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Thousands Relive Teen Years; Wildwood Revels in ‘Fab 50s’

By Al Campbell

WILDWOOD – It was as if the crowd of elder “yon teens” was back in the old neighborhood, if only for a fleeting weekend.
That was The Fabulous 50s Weekend that brought thousands of Philadelphia-area graying “teenagers” back to this city where, in the 1950s, young singers sang in nightclubs then went on to stardom.
Everyone spoke the names of those they came to see, as if at a private party with close friends: Chubby, Sally, Lucy, Charlie, Marilyn.
Some were groomed as they would have been going on a date back then: tight jeans, wavy hair slicked back, and cigarettes rolled in the tee shirt sleeve.
Others wore fluffy skirts and colorful sneakers, as if ready to jump into that 1957 Chevy and go off to cruise the strip on a Saturday night.

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That’s how it was Oct. 15 when teens of the 1950s and 60s flocked to Wildwoods Convention Center and its surroundings to relive their teen years.
Many spoke vividly of how they’d hurry home from school to watch “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark, broadcast from Philadelphia, and watch the latest dances and hear the newest releases on 45-rpm records.
One of their idols, Chubby Checker, the “King of the Twist” who popularized the swinging dance motion, came to town to receive first star’s plaque to be reserved on the Avenue of the Stars on Pacific Avenue.
Others whose names will be enshrined there include Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Charlie Gracie.
The adoring crowd of several thousand could hardly contain its enthusiasm when word spread that Checker had arrived.
The singer arrived in a gray van parked behind the stage where oldies music kept the crowd entertained.
At first, he was spotted by only a few. Then, word spread, and as if a floodgate opened, the pop singer was besieged by a bevy of autograph seekers and others who just wanted to have their photo snapped with him.
Checker obliged all with a friendly demeanor and smile, as if drinking in the admiration of so many.

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Called to stage several times, he was delayed signing those autographs.
He was greeted by Mayor Ernie Troiano, Jr. and presented with the plaque by Lou Costello, that tells of Checker’s accomplishment.
Checker told the crowd he recalled performing in Troiano’s father’s nightclub in those early years.
Just a few steps away from Checker, inside the convention center, lines formed to meet, greet and get an autograph from “Your Gal Sal,” Sally Starr.
She became an icon of the Delaware Valley as she hosted “Popeye Theater” on early television.
Like Checker, Starr seemed to relish the warm wishes and kind words of the people who made up that early audience of cartoon viewers.
A Saturday night concert at the convention center featuring Checker, Gracie, Charles Thomas’ Drifters, Buddy Holly’s Crickets and Shirley Alston Reeves sold out to the tune of 6,800 tickets. The four-hour show featured lots of sing-a-longs with Reeves offering “Soldier Boy,” and The Drifter’s “Under the Boardwalk.”
Checker wowed the crowd with a 90-minute high-energy set that had women screaming in the audience from his Tom Jones-like gyrations. He demonstrated a vocal style beyond “The Twist,” including songs from Elvis, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Haley and the Comets.
“The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again,” closed the show featuring a number of men from the audience up on stage demonstrating their “twisting” skills.
Checker also received the Wildwood Music Award, Oct. 16, outside Cool Scoops Ice Cream Parlor.
After the “The Twist” was released in 1959, Harry Levy, owner of Wildwood’s Rainbow Club at Pacific and Spicer avenues, booked Checker for the summer, he told the crowd.
“My life at that point just changed,” said Checker. “It was a wonderful thing that happened to me.”
He thanked Charlie Gracie for leading him to the Cameo-Parkway Record Company.
Other Wildwood Music Award winners were sax player George Young, whose Rocking’ Blocs played Wildwood in the late 50s and 60s. He went on to back up artists from Aerosmith to Frank Sinatra and played six years in the house band on Saturday Night Live.
Young said playing in Wildwood was “boot camp,” for his career.
Milt Trenier of the Treniers was honored after he pleased the crowd with a set of the Treniers’ biggest hits.
KYW Meteorologist Tom Lamaine presented Dick Richards, original drummer of Bill Haley’s Comets, the group music award.

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