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A Background In Music History
Frankie Lymon was a real-life rags-to-riches musical success story in the 1950s

Frankie Lymon was a real-life rags-to-riches musical success story in the 1950s. As lead singer of the pop singing group The Teenagers, Lymon had the ability to galvanize crowds with his sweet, expressive voice and remarkable stage presence. His most famous song, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, recorded on the Roulette Records label, was a nationwide hit that was later successfully covered by Diana Ross and remains a classic up-tempo lament.

Lymon's story, however, has its somber side as well. The talented young performer sold the rights to his music to Morris Levy, Roulette's unscrupulous owner, in a deal that denied Lymon and his fellow Teenagers any significant proceeds from their records' successes. Although his charismatic charm drew the attentions of women everywhere, including three whom he married, Lymon slid out of fame and into drug abuse, dying young and leaving a tragically slim legacy of songs and performances.

His brief life, however, attracted the attention of screenwriter Tina Andrews more than a decade after his death. Andrews, herself a young woman who had already enjoyed fame as a dancer, pianist and television and film actress, began researching Lymon's experiences for a screenplay she wanted to write.

"Frankie Lymon was a ghetto success story, a poor African-American boy who rose to nationwide fame on the sheer strength of his talent, his love for performing, and his unique bond with his audience," she explains. "But on the other hand, Frankie was the story of a young man victimized by the unscrupulous record business, of a gifted musician destroyed by drugs, and of a man whose relationship with women was nothing like the charming fantasy he implied on-stage. I was interested in the way that his success brought about his failure."

At about the time that Tina Andrews was obtaining the rights to Frankie Lymon's story, Harold Bronson, Managing Director of Rhino Records, was also looking into Lymon's life as a possible film topic. Rhino Records, which owns the rights to many libraries of music from the 1950s and '60s, including that of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, was considering the ways in which these rights might be creatively developed.

Bronson recalls, "The story of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers seemed like a natural at first. Frankie, who had his first big hit as a thirteen-year-old with Why Do Fools Fall in Love, was the first big singing star younger teens could relate to. Think of the Jackson Five when Michael was in his early teens and you get the picture.

"However, many people had tried to make this movie and none had succeeded in getting past the script stage, because the last part of Frankie's life was so sad and so unlike the first part."

In the fall of 1981 Diana Ross hit the Top Ten with her version of Why Do Fools Fall in Love, which renewed people's interest in Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers -especially the interest of Lymon's former wives. They began a court battle to determine what musical royalties were rightfully part of his estate, and who was now the legitimate heir to that estate.

A few years later, Rhino Films' head of production, Stephen Nemeth, met with Tina Andrews, who had already scripted her version of Frankie Lymon's story, focusing on the singer's relationship with Zola Taylor, the beautiful female member of the singing group The Platters. In light of more recent developments, Andrews, Bronson and Nemeth agreed that the real story lay in Lymon's relationships with all three of his wives.


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