aisle of a movie theatre, not in the middle of the row liked Marcucci had asked; Fabian was spotted by a teenage fan who screamed. Marcucci was angry that he did not see the film and hit the singer.
In 1963 he signed a contract with Dot Records.
However he spent the next thirteen years concentrating on acting.
"Acting came natural to me," Fabian said later, "I don't know why."
Hound Dog Man was not a financial success but Fox found they could use Fabian in supporting roles such as High Time and North to Alaska. In November 1960 his contract with the studio was amended with an increase in salary – it was a seven year deal with an option for two films a year.
When Fox temporarily shut down following cost over-runs on Cleopatra, Forte was one of the first actors whose options were exercised after the studio re-opened. He was considered to play the lead in Beach Party (1963) but was unable to do it because of his contract.
Most of Forte's early films were comedies and cast him as a restless teenager with a penchant for singing. However, he received critical acclaim for his performance as a psychotic killer in "A Lion Walks Among Us" for the TV show Bus Stop. This episode was highly controversial due to its violent content, with many affiliates refusing to run the program, and was mentioned in the US Senate. However the show was good for Fabian's acting career, and saw him regarded with more respect.
In October, Fox announced it had picked up Fabian's option to make three more films for the studio, starting with Custer's Last Stand. However that film was not made and Fabian made no further films for Fox.
He performed in John Loves Mary in summer stock in 1962.
Forte later admitted the pressures of his career and home life caused him to start drinking in the 1960s. From June 1969 onwards he was billed as "Fabian Forte".
In 1973 he began singing again. In order to raise his profile he posed nude for Playgirl magazine. "I knew it was a mistake the minute I saw the thing sold in a paper bag," he said later. "I could barely live with myself."
He retired once more in 1977, then resumed performing in 1981. Forte never regained his teenage popularity, but has continued performing. Recently[when?] he has been appearing with Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell to perform concerts as The Golden Boys.
The 1980 film The Idolmaker, written by Edward Di Lorenzo and directed by Taylor Hackford, was a thinly-disguised biography of Fabian (called "Caesare" in the film), as well as songwriter/producer Marcucci (called "Vinnie Vacarri") and Frankie Avalon (called "Tommy Dee"). In the movie version, singer Caesare—a pretty boy with little singing talent—goes through a whirlwind of success in a short time, and in a fit of pique, he abruptly fires his songwriters and quits his record label.
The real-life Fabian Forte launched a $64 million lawsuit at the time of the picture's release, claiming the film made him look like "a totally manufactured singer, a mere pretty face without any singing ability of acting talent." The filmmakers insisted that the movie presented only fictional characters (even though Marcucci was a paid consultant on the film).
Forte claimed they settled out of court, where he and his wife received apologies and Marcucci's 7.5% ownership of the film passed to Forte.
He was drafted, but rejected, for military service during the Vietnam War. According to USMC Lt. Col. Arthur Eppley, Forte was declared 4F (unfit for service) after presenting a doctor's note stating that induction into the Army could cause him to develop homosexual tendencies.
Race car accident
In 1978 Fabian was participating in a charity racing event in Watkins Glen New York. He was practising at a Mojave Desert stock car racetrack under the instruction of professional drive Bill Simpson when he rolled his car and suffered minor cuts and bruises.
In 1982 a jury found him 40% liable for the accident (Fabian testified that Simpson repeatedly urged him to drive faster while Simpson testified that Fabian suddenly accelerated wildly in spite of his orders to slow down). He received $32,000 in an out of court settlement.
Also in 1982 Forte was arrested for sticking his cigarette into a passenger who asked him to put out the cigarette in a non smoking section of an aircraft. The passenger turned out to be a District Attorney but no charges were laid in the end.
Marriages and children
Forte has been married three times. His first marriage was to model Kathleen Regan in September 1966. They had two children together, Christian and Julie, before separating in June 1975. In October 1975, Forte was arrested after an argument with Regan in which he was accused of hitting her. He was put on probation for two years.
The couple divorced in 1979. "My fault," said Fabian.
He married Kate Netter in 1980. They divorced in 1990. In 1998, he married Andrea Patrick, a former Bituminous Coal Queen and Miss Pennsylvania USA. He and Andrea were later sued by the resort where they were married for unpaid bills. Fabian relocated from Los Angeles to Fayette County in Pennsylvania to be closer to his wife's family; he and his wife were sued by the builder of their house, also for unpaid bills.
In 2013 he said he played "25 shows a year. It gets me out of the house.... I've never been happier. [At home] I ride my ATV and tractor and cut the grass. Where I grew up, there wasn't any grass."
He and his wife also work for Gladys Magazine.
All albums use Forte's mononymous name "Fabian". Before going to Chancellor records, Forte cut two albums on his own, one of which contained the original version of the song Old Time Rock And Roll, but both albums were a commercial failure.
A Summer World (1961) - for 20th Century Fox with Dolores Hart and Bradford Dillman about a high school student who falls for an older woman based on a script by Howard Koch from the novel by Richard Dougherty - directed by Franklin J. Shaeffner
Custer's Last Stand (1965) - an often-postponed film for Fox where Fabian was to play an Indian scout
a migrant farm labourer in a biopic written by Alex Grasshoff, who had previously made a documentary about him for David L. Wolper - this was a passion project for Fabian who spent weeks researching the film (circa 1967)
Bury an Angel (1970), film made by Burwalt Productions starring Robert Fuller and Sherry Bain
Golden Boy (1972) - produced by David Roseman and William Lieberman under the direction of Herbert Hantman from a screenplay by Lory Patrick – also starring Paul Micale and Jacqueline Bosordi - also known as Murder Can Be Fatal