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The Idolmaker

Born in 1930, Robert P. Marcucci opened a record shop in a Philadelphia's farmers market in 1957. He decided to produce his own records, achieving his first hit with Jodi Sands "With All My Heart."

Marcucci discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian. In 1959, Robert's company Chancellor Records has more than $10 million in sales. He produced such hits as "Too Young to Love," "De-De Dinah" and "Why."

Robert left Fabian, Avalon and the pop music scene in 1965. He found the pervasive "acid rock" not to his tastes. Marcucci devoted himself to managing actors like Philip Michael Thomas and gossip columnist Rona Barrett.

A chance meeting with producer Gene Kirkwood in 1978 led to the development of the classic film The Idolmaker in 1980, which is based on Robert's life.

Marcucci produced the 1984 film The Razor's Edge, 1985's Stitches, and the 1985 TV movie A Letter to Three Wives.

I stop by Robert's Westwood townhouse on Monday afternoon, February 25, 2002. He sits in the living room before a huge screen television. His desk is covered with actors' headshots and he wears several silver chains around his arms and neck.

Robert: "I thought Bill Murray would bring young people in to The Razor's Edge because he was so involved with young people."

Mathew Partridge writes on Imdb.com: "The supposed 'straight' role that Bill Murray performed in this adaptation of the novel by the same name is why it failed. On the back of Stripes and then Ghostbusters, people found it hard to accept the deadpan face of Murray fronting a movie examining belief systems and the meaning of life. The screenplay charts the spiritual and philosophical growth of Larry Darrell (Murray) as he begins to question the materialist world building up around him. Darrell's search within takes him across the globe through many different scenarios, and Murray adds a welcome dose of humanity and - to be quite frank humor, as he treads the path to salvation."

Robert: "The picture would've done better if it weren't for the marketing Columbia Pictures did on it. If you're looking for a comedy, this is not the movie to look for.

"Murray did a decent job. He may not have been Tyrone Power [the lead in the original 1946 movie] but he wanted this movie badly. When he came to me and said that he wanted this part, it impressed me. He'd just finished Tootsie and he'd done a wonderful job. I did this movie [The Razor's Edge] primarily because I wanted young people to see it. It had a great message. That whatever you are trying to find out about yourself or about life is really within you. You don't have to go around the world,. It is all within you.

"When I first purchased the [novel by Somerset Maugham] property, I purchased it for television. I had a network interested in doing it as a four-hour miniseries. These two producers came to me, Rob Cohen and John Byrum, and said they had a big name star [Murray] to play the lead. And I wasn't into Saturday Night Live so I'd never seen much of Bill Murray. I met him. He wanted this part so badly.

"I went to my dearest friend [Hollywood journalist] Rhona Barrett. She said, you're doing it for young people. Who could bring young people in more than he can? And yet that didn't happen because of the marketing. It was unfair. If his fans would've come to see this, they would've enjoyed it. I got depressed about it because it didn't do what I wanted it to do.

"Somerset Maugham's novel is based on a true story. When the first movie came out in 1946, it was the first movie to hit on hypnotism, drugs and prostitution. It was a way out movie for that time.

"My next movie was A Letter to Three Wives. Ann Southern, who played one of the leads in the first one [1949 movie] played the mother of one of the girls in my 1985 TV movie.

"If I got back to doing movies, I would try to do classics, and do them inexpensively. I would love to do A Razor's Edge for television now."

Luke: "So what brought you from music to motion pictures?"

Robert: "The Idolmaker came out [in 1980] and though it didn't become the hit that I wanted, it did give me recognition. My dearest friend Rhona Barrett got me into a meeting with the president of MGM. He talked to me about what I should do. He said, 'Robert, here are the choices you have. You can go out and buy a book and do a movie. You can get yourself a star and manage him. Or you could do a horror flick.'

"Out of the three of them, I thought the best thing to do would be to buy a book, not knowing that books can cost $500,000.

"I remember the movie A Razor's Edge from when I was 17 years of age, which had impressed me so much, and I thought it would be a great movie for television. I found the property wasn't owned by 20th Century Fox anymore and had reverted to the estate of Somerset Maugham [managed by agent Ned Brown]. A week after I bought the rights, I got the phone call from John Byrum and Rob Cohen.

"Stitches didn't work out for me at all. It turned out terrible.

"I'm going back to Philadelphia March 8 to see if I can restart Chancellor Records. And if you have a hit record, you can go out and make a movie.

"The most incredible man who did the right thing with his career was Tom Cruise. He put himself with Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, and made himself well liked by the younger crowd, the older crowd...

"I met Rhona Barret in 1958 when she came to write an article about Fabian. We became the closest of friends. We're like brother and sister. She opened the door to Hollywood for me [around 1960]. She introduced me to everyone in Hollywood. I was a naive boy from the streets of South Philadelphia. I didn't realize that people also looked forward to meeting with me because I had two of the hottest rock stars in the country - Fabian and Frankie Avalon, who became motion picture stars.

"I remember telling the head of these studios that music is an important part of the motion picture. And they said no, we don't really need that. It's now been proven that soundtracks can make as much money as the motion picture.

"I remember when Frankie started doing all the beach party movies by American International Pictures (AIP). AIP made these movies for $300,000 and made a fortune."

Luke: "Did you guide Rhona Barret's career?"

Robert: "There was a moment there [about 1964-70] when I wasn't doing anything. I took her under my wing and told her what I thought she should do. Rhona is brilliant. She loved what I did with Fabian and Frank. I took that premise and applied it to her. Instead of sending her on a concert tour, I sent her on the road. Publicity is a form of success. She did national television. She did all these shows, 'Rona Barret Looks At...' Which is what Barbara Walters is doing now. Rhona did it first.

"I watched her get all the facts. It was true even though they called her a gossip columnist. Then the news started doing Hollywood stuff though they didn't want to call it gossip.

"She's retired to San Inez, near Santa Barbara and selling these jasmine and chocolate products."

Luke: "Tell me about The Idolmaker."

Robert: "Gene Kirkwood was a client of mine [in the 1960s]. He had a great look but I told him he seemed more to belong behind the scenes. 'You should spend your time making movies rather than pursuing acting.' So he went his way and I went mine.

"Then in 1978, I went to La Scala for lunch and saw Gene. I congratulated him on doing Rocky. I said I was writing a book on my life. He asked, 'What's it called?' I said, 'The Idolmaker.' He said, 'I want it.' Well, that's Hollywood. You're having lunch and someone says I want it. I'd only had one chapter done.

"Gene kept on calling me. So I said, 'Have your writer come and meet with me.' Edward DiLorenzo met me and came back to Gene and said, 'This is an incredible story.' When I read the first script, I said, 'This is an incredible story. Not because it was about me. It's just a wonderful story. Any manager in the country could identify with it. It had everything. It was about a young boy from the streets who has a dream. He wants to be a star in his own right and he lives vicariously through these two wonderfully good looking young men. It was Gypsy, except with a man.

"The next thing I knew, we had a movie up on the screen. When it wasn't successful financially, it bothered me tremendously. I got into a real state of depression. Then I saw things in there that were true about the idolmaker himself and I never realized that I indirectly used those two boys for my own benefit. I didn't hurt them or abuse them. But I saw things about myself that I didn't like. Then I saw this young man who took unknowns who didn't have the greatest talent in the world and made them into giant millionaire stars.

"I didn't realize how good the picture was until years later. And I watched the movie and I cried like a baby because I saw the movie with different eyes. I didn't see it with all that anger and disappointment. I called the director Taylor Hackford up and said, 'You did a brilliant job.'

"The movie has done more for me than anything else I've touched. To this day, young people that I manage, come in here and know that movie. It's a cult classic. I met Quentin Tarantino at a party once. I told him how in awe of him I was. He asked for my name and I said. And he said, 'Oh my God, the idolmaker.'

"And I still haven't written my book. But there is talk that UA is thinking about taking The Idolmaker to Broadway. I think it would be a great Broadway show. It's Gypsy, Grease and Bye Bye Birdy all wrapped up in one. I'd love to see Kevin Spacey play me. I'd like to go out and find two kids and build them, so when the play is ready to come out, I will have two stars.

"I'm not finishing my book until I have a happy ending for it. So if The Idolmaker is made into a Broadway play, I will have a happy ending. I want a happy ending, not for my ego's sake, but to encourage the young people of America.

"I don't live in the Hollywood world. I live in a homey client situation. I'm 72 and I want to get back to creating the youth of America.

"The record business sucks right now because the people running it are gutless. They don't want to take chances. They have too much logic. Logic and creativity don't go together. When I brought Fabian in, they said I was the craziest man in the business. And he sold over one million records.

"I'm tired of hearing all that dirty, filthy music. Not that I am saying it is wrong. If it is making money, God bless everybody."