Curtola gets real in Liverpool
Ex-teen idol, Coca-Cola pitchman has big plans for
By Beverley Ware ~ Halifax Herald ~ August 26, 2005
LIVERPOOL - Bobby Curtola thinks it's kind of cool that he changed the
ballast in the light of the dining room ceiling by himself the other day,
and that he washed his own van in the driveway.
"That's not normal for me to do. It's a treat to do that stuff," says
the rocker who in 1962 shot to fame as Canada's first homegrown teen idol.
"I've got to get grounded. I live in a very surreal world."
That's no overstatement.
Hundreds of sequined and velvet jackets hang neatly on a mammoth clothes
rack in the basement that runs pretty much the length of his house in Liverpool.
They're covered in bubble wrap to protect them.
Just about every wall in his house displays photographs of him with
people like Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Danny Thomas and Wayne Newton.
There are framed magazine covers, newspaper articles, record album sleeves
and golden 45s that tell the story of an astonishing life.
Bobby Curtola wears a chunky gold ring on his right hand that once belonged
to his friend, Elvis Presley. "He was a hell of a guy, a great guy."
The ring, of poured gold studded with two large diamonds and a hefty
black diamond, belonged to the King's father. Mr. Presley's estate gave
it to Mr. Curtola after the King's death in 1977.
"Imagine where my mind flashes back to when I look at that," Mr. Curtola
says. "It captures a moment in my life forever."
Mr. Curtola is 62 now and, in his words, "still going strong." He said
he has lived a blessed life. "Everything from now on is a bonus."
It hasn't been without its ups and downs - some of them quite recently.
He moved to Liverpool (he has other homes in Las Vegas, Edmonton and Vancouver)
with his girlfriend and her two young children a year ago. Before that,
he had been married for 29 years. Now he's single again, but he's not singing
"It's disappointing," he says, and he's clearly saddened at the end
of his relationship, but he takes great pride in his sons Bob, 42, Chris,
26, and Michael, 24. And the phone has already started ringing.
As always, work will carry him through. Mr. Curtola still performs,
though these days instead of on a Dick Clark show or at a Howard Hughes
hotel in Las Vegas, it's smaller casinos and conventions and a lot of work
for charity. He helps raise about $7 million a year for disadvantaged children
and those with disabilities.
"We are our brother's keeper," he says.
Mr. Curtola likes to keep his work and home life separate, but this
weekend he's breaking his own rule by giving a free concert tonight at
7 o'clock at the Queens County Sea Fest in Brooklyn, just outside Liverpool.
He's doing it because he wants to give something back to a community
where so many people give of themselves to help others.
"It's all about volunteers. To me, they're the stars; we're just the
vehicle to get people to stop, look and listen."
Each year, all the money raised at Sea Fest goes to help people in the
community - kids who can't afford to play organized sports, seniors and
"That's the real story," Mr. Curtola says. "The more people I can bring
out, the more the community benefits."
Mr. Curtola was appointed to the Order of Canada in October 1997 for
his tireless charity work for muscular dystrophy and service clubs across
Canada. Now, the first man to turn a jingle into a Top 40 hit with Coca
Cola's The Real Thing, has what he hopes is another hit in the works.
He wants to bankroll a multi-purpose complex and waterfront condominiums
in Liverpool. Mr. Curtola said he's already spent $100,000 developing the
concept. He met with municipal council to explain the concept and is taking
the polished plans before the Region of Queens next week.
His plan is to set up a Maritimes headquarters for the children's charity
Variety Club and use that as a base upon which to build a community recreation
complex. "It would have a rink, a pool, seniors residence, medical wing.
It'll be a world-class facility but it's designed specifically for here."
He praised municipal council and Mayor John Leefe for having the initiative
to enhance their community without impinging upon its seafaring history.
"John wants to get something done," Mr. Curtola said, adding that he wants
to help him.
And it seems when Bobby Curtola wants to do something, he does.
His standout career began with performances for his Italian family in
front of the fridge. As a schoolboy, he took shortcuts home from school
through alleys where the acoustics were far better than on the main road.
"My neighbour used to say to my mother, 'Mary, here comes Bobby!'" as
he wound his way home with a tune on his lips.
Once he hit his teens, he went to the rink in his hometown of Thunder
Bay every Saturday night with his friends. It closed at 9 p.m., so just
before that they'd form a chain and whip around in a circle as he sang
the rock 'n' roll hits of the day.
Next it was noontime sock hops. Then he was loaned out to other high
schools where another student told his father about Bobby. That man became
Mr. Curtola's manager.
He recorded his first record, Hand in Hand With You, in the fall of
1959 when he was 15 and pumping gas at his father's station. "That first
record changed my life," he says.
By the time he turned 16 a few months later, he was opening the Bob
Hope Show. Throngs of teenage girls screamed his name as he became the
first Canadian singer to do a coast-to-coast tour. Within two years, he
recorded his first gold seller, Fortune Teller.
Mr. Curtola went on tour with Dick Clark and his Cavalcade of Stars
and in 1964 became the first pop singer to record a jingle that sounded
like a hit single with Things Go Better with Coke, then the spinoff, Coke's
The Real Thing.
Coke is still the real thing for Mr. Curtola, although today the inductee
into the Coca Cola Hall of Fame says he only drinks Diet Coke.
Mr. Curtola made the transition from teen idol to Canada's highest paid
night club entertainer in the early '70s, eventually signing a five-year
multimillion-dollar contract with a hotel chain owned by Howard Hughes,
a relationship that lasted for 15 years.
Today, Mr. Curtola does about 20 shows a year and manager Robert Hubbard
says there are two special projects in the works for next year.
First, he says, "Bobby will go back out on tour."
Second, he said, is to hit the big screen. He has been approached to
do a $15-million movie about his life and the rock 'n' roll era, which
would be made in the style of the Kevin Spacey film, Beyond the Sea, about
the life of Bobby Darin.
But first, he has tonight's concert to get under his belt, and he says
he can't wait. Music from the '60s is all about letting your hair down
and having fun with your family and friends.
"It's not wrong to have a good time," he says.
Copyright © 2005 The Halifax Herald