connie feature

The Early Days Of Rock N’ Roll – An Interview with PR Pioneer Connie DeNave

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When Connie DeNave started working “in the publicity department” at ABC in 1955, rock ‘n roll music was becoming a mainstream, teenage-cultural phenomenon.  A prime venue for watching and listening to this music and the musicians who played it was Dick Clark’s televised show, American Bandstand.  After working at ABC for three years, Connie worked exclusively as Dick Clark’s private press agent until 1961.  Soon after leaving Dick Clark, she started her own public relations company called Image Makers.  At that time, she was the only woman press agent working in that business, and her clients included such performers as Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Avalon, Sarah Vaughaun, and Chubby Checker.   In 1962, Connie traveled to London and scoped out new and then unknown musical acts such as the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones, and Herman’s Hermits, among others.  She is one of the persons responsible for bringing these groups to America and creating what is now called “the British Invasion.”

Connie has written an autobiography, I Rocked and I Rolled, which is about her life and career in public relations and the music world.  The manuscript is now being considered by publishers.  I sat down with Connie and talked with her about her life and career; this is an advanced preview for NewsWhistle readers.

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connie 5
Connie DeNave, portrait by Bruno of Hollywood, 1961

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ERIK: Would you talk about where you grew up, schools you attended, and any hobbies you had?

CONNIE: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and you can never get the Brooklyn out of me. The area is called Carroll Gardens now.   It was a hundred percent Italian.  My father often spoke of how after he married my mom, he went out applying for jobs. He was a licensed, master electrician who worked on the wiring for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, downtown. His name was Louis Francois DeNave.  The man would say to him, “You’re not Italian, right?”  My father would say, “No, I am Italian.”  They would tear the paper up.   He was interviewing for a job one evening at 5:30 p.m., and the man who was interviewing him said, “You’re not Italian, are you?”  My father said, “Yes, I am Italian.”  The guy said, “Well, don’t bother coming back.”  So my father went home, and in his sleep that night, his dead mother came to him and said, “Louie, get up in the morning and go to work.  Go to work.”  My father got up and my mother said, “There’s no job.”  My father said, “I don’t know why but I’m doing it.”  So he went to work and there’s his application still on the desk, and there was a new hiring man who asked my father, “Hello.  Are you Louie DeNave?  I see you’ve come on time for your job.”  My father said, “Where’s the other gentleman?”  The man said, “Oh, he died in the middle of the night, unexpectedly.”  My father said, “Thank you very much.”  Then he stayed there for like thirty years.  The Italians and the Irish have horrible stories to tell about their lives.  My grammar school was P.S. 143.  Then I went to Prospect Heights High School for girls.  The teachers kept skipping me, which was proving to be a big problem for my father.

ERIK: You were too smart?

CONNIE:  Yes.  So I applied to Hunter College.  My parents thought it would be acceptable because it was an all-woman college.

ERIK: You applied at sixteen?

CONNIE:  Yes.  Maybe, even earlier.  It was a tough school in the past.  I always got an A plus, but now I was getting the worst marks.  I didn’t understand what the teachers were saying because, remember, when I was skipped, I missed out on learning subjects like English.  I never went to bed early because I had so much homework.   For every hour in class, you had to have two hours of homework.  Dean Anthony called me into her office at the end of the first term, told me I was never going to survive, told me I should relax and just enjoy college.  So, I joined every extra-curricular activity and my marks went from Ds up to As and Cs.   What happened was I relaxed.  I wasn’t so up-tight.  I formed a lot of extra-curricular activity courses.  Like, freshman orientation.  A lot of girls at Hunter had nervous breakdowns, so we got them psychological help.  We had a thing called SING, where all the classes competed, almost like the old minstrel shows.  You had to write your own lyrics and have your own theme.  When I became a sophomore or junior, I became chairman of SING.  I think that’s where my public relations experience really began.

When the teachers were the judges, I arranged to have a simple flower arrangement saying “thank you very much.”  Nobody had ever thought of a tea for them, so they could sit comfortably through all the performances.  Fights were not allowed.  No fighting … discussions, yes.  You have three minutes on each side and don’t give me any crap because I’m too young to be handling all of this?

ERIK:  You’re organizing people and getting them to perform and show up on time.  Probably telling them how they look.  What did your mother think of all this?

CONNIE: My mother?  When I was in the house reading, she would come into the room and say, “For God’s sake!  Go outside and get some sunlight.”  I couldn’t sleep at night because there were so many books to read and so much homework.  She would come into the room at two in the morning and say, “Close up the books!”

ERIK:  Did you have any musical hobbies?

CONNIE:  No.  I was too busy for that.  I loved to roller skate.  I loved to play marbles.   I played marbles with the boys one day and I beat them.

First place, I think.  When I went home, my father insisted, because I took all their marbles, that I go and give them back their marbles.   I learned at an early age that girls can’t do certain things.

ERIK:  Like win?

CONNIE:  Like my mother said, “It’s not fair.  Kid, as you get older, you’re going to find out there are a lot of things that are not fair.”

ERIK:  She must have been very supportive?

CONNIE:  Very much so.  She got angry when I moved out at twenty-two or twenty-three.  Because, at that time, you had to be married to move out.   I went to work one day at eighty-thirty in the morning.  When I got to my office, my mother was on the phone: “Connie, how can you leave the house like that!?  It’s so embarrassing.”  I said, “What mama, what?”   She said, “Your slip is showing.  Three or four neighbors have called, already.  You don’t do that, Connie.”  My solution?  I took the God damn half-slip off and I never wore one again.    Can you imagine that people have nothing else in life but to phone my mother to say my slip was showing?

ERIK:   But even more so is the social condemnation?

CONNIE:  That I’m improperly dressed and I embarrassed everyone.

ERIK:  So you’re getting exposed to the social limitations of what a woman can and can’t do?  

CONNIE:  That’s the sad part of it all.  I didn’t get to be aware about my mom being so limited and I used to think I was the greatest daughter in the world.  Now that I’m older, I realized I wasn’t.  I didn’t support my mother when she wanted to get a part-time job at a corner store.  Because my father said, “no women in the house will work.”  I wasn’t aware until later.  I got involved in woman’s rights.  I didn’t understand about segregation until I went to Washington in the late forties, early fifties and I saw a sign that said, “For Colored Only.”  I didn’t understand that.  I had black friends and it freaked me out.  So growing up in an Italian household, I realized I had to get over the Brooklyn Bridge.  I had to.  I went to college and graduated in nineteen fifty-five.

ERIK:  Did you follow any of the early rock n’ roll music?

CONNIE:  No.  The big bands meant a lot to me because I was dancing a lot. Then rock and roll started coming in.  We loved rhythm and blues.  Nobody told us it was black music.  It was just great music.  We didn’t have signatures on things.   It was just cool music, so when you danced you danced dirty dancing because you were allowed to dance cheek to cheek with a boy until the priest caught you.

ERIK:  When Elvis Presley appeared on Ed Sullivan on September 1956, did you watch that show?

CONNIE: No, I didn’t. By that time I was working in the publicity department at ABC and I got phone calls asking if I had anything on Elvis Presley.  I asked them if they could spell it.  I never heard of him and I didn’t understand what the commotion was about.  Presley had been on the Jackie Gleason show but we didn’t know anything about Presley.  I was more into Fats Domino.  I also listened to a singer named Jimmy Clanton.

ERIK:  Did you listen to any black women singers like La Vern Baker?

CONNIE: No.  Later, when I handled Dinah Washington or Sarah Vaughaun.  Again, I didn’t think of them as black singers or black music.  They were just women singing certain songs.  Nothing had titles or categories. It was only as things progressed, like if you saw a show or maybe a movie that might have something about a black person or a white person.

ERIK: The movie, Black Board Jungle?

CONNIE:  Yes.  Things like this.  That’s when we became aware of it because mom and dad never talked about it.

ERIK: Why did you pick ABC network to work for?

CONNIE: The only thing I loved at that time in my life was television.  I did a pro and con list; what I loved the most.  I put down television.  What I disliked the most: I didn’t want to do office work, typing, steno.  I thought CBS is kind of fancy but ABC is kind of a baby company.  So I marched myself over there with my resume.  There were two men in human resources, which in those days was called personnel.   I said to these two men, “I need a job, guys.  I want to be here, but my typing sucks, my steno was even worse, but my spelling is so, so.”  I was lucky because I was a hot-looking girl.    I started to take the typing test and one of the men takes me out of the chair, sat down and took the test for me.  After the test, he said, “Connie, there’s a job for only two weeks.  Temporary.  Do you want to take it?” I said, “I’ll take whatever gets me a foot in the door.”    After about three or four days, I was outside in the big pool where all the different desks were and I saw this tiny, elegant woman sitting on a crappy chair.  I walked by and said to her, “Hi, I’m Connie DeNave.”  She said, “I’m Mari Yanofsky.  I’m the magazine editor.”  So, Mari said to Ernie Stern, the man I worked for, “What are you gonna do after Connie is gone?”  Stern said, “I don’t know.  Why?”  Mari told him, “I need an assistant and I want her.”  She was in the publicity department and she was the network’s magazine editor.  Her job was to provide stories on all ABC people to all the magazines. Time. LifeLook also the fan magazines.

Once I was hired, I was doing other activities like giving dance lessons in the warehouse on my lunch hour to some of the guys who had to learn to dance the Cha Cha Cha.

I was really getting to know the insides of the company.  Mari turned the fan magazines over to me.  So one editor, Bessie Little, would have to service ten different teen magazines like Photoplay.  I figured out the way I could get good publicity was to do the editor’s job.  One day I went to the photo department and I said to the photo editor, “I need photos of our stars, kicking.  Raising their foot.”  And he helped me pick ten photos out and I would put a caption under each picture.  Then I would send it to Bessie and say, “ABC star, Robert Fuller, gets a kick out of life.  ABC stars who get a kick out of life.”  So, I delivered the whole layout, the pictures, etc.  All she had to do was throw it in a magazine.  Eventually, at the end of the year, I was doing so well that if there were ten stories in a magazine, I got eight of them.

ERIK: Who wrote the stories?

CONNIE: I did, but they weren’t stories. They were pictures with big captions.

ERIK:  If there was a feature story in a fan magazine, did you write it or did you hire writers?

CONNIE:  We did it.  Everything had to come out of house.  In those days, if I sent a paragraph to Bessie, with her knowledge, she could expand it into five paragraphs.  Whatever they needed to fill their pages.  They weren’t handling just one magazine, they were handling lots of magazines.

ERIK:  Were you doing this kind of press every week?

CONNIE:  Every week of every minute of the day, I’d go through the photos.  Hugh O’Brian was Wyatt Earp.  My first day on the job, there was a photo shoot. Remember, I’m an Italian girl who wasn’t only a virgin, I hadn’t been close to a man.  My job on this shoot was to draw hair on his chest.  O’Brian was wearing an open collar shirt.  The photographer said to me, “Connie, go over there and add a few hairs all around there.”

ERIK:  Did you use a pen?

CONNIE:  No.  I used an eyebrow pencil.

ERIK:  What did O’Brian think?

CONNIE:  The poor bastard just sits there and lets some kid do this.  They didn’t think anything of it.

ERIK:  You were really starting at the bottom line of creating an image?

CONNIE:  Yes.  I started to use the word because while I was in college, I took a psychology class.  In the class, they used the word to mean how we create an image by the very little things we do.  I used it after I graduated. So, I transferred that to press.  If I got a column item, it was an eye or an eye brow.  If I got a half-page story in a fan magazine, it was a pair of eyes.  So, when you got finished with what I planted, you got the whole picture.

ERIK:  What do you mean by “an eye or an eye brow?”

CONNIE: You start a publicity campaign and one day you get one sentence in a column.  Then, you get a fan magazine that comes out giving you a cover and an inside story.  Now, you put that column item, that fan magazine, that T.V. Guide mention together, and you’ve created an image.  So when I see Hugh O’Brian, I would see a sophisticated, outdoor person who is not a cowboy, but takes his role seriously.

ERIK:  You worked at ABC and you were doing a lot?

CONNIE: But I wasn’t famous. 

ERIK: But it was inside the business?

CONNIE:  Yes.  But, I wasn’t well-known.  I was still a flunky … a person who does their job; no glamour, nothing.

ERIK: How did you decide you wanted to work for Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  That’s where my instincts came into play.  One day, we were doing publicity and delegating show handlers.  When we got to our magazine section, Mari and I, the show handlers did not want to handle American Bandstand, and they didn’t want to handle the cowboys.  I kept raising my hand and I said, “Mari, we can do this.”

ERIK: What is a show handler?

CONNIE:  A show handler was in charge of getting press for every aspect of a show.  They could come to the magazine department and goose us.  They could come to the photo department and say, “Let’s get some shots to the Daily News.”  Everything.  That was their job.  We had a column man.

ERIK: They had to work with a columnist?

CONNIE:  A columnist.  A writer.  A television person.  A radio person.  Remember, radio was big then.  So I just fell in love with this kid, Dick Clark, and I liked the cowboys.  I simply did my fan magazine stuff and I spoke to Dick after a few weeks.  He said, “What can I do to help you get more press?”  I said, “Why don’t we start on the fan magazines?  I’m good there.  The trouble is, you would have to be here to do an interview.”  Talk about a hard-working man.  He said, “Connie, I can take a five o’clock bus and I can be there by six-thirty.”

ERIK: Where was he?

CONNIE:  He lived in Philadelphia.   As long as he left by ten o’clock to be back on air.  That man did it three times a week.  I had my editors right by the bus station and they would interview him.  Then Mari had Parade Magazine, and she helped him with some bigger names.  We kept working it and working it.  Plus, I had these cowboy shows.  I thought James Garner was going to be a big star.  Jack Kelly.  Clint Walker.  There were other things about the cowboys that I liked.  I was doing a lot of press on that so Warner Brothers sent the cowboys in to me.

ERIK:  When did Dick Clark come on with American Bandstands?

CONNIE:  Probably, 1955, 1956. [1]

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ERIK: How long did you work for Mari Yanofsky at ABC?

CONNIE:  I worked for Mari for four years.  I worshiped her.  She was everything to me.  Even when I got married, I took her to help me pick out my wedding grown.

ERIK: When did you start working for Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  I left ABC in 1959, but I was working for him all the time I was at ABC.  I serviced his show like I serviced all the others.

ERIK: When you left ABC, did you work exclusively for Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  Yes.  I was his personal press agent.  There were different problems.  For example, when Dick had the Saturday night show, my office was in “The Little Theatre,” next to Sardi’s restaurant.  I was at Sardi’s morning, noon, and night.  Vincent Sardi was like my father.  He took good care of us.

ERIK: So when you went to work for Dick Clark, it put you at the center of this new music scene?

CONNIE:  Yes.  I was a baby superstar that was behind the scenes.

ERIK:  Were people knocking on your door for tickets or trying to get an introduction to Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  Yes.  I never go involved in booking the show because that would have been a little dicey.  You had to go through production and all that.

ERIK: When did you leave Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  I didn’t leave him, they fired me.  I think they fired me in 1961.  I was a one-woman operation with no secretaries, no help, and press was all over the place.  Dick had an agent/manager named Marv Josephson, the head of ICM.  Marv felt I was a young girl and they needed a big operation because Dick was now international.  A great operation.  So they decided to hire Rogers and Cowan (a well-established public relations marketing firm) and I should be let go.  I was stunned.  Not only was I being worshipped for the job I did but the job was magnificent.  It was like, you save twelve people’s lives but then one of them sues you for something.

Two days later, after I was fired, I went to Laurie Records.  I remembered the Schwartz brothers.  I didn’t tell them what had happened.  I told them I was going to start my own company and I needed office space.  I told them I would do press for Laurie Records free in exchange for a desk and office space.   They were anxious about why I left Dick.  They didn’t want any trouble.  I told them Dick was very kind, but I wanted to start my own business.  They said fine.  I called Dick Clark Productions the next day, told them where I had an office and asked them to refer anyone calling for me.  That day, Dick sent a huge bouquet of flowers with a note, “You’re my girl.  I wish you the best of luck.  I’m so proud of you.  Dick Clark.”  That was his way of letting the industry know he still loved me.

ERIK:  In your July 1965, Esquire profile, you mention inheriting two clients from a recently deceased friend.  Who was that friend?

CONNIE: I inherited Fabian and Frankie Avalon from a woman named Doris Kushner.  She was the publicist for them. Their manager Bob Marcuchi, came to me and said the boys need looking after.  I told him I’d take care of it.  I already had Connie Francis and Dion and the Belmonts.

ERIK:  You stepped right in?

CONNIE:  People started hiring me and as the business grew, it got to be too much for Laurie Records.  I started to get busy and I needed help. Laurie Records was near Fifty-Seventh Street.  So I started walking uptown thinking I had to do something.  I walked by Carnegie Hall on Fifty-Seventh Street.  I passed this plain, simple building, which had a sign on the front, “For rent.”  I found the maintenance man of the building and asked him, “What’s for rent here?”  He said, “You may as well know, honey, the thirteenth floor.”  I said, “Take me up.”  There was this kind of ugly office that had a bathroom, private office.  I said to him, “Can’t rent this floor?”  He said, “Never.” I said call the landlord and tell him you got somebody.  So the landlord comes over and says he wants seven hundred dollars a month.  I said, “What … are you kidding?  I got three hundred dollars to my name.  I’m just starting out.  You’ll be lucky if I can get the rent for next month.”  Then I told him who I worked with and I asked if I could have the back section of the office.  I got the place.  There was no lease, it was month to month.  I called my dad up and told him I was in business: Image Makers.  Because I was often referred to as the “image maker.”

ERIK: That psychology course really keyed you into something?

CONNIE:  Image Makers was a great name at the time.

ERIK:  You were handling well-established names?

CONNIE:  No.  Not really.  They were talked about and they started becoming big.  Connie Francis was big.  Fabian and Frankie Avalon were hot, but they still weren’t there.  Andy Williams I got later on.  That’s part of the beginning.  I had an actor named Jim Franciscus.  A short time later, I signed a young Burt Reynolds.  Later on, I handled the actor Sal Mineo.

ERIK:  After you opened your own office, how did you acquire forty-three acts in three months?

CONNIE:  I think they fought like crazy to get in.  I had to have a column man.  I had to hire staff.  I hired a sixty-three or seventy-three year old woman to be my executive secretary.  She was working in a big corporation and because of her age, she was let go when her boss died.  I told her, “screw your age, I don’t know what I’m doing.”  I was twenty-two at the time.  I nick-named her Mike.  I asked her, “Do you know anything about rock-n-roll?”  She said, “No.”  I said, “Good.  We can help each other.”  She was a real pro.

ERIK:  She must have been keeper of the gates?

CONNIE:  Oh yeah!  In fact, when the payola scandals hit, I got tapped by some Congressional Committee who wanted to confiscate my files.  They were going after big time payola and they threw Dick Clark [2] into the pot, trying to prove he took kickbacks, but he didn’t need it.  He was buying radio stations and he was very rich.

ERIK:  So they came after you?

CONNIE:  They came after him and thought he set me up.  Therefore, any of my acts appearing on his show was payola.  But, when they looked, they realized a lot of my acts weren’t on his show.  They asked me, “Why not?”  I said, “We didn’t need him.  We were doing good.”  Dick never told me they were coming.  Years later, Dick told me at that time, it was very trying for him.  But when he and his attorneys were reading the transcripts, I was more occupied with Virginia Hill, a big mob girl who was on television, talking about the mob.  I saw she used to wear hats.  So when the committee was asking me questions, I said, “Will I be on television?  Do you think I can wear a great hat?”  Dick told me, it drove the committee crazy.

ERIK:  How did you orchestrate the Peppermint Lounge scene?  (It was located at 128 West 45th Street.)

CONNIE: It was one of my publicity stunts.  Bob Crew and I were going around and found this little dive with a chauffeured driver outside.  Bob said to me, “You know, Connie, if you find a place like this we can make the Twist happen.”

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ERIK:  So you had the account for Chubby Checker.  Did you get that through Dick Clark?

CONNIE:  No. Cameo-Parkway [3] was one of my clients through Dick.  Chubby Checker was one of my clients.  He had the number one hit doing the twist.  I think we put a Rolls-Royce outside the Lounge and a few other cars.  Some guy had a band and we hired a couple of dancers to go in and keep doing the twist.  Then a few of the columnists got hold of the fact of what was happening at the Peppermint Lounge and it became a very “in” place for the wealthy.  Everybody had to do “the twist.”

ERIK:  Now it was a scene?

CONNIE:  Yes.  I didn’t make any money from it.  I used it to get my people in and out.  Then “The Twist,” was re-released and it went to number one again.  Then to get Time Magazine to recognize it, I took two girls from my office and met with the men and women of Time Magazine and I said, “I’m here to teach you how to do ‘The Twist,’ because you gotta live.  Really.”  So I gave them a couple of dance lessons.  That’s how we finally got a mention in Time Magazine.

ERIK:  How did you get Greta Garbo to go to the Peppermint Lounge?

CONNIE:  That was easy, because socially I had friends.  If you went to a dinner party, you’d just talk about it and we just told her all about it.  She doesn’t call you and say, “Connie, I’m coming.”  She just comes.  That’s all.  That’s what was happening.  We knew who was coming and who was going.

ERIK:  What happened when she was there?

CONNIE:  We let the press know she was there.  Not me.  It was my column man and a few other thousand people.  Garbo said to me, “I am a strange one.”  I said, “I’m strange.”  But she did come.  She was a gentle woman.

ERIK:  Shy?

CONNIE:  I never engaged in heavy conversation.  We were passing acquaintances.

ERIK:  Did you ever encounter Garbo after that?

CONNIE:  I really don’t know. There might have been a couple of dinner parties.  You tried not to bother her, which I think she appreciated.  She would chat with some men and you’d make eye contact.

ERIK:  You recognized or began to recognize the generational shift occurring in the culture, specifically in the music business.  Now the American teenager was a serious consumer market.   

CONNIE:  It was everything.

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esquire article connie denave
“Image In The Marketplace” article, Esquire, July 1965

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ERIK:  Did you get a lot of resistance promoting these artists/musicians?

CONNIE: In the beginning.  But then what happened, we made Dick Clark the pied piper of the youth.  And every major company in the world wanted to tap the teen market, as it was called.  I guess the evolution started in the sixties.  So if you wanted anything to do with the teens, you went to Dick.  I am quite sure he had a company that could accommodate whatever your needs were.  I remember there was a book on future markets and they went to Dick to analysis the teen market.  Very serious.  Big, big bucks.  I guess I was one of the teen-market experts.  That’s when you would see me in Esquire [4]  or other magazines. I think upfront, they had a picture of Donna Kushner, me, all the great leaders of that market. 

ERIK:  Alan Freed?

CONNIE:  Alan Freed was always ahead of everyone but… he cashed in on it.

ERIK:  You were riding a wave?

CONNIE:  I created a wave.  I had a motor on my ass and I was going from wave to wave.

ERIK:  You saw this . . . ?

CONNIE:  Trends.  There were tons and tons of trends.

ERIK: Plus a shift in taste?

CONNIE:  Clothes changed.  Mod came in.  England became hot.  So you used to buy your boots at Carnaby Street.  All of that became very in.  When the mini-skirt came in, it was just considered outrageous.  Shocking.  You didn’t see a mini-skirt in an Italian neighborhood or a Jewish neighborhood.  When we got off the subways, we were wearing one, you just didn’t go home wearing one.  And you wore white boots.

ERIK:  And the movies were another factor?

CONNIE:  Sure.  Bob Hope called for Fabian to go on tour.  I think John Wayne had Fabian appear in a couple of his movies.  We did the beach movies.  Life was very fast.

ERIK:  Harassment?

CONNIE: I never screwed around.  It never dawned on me.  I had to have the good-girl-respect image.  That’s what I was getting from the men.  I saw how they treated tarts or bad girls.  So the men in business were absolutely fine with me.  Once-in-a-while I’d get a comment that today would be insulting, but with me it went off my back.  One top executive, every time I walked into his office, and there could have been thirty people around, his opening was, “Man, Connie, every time you walk into this office, I get a hard-on.”  That’s how he greeted me.

ERIK:  I don’t think you can say that today.

CONNIE:  Today, the guy would be fired.

ERIK:  1965 seems to have been a peak year for you.  You got a lot of press?

CONNIE:  Yes, but Andy Williams suggested to me I could be getting too much press and that meant it could have been dangerous for me and my business.  I could become more important than my clients.  I pulled back.  I thought it best to stay in the background.

 ERIK:  Your unique style of making a business deal was a handshake agreement.  How did you determine you could trust someone or they in turn could trust you?

CONNIE: I had lawyers and contracts as all businesses have, but my reputation was “you could trust me.”  Most of the clients wanted a handshake and they were right.  I would never, never break my word, no matter if I ended up losing on the deal.  It was a question of honor. . . something I took seriously.  I still do.  My father said to me that as I went forward with my career, the only thing he cared about was not my success . . . but my reputation.  I honored him and he was right.  I did no harm, kept my word and made sure my name was respected.  (I still live that way.)

As for judging people, I go with my instincts.  I was let down once in a while, but now that I think about it, I was pretty lucky picking people in my life.  I was screwed by some, but that is part of life . . . and remember, I felt I was protected by most of the men in the industry, so if there was bad news heading my way, I was often cautioned or warned to stay clear. . . and I did.

ERIK:  Did you go into the recording studios and watch the musicians record for a label?

CONNIE:  Sure.  I loved a lot of the kids.  But I wasn’t the typical, ass-kissing hanger-on press agent type.  I didn’t have to be there to hold my client’s hand, because I taught my clients to stand tall.  You’re being trained by me.  I knew how to dress them.  I told them what you do answer and what you don’t answer.  When you sit down make sure there are no drinks in front of you.  All of that, I taught them.

***

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Connie with Herman’s Hermits

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ERIK:  Which comes directly back to image making?

CONNIE:  Exactly.  They had to know.  I remember a client who is now a big producer in Hollywood.  Very handsome guy.  And he was doing the Dick Clark show.  I used to always dress my acts.  And this particular time, I made him take a shirt, a blue pullover sweater and dark pants.  I told him, “This is what you wear on the Dick Clark show.”  He said, “I really don’t like this.  I don’t think it’s gonna go.”  I said, “You’re gonna do what I’m telling you because I have the experience and you don’t.”  Two days later he was doing the show and afterward he called me.  I answered the phone, “Hello?”  A voice says, “Connie!  This is Vic.” And I hear lots of banging in the background.   I said, “What the hell is that noise?”  He says, “I have to tell you!  The sweater worked.  I’m stuck in a phone booth with a thousand fans and they’re gonna kill me.  Before I die I had to tell you!”

ERIK:  You knew what had sex appeal?

CONNIE:  I just knew.  That’s why the wave was easy for me because I was living it.

ERIK:  In the new-image world of music, were the old timers looking like window dressing?  Were they getting pushed out of the business?

CONNIE:  They escaped it.  They absolutely didn’t know what the hell to do with us.  For them, it was like going into a diner and ordering ham and eggs and you serve them a kangaroo steak.  And they sit there thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?  I don’t need a kangaroo steak.  I got my money.  I got my career.”

ERIK:  As you got to know the artist(s) you were working with, were there psychological elements you enhanced in the performer(s) the fans would respond to?

CONNIE:  You have to remember, our people were young.  And there were managers who would make them insecure so they were always going to be useful in their lives.  That’s not all managers, but it occurred.  So, we would sit down and talk to our acts.  Is there anything that frightens you?   Anything you need to know?  Here’s the place for you to ask it and if you’re frightened, you tell me.  If there’s a problem, tell me.  Most of the young men were macho.  They didn’t need guidance or anything.  There was a situation where the boys had opportunities to have tons of sex.  I used to raid their rooms with my security guards.  I told them, “You had two fourteen-year-olds and one fifteen-year-old visiting  in this room.”  They said, “We weren’t having sex.”  I said, “I don’t give a shit.”  They said, “But, where are we gonna do it?  They’re gonna lie to us if we ask them their age.”  I said, “No.  Simple.  Ask them, ‘Do you drive a car?  Show me your driver’s license.  Now, you would know their age.’  You damn well be careful because everybody is going to want the money you earned last night.”  That kind of thing.   I had to help them.  Nobody else was going to do it.

ERIK:  Was organized crime ever involved in any of the press you were doing?

CONNIE:  No.  Nobody would have had the balls to come near me.  Public relations had to do with the press.

ERIK:  What about in the music business?

CONNIE:  I knew about [one person] but you had no proof about anything, and you kept away from anything you thought was suspicious.  It was an innocent time.  The evil didn’t start coming around until a little later.

ERIK: Talk about how competitive some of the music managers were?

CONNIE:  To them it was a game.  For example, if I had a song called ABC, and I am recording it.  Mr. Jones finds out I’m recording; he then figures out what the song is.  He then goes into another studio and records the same song.   Now, they’re pressing records overnight.  So while the first guy is ready and loading up his truck to go to all the records stores to distribute the record, the second guy is ahead of the time, and he’s got two trucks out distributing.  When the first guy shows up, instead of him being the primary performer, he is now covering what he originally had.  They thought it was clean, competitive fun.  Of course, you lost millions, but whatever.  That’s how they did it.

ERIK: In another conversation, you told me how bored you had become with the style of music being played in America in the early sixties, and how that prompted you to inspect the British music scene.

CONNIE: I probably went to London around 1961.  In our time, when we had a record, it had a sound, and you could listen to that song and you would almost know where it was recorded.  You went into certain studios because you had a “sound.”  It was unique.  After a while, people were helter-skelter and just doing it. Someone told me, and I don’t remember who it was, that London was having some very interesting songs.  And I said, “you know what?  I’ll go to London.”  And because I had a television background, I fell in with a nice TV crowd.  I said, “I’m here for music.”  They said, “you can go to this club or that club.”  As I started going to the clubs, I would ask the musicians, “Who’s your manager?”  “Are you thinking of coming to America?”  Some of them would say, “Yeah, but.”  I said, “I’ll tell you what. If I can get you to America, I can make you into a star.  Definitely.”  As I signed them, I went to a company that was booking acts.  They didn’t want the Beatles, which broke me up.  We signed some acts, but I went around to all the different booking agents.  But then, as I was starting to bring the acts in, there was a problem on Broadway.  Four British shows on Broadway were shut down by the unions.  It was shocking because everything on Broadway was British at that point. It was a big problem and caused a major negotiation. That’s when Ed Sullivan got involved, because he needed these British acts for his television show.

***

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Connie with The Bachelors

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ERIK:  What was it about the London sound you picked-up on?

CONNIE:  It was alive. It was fresh. The people were dancing.  They were wearing different clothes.  It was another planet, another space.  It was rebellious because the Rolling Stones had long hair, the Beatles had long hair.  I had the Merseybeats.  All of the London sound was new.  When Freddie and the Dreamers performed, I used to watch their foot go up.  I said, “Write a song; Do The Freddie.” [5] It became number one.

ERIK:  Among the British bands you signed Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Rod Stewart, Freddie and the Dreamers.  How did you sign the Rolling Stones?

CONNIE:  Nobody wanted the Rolling Stones when I signed them.  I went to the manager and made a deal because when they came over the first time, it was a big failure.  They played several shows but they were bombing.  They had no following.  The agents who were involved did a lousy job.  The new management didn’t do a great job.  I guess I saw them then, when they came over.  And I said to them, “this sucks.  No good.”

ERIK:  You saw them in London?

CONNIE:  Yes.  Brian Jones, who was a Rolling Stone, would climb under a table at a club, put his head next to me and say, “If you’re good, I’ll tell you who’s coming.  Do you love me?”  I would say, “Yes, I love you.”  We would sit there and he would say, “Here comes George!”

ERIK:  When did the Stones catch on in America?

CONNIE:  So now they have a new management team.  The agency they had did a bad job, but it wasn’t all their fault.  The Stones were very upset and they had to change management about two or three times.  So they went back to London and I started to argue with London Records, telling them they were using the wrong song.  I told London Records if I get the song, I’ll take the kids.  They gave me trouble but I said, “no.”  The song was Satisfaction. (I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.)  I just knew instinctively what people would buy.  So Satisfaction started hitting. There were riots.  Everything started to happen, like the concerts they did.

ERIK: By the end of the sixties, you were well established?

CONNIE:  I was established by 1962.  At that time, I was the only woman in that business.  Everyone said I was going to be a failure.  Everyone didn’t give a shit about rock ‘n roll.  I told them they are wrong.

ERIK: And you handled black acts?

CONNIE:  God, yes.  I had Sam Cooke.  Sarah Vaughaun.  Dinah Washington.

ERIK:  Did you have any doo-wop groups?

CONNIE:  I had Motown.  The Temptations. Martha and the Vandellas.  Premiere Talent had Frankie Lymon and those groups.  I had to go bigger.  I had to get power for them.  The trusted me completely.

ERIK:  In the 1970s, you saw the music change again?

CONNIE:  Around 1974-1975, I was getting bored.  New acts were happening again.

ERIK:  You mean, the punk scene?

CONNIE:  No.  I never took an act that I thought was okay for two years.  I only believed in acts that were going to last forever.  All my acts did.  They are all alive and well and still selling.  Rod Stewart … all of them.

***

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Connie with Morgana King

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ERIK:  What did you do when you got bored in the 70s?

CONNIE:  I went to the state of Washington.  There were groups of… bands there.  I went wherever there was music I could sell.

ERIK: Then in the 80s?

CONNIE:  By 1984, I started to fade.  I had it.  One, I was getting older and two, I couldn’t relate.  It was my time to go.  When you see Adele, she is special but for those fans. 

***

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Connie (in white) with colleagues at the GRAMMY Awards ceremony, 1975

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ERIK:  You were also involved in the women’s movement?

CONNIE: Oh, God, yes!  I created Women in Music.  Half the men asked me what did they do wrong.  I said, “Nothing.  I’m just trying to train them so they don’t have to be secretaries.”  In my business, I felt that I had reached my capacity where I had value.  By 1984, I was done. It was their time.   Plus, I was now handling a lot of actors.   You have to learn when to quit too.

*** 

After retiring from the public relations business, Connie opened Jeweldiva.

Connie DeNave LinkedIn

Based in NYC with 30+ years in the business, Jeweldiva features rare and highly collectible diamond and gold fine jewelry as well as costume jewelry by Chanel, Haskell, Kenneth Jane Lane, Dior, Iradj Moini and more. The website (URL) for Connie De Nave is www.jeweldiva.com.

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Erik La Prade C 2017

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ABOUT ERIK LA PRADE

Erik La Prade lives in New York.  His interviews and articles have appeared in Art In AmericaThe Brooklyn Railartcritical, and others. His latest book is NEGLECTED POWERS. Last Word Press. 2017. Some of his poems currently appear in J Journal.  He has a B.A. and M.A. from City College.

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ENDNOTES

[1] A show called “BANDSTAND” premiered on October 7, 1952, on Philadelphia public television station WFIL-TV, hosted by Bob Horn, a dance show host. It featured Dick Clark playing records. Four years later, on July 9, 1956, Horn was arrested on drunk driving and Clark took over as host. On August 5, 1957, ABC aired the first national broadcast of “American Bandstand,” still filmed live in Philadelphia, from 3:30 to 4:00 p.m.

[2] 1959/1960.

[3] Cameo-Parkway Records was the parent company of Cameo Records and Parkway Records, which were major American Philadelphia-based record label from 1956 (for Cameo) and 1958 (for Parkway) to 1967. Among the types of music released were doo-wop, dance hits, popular/rock, rockabilly, bit gand, garage rock, soul and novelty records. . . . In 1960, Checker’s cover of Hank Ballard’s “The Twist” became Parkway’s first big hit. Although Ballard’s version only reached #16 on the R&B chart in 1958, Checker’s version went to #1 in 1960, and again in early 1962. Wikipedia. Reference: The Cameo-Parkway Story. Mike Callahan, David Edwards and Patrice Eyries. Copyright 1997, 1999, 2003 by Mike Callahan.

[4] Dundy, Elaine. II. THE IMAGE IN THE MARKETPLACE: These kids have something too—like an agent who’ll sell it. Esquire. July 1965. Pg. 82-116.

[5] A short-lived 1960s dance fad based on the songs I’m Telling You Now, and Do The Freddie.” performed by Freddie Garrity, lead singer of Freddie & the Dreamers.

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IMAGE CREDITS

All photographs courtesy of Connie DeNave.

Article reprint: Esquire magazine, July 1965.

Rock & Roll Dance 1957 video: Vintage Swing Dance/ YouTube.com.

Peppermint Lounge video:  pocoloco59 / YouTube.com.

Social media screenshot: LinkedIn.