Robert Osborne on Teen Idols
But "Teen Idols" of one kind or another have been with us since movies first flickered in the early 1900s, since big bands and their vocalists caused raging reactions in the 1940s, since Elvis swiveled his hips in the 1950s, and we're going to salute the some of the most prominent ones from the fifties and sixties every Thursday in primetime this month on TCM. Movie-wise, early on it was usually the more mature type of male who held the most appeal to youngsters, as well as everyone else in the movie audience. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was 41 when he was the favorite idol of little boys, their teenage sisters and mom and pop as well, in the 1924 silent blockbuster The Thief of Bagdad. It continued that way for the next two decades: Errol Flynn was 29 when teenagers went gaga over him in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Frank Sinatra was nearly 30, married and a father when teenage girls screamed in rapture whenever he sang in his breakthrough year of 1944.
It was in the 1950s that teenagers actually began showing more of a preference for stars who were themselves teenagers--or close to it--giving a double meaning to that "Teen Idols" term. Our TCM salute to Teen Idols will concentrate on 16 who made hearts flutter faster when they were young colts themselves, six of them in films from the 1950s (Elvis, Pat Boone, James Dean, Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo, Troy Donahue) and ten who were particularly prominent in the 1960s (Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Tommy Sands, Davy Jones, Tommy Steele, Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka, Peter Noone). Teen idols though they were, none were themselves actually in their teens at the time, their ages running from 20 (Paul Anka in 1961's Look in Any Window, airing June 28) to 31 (Tommy Steele in 1968's Finian's Rainbow, also showing that same night).
Other statistics: Five died much too young and at the height of their fame, three were taken seriously enough as actors to receive Academy Award® nominations, and only two went on to have lasting front-of-the-line careers once their heart-throb days were behind them. That, unfortunately, is the biggest curse of being a teen idol: the party, the is like a milk carton. It always comes cheers, the adulation, fun as it all may be, with an expiration date.
by Robert Osborne