By Tammy Bleck
From her Beverly Hills home a month ago, Carol Connors laughs about her very modest start in show business.
“My first apartment was actually a cave. I’m not kidding!” she laughs. “I was 18 years old, and it was in L.A. and only $95 a month. I can still remember my mother lamenting as she rocked back and forth ‘Oy! My daughter is living in a cave!’”
Born Annette Kleinbard, Connors went on to become known by her stage name. If you don’t know (or quite remember) who she is, you’ll want to.
A prodigy in her own right, Connors is a singer, songwriter and advocate of living life to the fullest. When she shares her personal side, it proves that greatness is never boring.
Her petite frame doesn’t even begin to fit her larger than life personality and roaring sense of humor. Everything about her is unconventional, and one simply can’t help but to immediately like her. Clearly this is a woman who knows a thing or two about life. She lives it out loud.
And for Connors, life started very young and very fast.
Born in New Brunswick, this Jersey girl went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, five Emmys, one Grammy and 10 major music awards.
While she was 16 and still in high school, an up and coming music genius, Phil Spector, heard her voice and fell in love with it. He retooled an epitaph written for his father, and tailoring it just for Connors’ golden voice, he turned it into a teenage ode. Connors performed the song as the lead singer of The Teddy Bears. She took “To Know Him Is To Love Him” to number one on the charts. As they say, the rest is history.
A 23-year-old singer by the name of Elvis Presley heard Connors singing that infamous song and became immediately smitten. He was so taken by it that he sent his aides to contact her. It didn’t take long before they were in love with each other. He was, in fact, her very first boyfriend, and she counts him among her life’s greatest loves. David Janssen and Robert Culp were the other two on her short list of true loves.
Her life got even more interesting when she wrote a sassy little number in 1964 called “Hey Little Cobra.” Performed by the Rip Chords, it became a huge hit and placed her in the distinct category of being the only female to ever write a hot rod song.
“Carroll Shelby said I gave his car more publicity with my song than anything he could have done,” she says, smiling. As a personal thank you, Shelby, the car’s maker, gave her a shiny new little Cobra to call her own.
When asked about her current age, Connors sits up straight, looks you dead in the eye and playfully shares, “I will quote Zsa Zsa, who always said, ‘Darling, if a woman will tell you her age, she will tell you anything!’”
“Look,” she says, “I have never smoked, drank or done drugs. I’m an early riser and I work 25/8 doing what I love with laser beam clarity. I believe in hope, courage, going the distance and fighting yourself out of a tough spot. That’s why I relate so much to the Rocky story.”
Speaking of which….
Connors is widely known for co-writing the theme from “Rocky,” “Gonna Fly Now” with Bill Conti and Ayn Robbins. She giggles at the fact that every time Sylvester Stallone walks on a stage, their song is played. “It bought my Beverly Hills house,” she says, smiling broadly. It also plunged her into the world of film, since the music for the subsequent “Rocky” sequels is heard on all of the related soundtracks.
“One of my favorite songs is one I co-wrote with David Shire called “With You I’m Born Again.” I wrote it for Robert Culp to let him know how I felt about him and how I hoped he felt about me. He did,” Connors says, smiling warmly. The song was a smash hit. She closes her eyes and begins to sing “Come bring me your softness, comfort me through all the madness …”
She has also co-written the music and lyrics of such varied films as “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Earthling,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” “Dressed to Kill,” “The Onion Field,” “Butterfly,” “Orca” and Walt Disney’s “The Rescuers” to name just a few. She has performed at the White House, state ceremonies and tribute dinners. The woman is everywhere.
While Connors’ walls are adorned with gold and platinum records along with countless photographs of her with celebrities, international dignitaries and United States presidents, she doesn’t define herself by her accolades. She is forever looking to the future, the next project and the next place she can be relevant. She is defined by her music and her beliefs. And both are above dispute.
Connors engages life in a big way and she has a hell of a lot of fun doing it. She writes, she sings and she invites you in. That’s exactly what she did when she met Michael Flint last year. Flint shared with her the story of his father, Mitchell Flint, who was one of the many aviators who helped to establish the state of Israel by helping to win the war against those who threatened to expunge it. So moved by this story, Connors embraced the making of “Angels in the Sky: The Birth of Israel,” a documentary about it, by writing the words and music for the documentary’s theme song. (It’s currently in production and doesn’t yet have a release date.)
The song speaks to the time when Israel declared her independence in May of 1948. It was then that six Arab armies descended upon Israel with thousands of troops and an air force replete with bombers and fighters. The intent was to prevent the Zionists’ efforts to create a homeland. In response to the invasion, 150 pilots came from around the world to meet the air and land challenge. Never in history had a human event called to action such a cross section of people from all over the world; Americans, Europeans, Africans, Jews, Christians, Holocaust survivors, mercenaries. This elite group of foreign volunteers left behind the comforts of home and risked their lives to secure a homeland for the persecuted Jewish people.
Having always been respectful of her Jewish identity and knowing her mother’s family had been annihilated by Hitler, Connors understands the importance of her faith, as well as the cost of it. But it wasn’t until a personal pilgrimage to Israel in 1983, when she visited the Western Wall, that she emerged with a different life perspective.
“I was grieving terribly for the loss of my father,” she remembers. “I asked for a sign. The experience was all very emotional, and my life has not been the same since. I walked away a changed person, a giver. I had a powerful realization of what it is to be a Jew.”
A tremendous advocate of the Wounded Warriors Trust, last July she took to the sea in the Florida Keys to help raise awareness for this important cause by diving as the Statue of Liberty, complete with red, white and blue torch, and saluting the Wounded Warriors banner. Last June, the Kennedy Center invited her to conduct its 117 piece orchestra and sing “America the Beautiful” at a benefit event for the Wounded Warriors Trust. Of her visits with the wounded warriors themselves, Connors says, “I’ve met so many. They are so young, so gentle. I was so profoundly devastated for them. Seeing the tragedy of war breaks your heart. It broke mine. They deal with their sadness and live their courage every day.”
Connors lives her own life very much in the present. She is an avid diver and loves diving with her best friend, Barbi Benton. Both she and Benton have been honored by President George W. Bush and Reefcheck.org for their efforts in saving the reefs with Jean-Michel Cousteau. Both Benton and Connors have been gifted with their own mermaid dolls, a testament to their adventurous side. Her diving goes hand in hand with her unabashed love of dolphins, and, if you ask her, she may gift you with her impression of their voice. It will render you speechless. Only Connors can make a dolphin call sound adorable!
This is a woman who walks her talk, something she is profoundly passionate about. She freely shares what she calls “Carolisms,” her own creed by which she lives.
“One of my favorites and most lived is, ‘If you want to be a success in what you do, you must always follow through,’” Connors says.
She further shares with a pensive voice, “If you don’t eat it, sleep it, think it, drink it, need it… forget it.” Her belief that you must always keep yourself involved in life goes hand in hand with her philosophy that if you stay relevant, you will stay young and alive. She is, of course, right on all counts.
Connors chose to never marry and consequently has never had any children. She grins as she explains, “The brass ring only comes around so many times. If you don’t grab it, someone else will! I refused the white picket fence, the kids and the wedding band, and I’ve never regretted it.”
Instead, her life has been filled with wonderful people and grand adventures, and it has always been shared with her Abyssinian cats. And of course, there is the music.
Currently Connors is focusing on promoting a new movie in which she performs, and for which she wrote the lyrics and music, “True Bromance,” a hilarious romp of a film with which she says she’s thrilled to be associated. She continues to work tirelessly for the Wounded Warriors Trust and is a very active supporter of the “Angels in the Sky” documentary.
Neither she nor her voice have aged a bit; both beautiful, both strong and both a gift to the world.
• Tammy Bleck is the author of the book “Single Past 50 Now What?” and the ever popular “View From a (Non)Jew.” She is a renowned speaker, coach and columnist. You can read more of her writings and contact her at www.wittywomanwriting.com.
For more information about “Angels in the Sky” visit www.angelsintheskythemovie.com.