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May 16, 2016

It never registered with me. Rydell High, that is – the name of the school where Danny Zuko and Sandy reunite, where the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies rule the roost. As many times I have watched that movie over the years, it never clicked that calling the fictional institution “Rydell High School” was a tribute to America’s most famous Rydell – Bobby.

BOBBY RYDELL podcast excerpt: "When I was with Mr. Sinatra at the Copacabana for the first time and he said, 'What do you drink, Robert?' I said, 'C-C-Coke.' I figured if I said, 'Scotch and water,' I'd get smacked in the face, y'know?"

Pretty cool – even if it was his pal Frankie Avalon who played the film’s Teen Angel, not him. After all, South Philly’s gift to teen pop and adult cool, Bobby Rydell, has enjoyed more than his share of fame and fortune. There were the hits, none bigger than “Volare.” And, of course, co-starring in the film version of Bye Bye Birdie with Dick Van Dyke and Ann-Margaret.

And it has all come together in his new autobiography, Teen Idol on the Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances, a mostly happy life’s story – until it’s not.

BOBBY RYDELL podcast excerpt: "When the movie, 'Grease,' came out, I didn't know it was going to be Rydell High! When I saw the movie, there it was. I said, 'Wow, that's pretty cool. Pretty cool!"

Bobby Rydell is kind of a stealth American cultural icon.

Thirty years ago, I reviewed his “Golden Boys of Bandstand” tour appearance with Fabian and Frankie Avalon at the old Bayfront Center Theater here in St. Petersburg, Florida. I remember going in and thinking Fabian and Frankie were likely the real stars. But then along came too-cool-for-school Bobby Rydell, who blew the audience away with his pipes. This is the rare case of the dropout who deserves his own high school.

Key interview moments:

• 3:30 Singer Bobby Rydell might have been the last man in America to find out that the school Danny and Sandy attend in the Broadway show and movie Grease is named after him -- Rydell High School;

• 20:20 As a member of the movie cast of Bye, Bye Birdie, Rydell got to work with Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margaret, Maureen Stapleton, Janet Leigh and -- "God rest his soul" -- Paul Lynde;

• 39:13 Rydell explains why underage drinkers didn't order anything but Coca-Colas while sitting at the Copacabana with Frank Sinatra.

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