Boomer Teenybopper Idols: Do Ya Love Me? I Think I Love You

Teen idols have been around at least since the 1920s, but it took the boomer era to elevate the marketing of idols to an early and pre-teen age. There were dozens of teen idols throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, as Mister B has discussed (Boomers Loved Their Teen Angels), but the addition of bubblegum pop music and magazines aimed at teenyboppers — pre-teenage girls especially — teen idols took on the status that became the foundation for what teen idols are today.

Boomers born late in the generational cycle, in the 1960s, weren’t teenagers until the 1970s. Those born in the earlier part of the boomer era, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had a different set of experiences growing up, as the new consumer society shifted gears from the end of the War and into President Kennedy’s “Camelot” years. By the early 1970s almost everyone who could afford a TV had one, and it was a big influence on teenybopper fandom. There were two male idols that appear to show the changing times during the boomer generation: Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy. Which teen idol a young girl googley-eyed over was very much dependent on when she was born.

Bobby Sherman got on teenyboppers’ radar with his first single in 1962, Judy/You’ll Never Know. The actor Sal Mineo took a liking to him, and in 1964 asked him to sing with his old band at a Hollywood party. Though reluctant to do so, Sherman did and the audience, peppered with producers and agents, took note of the young star’s potential. As a result he obtained an agent, who got him a regular cast-member and house-singer role on ABC’s music show, Shindig! The show ran for two years, from 1964-66. While on Shindig!, Sherman recorded several records and he turned up in all the teen magazines, and, though it gave him the exposure he needed to be kept front-of-mind for teenyboppers, he wasn’t yet launched into superstardom.

In 1968 Sherman did a test for a TV role and as a result was cast as Jeremy Bolt in Here Come the Brides (1968-1970). His character was a bashful, stammering logger that was an instant hit with the girls. Sherman was the standout star of the show and became a worldwide teen idol.

While his acting career took off, he continued to record. He appeared as a frequent guest on American Bandstand and Where the Action Is throughout the latter part of the 1960s. The song a great many boomers remember him for, Julie Do Ya Love Me, debuted in 1970.

TV Guide ranked Sherman number 8 on their list of TV’s 25 Greatest Teen Idols in 2005.

Born in New York City in 1950, boomer David Cassidy made his acting debut in the Broadway musical The Fig Leaves Are Falling, in 1969. The show only lasted four performances, but a casting director took notice of the young man and asked him to do a screen test. Cassidy moved to Los Angeles and signed with Universal Studios that same year. Cassidy appeared in a guest role in several TV series, including Ironside, Marcus Welby, M.D., Adam-12 and Bonanza.

In 1970 he was cast in the role that would make him a boomer household name, Keith Partridge on the TV show The Partridge Family. Shirley Jones, Cassidy’s real-life stepmom, was cast as Shirley Partridge. The producers of the show thought Cassidy’s androgynous looks would be appealing enough, and didn’t care if he could sing. It was Cassidy who convinced them he could play the part and sing the numbers himself.

David Cassidy released the top-selling hit for which he is widely known, I Think I Love You, in 1971. He went on to sell more than 30 million records and to star in the Broadway musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He also appeared on London’s West End.

The two men wore the hairstyles of their particular corner of the boomer years. Sherman’s hair was longer, but not any more so than The Beatles. Looking at their mop-top haircuts today, we can ask what all the fuss was about, but back then, their hair was long and different. Cassidy, however, sported more the later boomer style of wavy, shoulder-length locks that didn’t become immensely popular until 1967’s Summer of Love.

Both men also wore clothing that depicted boomer fashions of their time. Sherman, however, was not a boomer himself, being born a bit too early, in 1943. That may have affected his style of dress, which looked more early Beach Boys than later Beatles. He was often pictured in buttoned shirts or turtlenecks and slim dress pants. Cassidy, being an actor playing a role as a rock star, was dressed in large-collared shirts, vests and jeans.

Mister B’s sister followed the men, but by far her favorite was Bobby Sherman. She did buy Cassidy’s single, but Julie Do Ya Love Me could be heard on the family’s box record player more often.

Which team were you — or your sisters — on back then, boomers… Team Sherman or Team Cassidy?

Boomers Loved Their Teen Angels

The passing last week of Davy Jones, frontman for The Monkees, prompted Mister Boomer to recall an era of teen idols. Teen idols were not new or exclusive to the boomer era; some say this phenomenon began in the 20th century as celebrity fandom appeared along with silent movies. The quintessential male star of silent movies in the early 1910s and 1920s was Rudolph Valentino. The silent film star gathered his share of teenage fans for his confident, suave, romantic and passionate roles. The writer H.L. Mencken wrote of Valentino shortly after his death that he was “catnip to women.”

The next really huge teen idol was Frank Sinatra. In the 1940s, his appearances caused near riots as legions of teenage female fans — known as “bobby-soxers” because of the type of socks they wore, rolled-down to the ankle — stormed theaters and concert halls. Many people point to this pre-war era as the beginning of Youth Culture.

The two — one a film star, the other first known for his singing before he entered the movies — displayed some basic characteristics of the teen idols that were to follow: first, their celebrity was gained through their talent in acting or music; secondly, young women found them irresistible to the point of obsession; and third, they had to reciprocate by graciously accepting the adulation while remaining humble, yet “dreamy.”

Boomer teen idols continued that pattern. Most teen idols were the object of desire for teenage girls rather than boys, and were often men twice their age. The prime age of teen idol worshippers was 11 through 17, after which tastes tended to change. The 1950s produced a slew of teen idols from movies, TV and music. Among them were “older” men such as Rock Hudson and Pat Boone, to the “younger” stars like Elvis, Troy Donahue, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fabian and Ricky Nelson. On rare occasions, women crossed over into teen idol territory, the most famous being Annette Funicello. Her appearances as a Mouseketeer on The Mickey Mouse Club TV show gave her instant fan recognition from both boys and girls when she made the transition from child actor to adult in a series of pop-historically significant “Beach” movies.

Into this mix of actors and solitary singing sensations, whole bands entered the teen idol world, most notably The Beach Boys and The Beatles. By the mid-sixties, girls everywhere had chosen their favorites in The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and The Monkees. Naturally, one star rose above the others in each band to become the most-loved teen idol. In The Monkees, that teen idol was Davy Jones. Shows like American Bandstand, Hullabaloo, Shindig! and The Ed Sullivan Show only fueled the fires of teen idolatry.

The teen idol world got two additional big boosts in the 1960s: a proliferation of a sub-genre of pop music that was called bubblegum pop (also known as teenybopper music) and the introduction of made-for-teen magazines called 16 Magazine (which actually first appeared in 1956) and Tiger Beat (launched in 1964). Bubblegum music appealed directly to teenage girls, who liked the danceable beats, love-laced lyrics and the stars who sang them. The fanzines did for 1960s teen idols what the Hollywood movie magazines had done for stars of the 1940s and ’50s: maintained and expanded the celebrity of the stars through constant exposure.

Mister Boomer’s sister joined in on the teen idol explosion in the mid-1960s. She bought 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat on occasion and in the late ’60s, became infatuated with Bobby Sherman. Sherman was a recording artist at an early age and a regular on Shindig!, but didn’t attain teen idol status until he landed a role in the TV series, Here Come the Brides (1968-70). By then millions of boomer girls had posters of Sherman, with his trademark hair and teen idol smile, on their bedroom walls. Mister B’s sister did not have posters of Sherman, or the other big teenybopper idol of her decade, David Cassidy, but her magazines sure plastered their pictures on pages. Nonetheless, she felt compelled to buy her idol’s 45 RPM records.

16 Magazine May 1964 issue
Mister B's sister bought this May 1964 copy of 16 Magazine. The cover reads like a Who's Who of teen idols in the early 1960s: Paul Petersen, Bobby Rydell, Elvis, James Franciscus, Richard Chamberlain (a Boomer Sister fave!), Elvis and of course, The Beatles. Also listed is "Lesley & Connie," which refer to Lesley Gore and Connie Francis. Patty Duke is also pictured on the cover.

Perhaps the pre-war 1940s marked the first teen generation that would break from the tastes of their parents to explore a subculture of their own. But World War II interrupted their progress, and that left it up to the Boomer Generation to embrace the tide of Youth Culture, of which teen idols were a part. What memories of teen idols do you have, boomers?