FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Connie Francis' decades-long career was marked by all the glittering things of Hollywood royalty. There were No. 1 hit songs, iconic movies, Hollywood boyfriends, glamorous gowns and TV appearances on "American Bandstand" and "The Ed Sullivan Show." Despite it all, she considers her personal life a bust.
"For as much success as I had professionally, personally I'm a failure," said Francis.
When pressed if that's what she really believes during a telephone interview, the 79-year-old singer says, "yeah I do. My choice of husbands, my lack of judgment in choosing the right husbands ... my impulsiveness, my not looking before I leapt. So many mistakes that I would have avoided."
Francis is auctioning some of her favorite trinkets at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills on Sunday, including the bomber jacket she wore performing in Vietnam, a love letter from singer Bobby Darin where he laments he's "unhappy & miserable without you" and a 13-carat emerald ring with diamonds. She's also auctioning several letters from her famous friends, including Frankie Avalon, Dick Clark and Frank Sinatra.
"There was a girl once who told me she had saved a Styrofoam cup with my lipstick on it from 1958 ... so I said to myself I want to give something to my fans while I'm still alive, not when I've passed," Francis told The Associated Press.
Francis gained fame in the 1950s, earning more than $6 million by the end of 1958 after singing "Who's Sorry Now" on "American Bandstand" earlier that year. In 1960, her recording of "Where the Boys Are" became the top song in the United States and 15 other countries. But her life has also been marred by tragedies, four failed marriages, an estranged son, her brother's murder and a brutal rape after someone broke into the motel where she was sleeping following a performance.
But the consummate entertainer says that with the exception of her brother's death, she would do it all again. "I wouldn't have given up the fame for anything. I don't' think there are too many people on earth who've had the moments of exhilaration that I have," she says.
The auction catalog also includes fur coats and sequin gowns, including the purple Halston she wore on her comeback show with Dick Clark, plus with several gold records, including her song "Mama."
"When Elvis Presley heard me sing this song in Las Vegas in 1958, he became so emotional that he had to leave the show. The next day, he sent me two dozen yellow roses with a note explaining that he had just lost his mother and hearing me sing 'Mama' was more that he could bear," said Francis, who now lives in Boca Raton.
Her hit movie "Where the Boys Are" put Fort Lauderdale on the map, bringing throngs of teenagers to what would become the Spring Break capital of the country. Despite the movie's success, Francis never went to the premiere. It was years before she even watched it and even then it was only because her son was curious.
"I hated my movies," she said, recalling how her father told her "you still stink" as an actress even though she had a lucrative deal with MGM.
She's been the queen of comebacks, reviving herself after several personal tragedies, including losing her voice and serious struggles with bipolar disorder and attempted suicide in 1984.
Francis' traumatic mental health history began with a rape after a 1974 Westbury Music Fair in which she was attacked at knifepoint, beaten and tortured. No one was ever arrested but she later won a lawsuit against the hotel, and the case is widely considered to have led the hotel industry to upgrade security. Her brother was murdered several years later and her father hospitalized her against her will for mental health reasons.
She didn't speak to him for six years after that. Before his death in 1996, they had their first real talk.
"I attributed four bad marriages to him because I never grew up like a normal teenager ... he couldn't stand the idea of any men taking his place in my heart. It was a love resentment relationship, highly combustible. We were always arguing."
She notes her time entertaining the troops in Vietnam as her career highlight and says her life's purpose is to help veterans and raise awareness about mental health.
"I've been given so much. I want to give back to people to the mentally ill. We're working on a program for homeless veterans ... the mentally ill, they've had no voice."