A nostalgic look at idol's disastrous '61 visit A Fabian CRUSH

October 29, 1994|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun Staff Writer

Hearts throbbing, ponytails bobbing, hundreds of breathless bobby-soxers gather outside a Luskin's discount store in Northwest Baltimore, awaiting an appearance by teen idol Fabian.

The girls, some as young as 9, bunch at the entrance, clutching their Brownie cameras and autograph books, and peering through the plate-glass windows to catch a glimpse of the handsome rock star.

The crowd swells to 600 youngsters, then 800, then 1,000. They spill into the street and onto parked cars. Alarmed by the numbers, policemen arrive with dogs to maintain order. The girls see the dogs and inch closer to the store.

Someone screams, "He's here! He's here!" and the mob surges forward, a teen-age crush collapsing toward its idol.

It seems like a script for a John Waters film. But it actually happened here 33 years ago. Call it the Fabian Phenomenon.

Jeanne Z. Kushner was there, in 1961, as a 12-year-old. And she is likely to experience a nostalgia trip on Monday night when Fabian (last name: Forte) returns to Baltimore for a 7:30 p.m. oldies concert at the Baltimore Arena.

Only a psychotherapist could figure out the sociological implications of the Phenomenon. Luckily, Jeanne Kushner is one.

"Why do little girls flock to see the stars? Because they have dreams," says Ms. Kushner. "In their innocence, they think the guy is going to wink or smile at them and say, 'I want to hold your hand.' "

Join her now as she journeys back to an era in Baltimore when Catholic girls like Ms. Kushner were warned at their parochial schools that attending an Elvis Presley film was a mortal sin.

Tour guides for the trip include Buddy Deane, who featured Fabian on his TV dance show; Mr. Waters, the Baltimore filmmaker who treasures such snippets of local history; Jack Luskin, the discount magnate who promoted Fabian at his store, which sold records along with refrigerators; Anne-Marie Pagano and Joyce Rudnick, two sisters who also were there; and Fabian himself, who had to be smuggled into Luskin's in a cardboard box.

Though he has performed in several shows locally since the Luskin's appearance -- most recently at the Inner Harbor five years ago -- Fabian has never forgotten the episode.

"Was I frightened in Baltimore? Absolutely," says Fabian, now 51. "We can make light of it now, but it was an extremely scary situation."

Boxed in

On a cool, damp evening in March 1961, a nondescript van rattles through Pimlico toward Luskin's Super Discount House in the 4900 block of Park Heights Avenue. Its cargo: a handsome 18-year-old rock-and-roller who is short on vocal talent but long on charisma.

Music isn't Fabian's forte; three instructors gave up trying to improve his singing. No matter. Slick marketing, an Elvis-style pompadour and that catchy moniker have made Fabian the quintessential pop icon.

Baltimore embraces him big-time. Earlier this day, 300 youngsters clamber up Television Hill to greet Fabian as he leaves The Buddy Deane Show after lip-synching his latest single. A phalanx of policemen leads Fabian to the van, which speeds toward Luskin's, where a larger crowd is gathering.

Those girls, many of them card-carrying members of the Fabian Fan Club, wait anxiously to greet their idol, whose credits include three raspy Top 10 hits ("Turn Me Loose," "Tiger" and "Hound Dog Man"), several record albums and a number of film appearances.

The crowd ignores the van, which circles the block and stops at a side entrance to unload a large appliance. Or so the lettering on the big box says.

Moments later, Fabian is spotted inside the store.

The crowd storms ahead, pushing those at the front of the line against the large storefront window. The window shatters, raining pieces upon the frightened crowd. Within minutes, the street is filled with dazed youngsters, wailing ambulances and emergency personnel. Eighteen people -- 17 children and a city policeman -- are whisked to area hospitals with minor injuries.

Though unscathed, Fabian is hustled from the store (for his own safety, police say) and escorted to the Northwestern District station, where he is politely asked to leave town -- after signing autographs for the officers.

"I never did get to see Fabian," says Ms. Kushner, who was slightly hurt at the store.

She says Sinai Hospital declined Fabian's offer to visit its emergency room, where most of the injured were taken, because "there were too many glass windows there."

Today, Ms. Kushner, 46, has a practice in Towson, a family and a feeling about Fabian -- though it's a match, not a torch, that she carries.

"Would I like to see him now? Oh my, that would be a trip," she says. "Some secret little crushes really do stay with you.

"Fabian was a heartthrob, with that cute pompadour and those romantic, glittering eyes that you just fell in love with. And I was a good little Catholic girl thinking what it would be like if he were to smile at me, or hold my hand -- nothing heavy duty.

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