Conny Froboess was the first of Germany’s female teen idols. Her greatest success came at the end of the 1950s and in the pre-beat boom era, culminating in her 1962 Eurovision song contest entry, Zwei kleine Italiener. However, after a period of great success, ultimately she abandoned music to become an actress.
She was born Cornelia Froboess on 28 October 1943 in Wriezen, in Brandenburg, eastern Germany. (Usually her family lived in Berlin, but they had fled the city to avoid the wartime bombs.)
Her father, composer Gerhard Froboess, was responsible for turning her into a child star. In 1951 he wrote the song Pack’ die Badehose ein for the Schöneberger Sängerknaben boys’ choir. When their choirmaster turned down the song, Froboess had seven-year-old Conny record it instead. The result was a huge hit – and overnight success for Little Cornelia (Die kleine Cornelia).
She released more singles over the next couple of years and appeared in several films throughout the decade, before enjoying a huge chart comeback in 1958, this time as Conny. The name change signified a shift towards a more hip, Americanised image for the teenager. A string of top-five successes, including Diana (a version of the Paul Anka hit), I love you baby and Blue jean boy, all issued in 1958, cemented her position and saw the singer become an idol for German teens.
Over the following years she was often paired with male stars such as Will Brandes (Teenager Melodie), Rex Gildo (Yes, my darling) and Peter Kraus (Sag mir, was du denkst), though her management worked hard to retain her wholesome image.
By the end of 1961, however, the hits had become smaller – none of Conny’s records had made the ten hit in over a year. So she was entered into the 1962 Deutsche Schlager-Festpiele as a means of raising her profile. The tactic paid off – she won with the highly catchy Zwei kleine Italiener, narrowly beating Siw Malmkvist into second place.
At that time, winning meant going on to represent Germany at the Eurovision song contest, and Conny duly headed off to Luxembourg for the pan-European final in March. Despite a confident performance, she finished a disappointing sixth. However, she was already number one in Germany by this time, and she remained on the top spot for five weeks. The song – penned by Christian Bruhn and Georg Buschor – went on to sell over a million copies internationally and is considered an evergreen of German pop. (Conny also recorded the song in Dutch, English and Italian.)
It gave the singer’s chart career the boost it needed, and the follow up, Lady Sunshine und Mr Moon, followed it straight into the German top three that summer.
Ironically, this happened as Conny began to show a greater interest in her acting career. She had been taking acting lessons since the late 1950s, and had appeared in numerous film and TV roles – sometimes accompanied by her occasional singing partner Peter Kraus. The pair had, for instance, enjoyed box office successes with the films Wenn die Conny mit dem Peter in 1958 and Conny und Peter machen Musik in 1960.
Though Conny enjoyed further hits in 1963 with Verliebt, verlobt, verheiratet (a duet with Peter Alexander), Skip-du-bi-du and Drei Musketiere, sessions in the recording studio began to become less and less frequent.
In 1964, she was teamed with Peter Alexander again, this time in the film Hilfe, meine Braut klaut, and enjoyed just one top 40 solo hit, Hey, Baron Münchhausen.
Diese Nacht hat viele Lichter – a German version of the theme tune to the film Topkapi – gave Conny her only chart hit of 1965, and a return to the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele with the chirpy (but ultimately unsatisfying) Meine Hochzeitsreise mach’ ich auf den Mond and Schöne Männer sind nicht sehr gefährlich couldn’t repeat her earlier success. (Peggy March won that year.)
If Conny had been in any doubt as to which direction to take her career in, public and critical acclaim for her role in the 1965 TV film Wahn oder der Teufel in Boston proved decisive. After that, her efforts at maintaining a pop career were half-hearted at best.
Ich geh’ durch den Regen became her last chart hit, reaching number 38 in May 1966, though fans prefer her final Electrola single, Der Sommer geht (a version of Billy Grammer’s 1959 hit Gotta travel on), backed with the beat-tastic Und das Leben geht weiter.
She switched to Polydor for one final 45, Schreib’ es in die Sand, and an LP, both issued in 1967 under the name of Cornelia Froboess (the name she would use from then on), but her pop career was all but over by this time.
Indeed, she married Austrian theatre director Hellmuth Matiasek that year, and cut short her honeymoon to be able to star in the film Rheinsberg. She won the Ernst Lubitsch prize for her role, and in 1968 she won a Golden Camera for the title role in the film Matilde Möhring.
She became an in-demand actress and continued to work throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1970s. In 1972, she joined Munich’s Kammerspiele theatre, and appeared in numerous plays over the following 20 years.
Among her best-known stage roles is that of Eliza Doolittle in the musical My fair lady at Munich’s Theater am Gärtnerplatz in the 1980s.
She continues to work to this day.