Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
Endless Season: My Love Affair With Frankie Valli
April Kirkwood is the author of a new book called Endless Season, detailing her romance with The Four Season's lead singer Frankie Valli. These days April can be heard as the host of The Voice Of Love With April K on Clear Channel Radio. She has a double Masters degree in counseling and has worked for more than 25 years as an instructor and counselor in the education and mental health fields. April Kirkwood spoke with us about her life and the love of her life, Frankie Valli.
Q - April, I don't understand this fascination the public has with Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons. A Broadway play, The Jersey Boys, which is going to be made into a movie. Frankie Valli didn't set the world on fire with a new way of singing or a new look. What is it about Frankie Valli that people continue to like?
A - I think it's because of so many hits. Usually a band has the same tone over and over again. His songs were differentiated, from "Sherry" to "Big Girls Don't Cry" and then he moved into the '70s with "My Eyes Adored You", "Who Loves You Pretty Baby", "December '63". He is one of the most financially successful musicians in the business today. He used to tell me years ago, "I won't leave my house unless I make $1 million a year." And that was a long time ago. I think Jersey Boys has five or six Jersey Boys companies that are touring. The genius behind him is Bob Gaudio I have to say. I think it's the longevity. I think they didn't over-commercialize themselves. Frankie kept himself looking like an untouchable. He didn't overwork it on the stage. He was a little bit elusive. Some people over advertise. You can brand it and it gets done. But I don't know why everybody loves him. They do. When I was writing this, people would say, "Please let me know." There were girls coming up to me. I thought, oh Lord, I don't know if I want to hear all this, but everybody loves Frankie. It's the truth.
Q - April, there were other groups in the '60s that had a string of hit records, but they don't have a Broadway play based around them or a movie being made about them.
A - But they did not continue. And maybe this is it, making hits in the '70s and the '80s and they are still out on tour. I know Frankie is still touring. There is something about whoever is managing him. I think Bob Gaudio has a lot to do with the input of his success. He just seems to time it all right.
Q - Frankie Valli didn't write those songs.
A - No. Bob Gaudio did and Tom Crewe. I think Crewe was one of the first producers of their records years ago when they did have vinyl records. So, Bob Gaudio is the genius and this is really history; they shook hands years ago and said they will always split their investments and profits 50-50. No contract, and they always have. So there's something between those two that supersedes common sense. Hopefully I'm learning to be more spiritual every day and I see some of these connections between people and you have to wonder, is there more that we don't even understand?
Q - If Bob Gaudio is in the studio turning those dials, making your songs into hit records, that's the guy you want in your corner.
A - Right, and he was in the band, the main Four Seasons that we all know from the '60s. He was the tall, handsome keyboard player that was very quiet that women also adored. But it's quite a story. His story is phenomenal. That's when you start to think. I took my daughter to see Jersey Boys and she looked at me and I was kind of tearing up, and you see the effect it has on your kids. That's when you start to think, wow! What is this about?
Q - What did your daughter say?
A - She said, "Mommy, this is your story!" He was talking about all the girls on the road that were like his second family. She just looked at me and I started to cry and that's also in the book on how I realized that this decision that I had made consciously or unconsciously to love this man deeply, affected not only my romantic relationships, but everybody in my family. It was a long-term thing. My kids knew him. My aunt knew him. My mother dropped me off. It sounds silly, but remember it's the '70s and there's just a little bit of media and you think anybody can make it. Anybody can marry a celebrity. This is possible. We didn't know how much competition there was out there at that time. So I just did it.
Q - And then you find out what a tough job celebrities have in this quest to stay on top.
A - That's why they rarely have successful marriages. I was just reading about Gwenyth Paltrow, and I had it on my show, the conscious un-coupling. I'm thinking about the girls like me who were unconsciously coupling at an early age that we didn't even understand that depth of having an affair. And it doesn't have to be a celebrity. It could be the program director of a radio show. It could be a professor at your college, an author, a teacher in a high school. We, as young women, have these visions of what we think these people are. Maybe if you went to college you think all professionals are smart. You're sitting there and they wrote the book and then you realize maybe they wrote the book 10 years ago. They are burnt out. They are alcoholics. They have other issues. You don't realize when you are young that every roof has a leak somewhere. (Laughs) You just fantasize about that. That's part of this new generation. There's a transparency because of the Internet and all the online media. Maybe these kids will feel the way I did. I hope not. That's my goal. Maybe the parents will feel the way my parents did.
Q - This is not a kiss and tell book, is it? This is about you meeting Frankie Valli and your romance with him?
A - Right. Some of the people and the publicist who read it said, "I'm so disappointed. I really wanted to read about how you took your clothes off and what his body looked like." I thought, number one, I have self-respect. Number two, I respect Frankie Valli. I don't agree with what he did necessarily, but he probably didn't know any better at the time. Now that I look back, he's not an educated man as far as psychology. This was before Dr. Phil and Oprah and co-dependence. There were no self-help books out there. So, I think this book is deeply about women's issues, the layering of women's history with parents, their grandparents. My mother lives through me like Gypsy Rose Lee and what would you do as a distraught mother to feel good about your life. I didn't have a father image. My dad was Italian. He was a musician. I will always love him. I hope he doesn't call him. There is a study about attachment. When you are little, you go through different developmental growth. The first year you learn the world is a safe place. Well, during adolescence there's some theories that you imprint and you imprint about what love is with your first love interest. What destroyed me was my first love interest was Mr. Valli and it didn't come out very well. I repeated that with many relationships.
Q - Your romance with Frankie Valli began when you were 16?
A - This would be the only flaw in Mr. Valli's character. He knew me since I was six or seven. I loved him. He would pick me up and carry me. My parents made velvet jackets with banners and hats. It got to be where the hat was they knew where little April was. I think it probably started when they were having some financial issues with Tom De Vito. I think it came out when I was 16, "My Eyes Adored You" and he came back into town. By then I had my driver's license. I did not have any sexual feelings for him at all. I go in the back room and of course he lets me in and the hat is there and he walks up to me and he says nothing. He untangles my necklaces. Then honestly, nothing could have kept me away from him. Nothing. Nothing. Of course I went to a hotel after and I was 16. I told him I was a virgin and then it affected me more because he said after, "Don't do this with anybody else." So I thought, okay. (Laughs)
Q - He could've been in a lot of trouble. Did you tell your mother?
A - No. I didn't tell.
Q - This happened in the evening?
A - I was 16 and I had my license. It was Spring and of course by then you are working at clothing stores or going out and I did not spend the whole night with him. I went to the Holiday Inn. It just happened that he was playing ten minutes from my house. Good or bad timing. I don't know how you want to look at it. By that time, at 16, it's very hard to control a teenager. I did not tell them. I don't think they knew until I was 18 or 19 and I wanted to go on the road with him. But I'll be honest with you, by then, Hell itself couldn't have kept me away. I mean, I loved him and I used to tell him, "I really love you." He didn't believe me, or he didn't care.
Q - Who was paying your way on the road?
A - He did.
Q - Did you have an official function with him, say secretary?
A - No. I was just his official eye candy I'm sure. You have to remember, I was raised on an actual little chicken farm. My parents were divorced. I don't have this Italian daddy. I get in this world and I'm traveling in this bus. People, when you get out, they ask you for your autograph because your with them. It was very hard for me to go back and be a normal teenager.
Q - You are how old when you're on the tour?
A - 17.
Q - So, you dropped out of school?
A - No. This was during the Summer, during their Summer tour. I was always a good girl. I think that's why I got away with it. I was always honest when my mother had a mental illness. I always was perfect in her eyes. What I mean is, I was always in pageants. I was a twirler, I was had majorette, Miss Ohio Teenager. I never would do something like this. This is out of character. I'm not the kind of kid you are going to check their purse or what's on their e-mail. That would never happen. I think that was a problem too because I looked different than what I am and I think Frankie probably thought, "Hell, she wants to be here."
Q - If you had no official function, didn't you find the road boring?
A - I think there was so much lacking in my personal life. What I mean is, I needed someone to love me. Somewhere I thought I deserved to be loved by him. I'm sure there were other people that would've loved me, an uncle, a grandpa. I remember every piece of advice he (Frankie Valli) gave me. "Always stay beautiful. Don't let yourself go. Don't do drugs. Keep yourself up. Don't talk too much." Things I'm sure he doesn't ever remember he said. You have to think it's the '70s. I'm naive. I went to church four times a week. To me, when I gave myself to him, it was it. This is what I was going to do the rest of my life.
Q - You didn't think of yourself as a "groupie", so what did you think you were to Frankie Valli? Girlfriend?
A - Yeah. I was the little girl. I grew up. He got through his relationships and he would come back for me, in my mind. What hit me, and this killed me and I'm still not over it, I really need to do a prayer about this, a few months ago I was doing some research and I saw him with another girlfriend. He's divorced from Toni. This girl, I swear to God, looked like she was 17 or 18. That hit me. That even hit me worse because I was young then. It must be because I wasn't good enough for him. I had to really think, here you go again April. You're fallin' into that same stuff. That's what this is about. You do your healing and you think you're okay and all of a sudden life throws you a curve ball and you go "More healing I have to do." Good guys that liked me, I would never like them either.
Q - In other words, non-singers, non-musicians?
A - No. I mean good guys who weren't kind of Italian, rough Mafioso. In the '70s, the gold, the Vegas. Anyone who was nice who really cared for me, a good person that maybe was going to try and do something good for the planet and it wasn't basically narcissistic needs. They could think outside of that box and I would not be interested in them. Unless you were going to tear me up and run me through the roads and leave me without a commitment, without anything, then he just doesn't feel right. That's the imprinting and that's what girls need to be aware of.
Q - Girls today still gravitate towards a celebrity.
A - Yeah, no matter what. What happened to me and Frankie Valli is basically what's happening all over at all kinds of different levels. The basketball coach that has a crush on the little girl. He gives her an "A" in algebra when she doesn't deserve it. There's all kinds of deals being made. I think Frankie and I had a deal basically, he's a movie star and I get to hang with him and he gets to sleep with me, in his mind. This is just his world. I just happened to be in it.
Q - Did you see other girls with him when you were on the road?
A - Once in awhile. It hurt me deeply. I knew about all his relationships when they happened. Like I would know he was going to ask Toni to marry him before she knew. Every time we would be intimate, then he would get a grain of guilt and start to tell me, "You know I'm going to ask Toni to marry me" or "Mary Anne and I just got a divorce" or other personal things about his life. When I was young and on the road, I did see him kiss some of his background singers. I'll never forget it. Then he kind of put the moves on my Aunt, which were terrible. My Aunt was there to take care of me. He's in another hotel room. I get mad at Frankie for some reason 'cause I knew in my heart it wasn't right. I storm off. I was a pistol. Even with Frankie Valli, "Not doing this. It doesn't feel right." My heart doesn't feel right. He comes after me 'cause he's scared. He's like, "Where's this little girl at?" He ends up in my Aunt's room and goes, "What do you have on? Let me come in." She's like, "Excuse me? My little niece has been in love with you since she was seven years old", and he just backed off. I tried to contact him about this book. I called his publicist and his booking agent. I didn't hear, so I'm assuming he's okay with it. (laughs) I was under-age, but there's a statute of limitations. I think I was actually 17 when it was consummated.
Q - Do you want him to contact you?
A - I was hoping he would call me. Maybe he would've said, "I don't want you to do this. Please don't." One of Frankie Valli's affairs was an airline stewardess. She sold the story to The Enquirer. I see it and I'm mortified. I e-mail Frankie and say, "Oh Frankie, it's little me, April. You know I love you and I would never tell our story." Well, Toni gets it, Toni the wife. Oh, when he saw me like a year later, he just screamed up and down at me. People in his band were like running for shelter. Then when I saw The Jersey Boys and they are talking about it all over the world, the girls, the girls, the girls. Then I realize, I'm at the beach with a girlfriend of mine and I must have just been ready. I was having problems in a relationship. I was with someone who was almost identical to Mr. Valli and she said to me, "April, that must have been terrible! That's like rape or being molested." That's when I had my A-ha! moment, because I was like, "That's right." That's when I kind of started to do my work, my emotional work, my healing, my crying, my counseling. Then I started to write the book just for healing purposes. Then I even took it further. Now I'm finishing it with how I got healed. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Now, I have somebody who is interested in doing a screenplay. That will probably be very lusty, if it goes to that level.
Q - Which it probably will if it goes to something like HBO.
A - Right. Small screen. I don't even know if I'm going to see the movie. I really still am brokenhearted. I didn't realize it until I saw the picture with this little girl that was posted as his girlfriend. It was sad for me. I know he slept with hundreds of girls. I know I'm nothing to him, but he wasn't nothing to me.
Q - Did the whole band get girls?
A - Everybody wanted Frankie. He's the lead. He's the cute one with the tiny hips. He has a swagger and a little bit of arrogance. Women like that. Women like a quiet man who pull into them. They are not overly aggressive. Women have to move in. He must do that. (Laughs). I don't really know what he did because I was so young. I think he imprinted me. They say you never get over your first love and I think that's it. Frankie's not like me. Had I been able to pick the man I wanted, it would not have been him.
Q - You were star struck!
A - Yeah. I wasted my whole life imprinted, following a person that's not in my estimation, a good fit for me. My lesson for women is to be careful and men to be careful who you sleep with. Take it seriously. Women be careful who you sleep with. You don't think the same way when you are 12 or 13 as you do when you are 29. If you want to do something when you are 30, 35 or 40, God bless you. But if something's not working and he decides to move on and it's still not working, you have to backup and figure it out. We can't just blame everything on mom and dad because we all do. Even from a counselor, Freud wasn't that wrong. Something happened when you were growing up. (Laughs). Mom screwed that one up. Dad wasn't there. But there are other reasons. I don't think they are talked about because the men in power don't want to hear about it.
Q - You say at 12 you were already being groomed by your family to be a groupie for Frankie Valli. You mean a fan, don't you?
A - Maybe that's not the best word choice. I was groomed to be in the spotlight. I walked around the house with books on my head. I took every class. I took oratory classes, public speaking, pageants, dancing. The best of the clothes. My parents would drive me to Pittsburgh for modeling classes. I don't know what they were grooming me for. Then there was the dichotomy of we were very old-fashioned, black and white Pentecost, that old Pentecostal if you sleep with someone you are going to hell. If you leave your family, you are going to hell. You are going to be a teacher or a nurse. Yet I am being groomed to dance like a stripper if I have to. You know what I mean. I could do this. I could do that. But I didn't know what to do with it. I don't think my mother knew what to do. So when Frankie Valli came, she was like, "We don't have the money. We don't come from money. We can't send her to California." My mother worked in a factory. They gave me every penny they had to make me who I am today and I'm very grateful. It killed my mother, actually killed my mother doing that.
Q - She worked herself to death?
A - She stayed in a bad marriage, an abusive marriage for the money so that I could do everything. When you grow up with the biggest bedroom in the house and I was always a nice girl. That's why they never really questioned it, because I never rebeled. I just wanted to be a good girl and do whatever. I loved being beautiful. I loved being on the catwalk and modeling. The only reason I did not go further at that time was because in the early '70s you had to be 5'6" to even be an airline stewardess. I'm tiny, just like Frankie. If that happened now, I could do anything because there are no restrictions on height or weight or anything like that. We are talking about an era. In the '70s everything goes. My mother is hearing about free sex. She's in a bad marriage and I'm thinking Gypsy, my God you're going to be something even if it's at a strip club. You are going to be something! April Lynn, you are going to do this even if you gotta go with Frankie Valli for a while. You are going to make this happen for us. You are going to justify my help. Parents need to know this. They can't do this. (Laughs).
Q - April Lynn. Is that your name?
A - Well, yeah. It's so funny. That's how particular my mom was. It was April. My middle name was Lynn. She would like it when someone wouldn't print it right in a pageant or a booklet. She put it as one name. This is how she synchronized everything. She was going to out beat everybody. She she died a few years ago, cirrhosis of the liver from over medication. She just medicated. She was a weekend drug addict to prescriptions. "Now remember, we are Pentecostal. We don't have any drinks in the house," but give her six Valium, she's gone, gone. She didn't have balance in her life.
Q - Kirkwood is your married name then?
A - Kirkwood is my married name. I also married a musician. He was a wonderful man and I didn't like him. In fact, when I was dating him, I ran off to be with Frankie Valli in Chicago. This guy who I had married at the time, Bill, goes and finds us in Chicago and tells Frankie I'm his wife. Well, I'm not married, but Frankie believes him. I get back to Ohio, Frankie calls me, talks to who later becomes my husband and I kept that name. I kept it because I had two children. That's why I didn't go into the business, I decided I'm really in the wrong field. I like show business. I like being part of the progressive movement of creating something or helping somebody. I had children. I wasn't going to do that to them.
Q - How is it you met Frankie Valli in the first place? You mentioned your father was a musician. Was it through him? How old were you when you first met Frankie Valli?
A - I was like six or seven. If you see that first picture with the banner and the hat, I had already met him a year before that. That's how I got the banner and the hat made. But I don't know exactly when that was. I did not legally want to have an issue like Frankie to come back and say, "That song didn't come out until that date. You had to be seven." Okay. I'm seven. Who cares? Who gives a hoot? My dad was an absentee dad. My mom was the first person to get divorced in the '60s. We moved back with grandma. I have all these powerful women. No father. Daddy's a mouthy Italian, play saxophone in a band and there you go. (Laughs) another musician. If you believe in the element of synchronicity or six degrees of separation...
Q - Or pre-destination.
A - Right. I really believe that this was pre-destined for me to happen. I'm a little girl, poor, Youngstown, Ohio. Steel mill. Why he picks me out, why he keeps seeing me, why I keep seeing him, why I've written this book now. In fact, when I finished the book I had the weirdest dream that we are in a blacked out theater, you know the big screen and you have to walk up the steps. It's totally blacked out. I'm walking and I'm walking and there's Frankie Valli sitting with his hand on his chin going, "Well, I've been waiting for this." Then, I wake up. I don't think it was him personally. I just think it was time for me to write this. This was time for the story to come out.
Q - Someone will probably ask him about it and he will deny it.
A - Yeah. He will say it didn't happen. If I wanted to get nasty I could say things about body parts, but I don't want to do that. He told my kids, "I knew your mom when she was itty-bitty. Knee high to a grasshopper." I would hope he would say "It's a lovely book and I regret that she took this relationship so seriously. I didn't know." That's all. I would've loved to have received a comment from him. Maybe I'll get one now. (laughs). Big girls don't cry. (laughs)
Q - It all goes back to Mr. Valli.
A - It all goes back to Mr. Valli 'cause "My Eyes Adored You". (laughs)