'Bye, Bye Birdie' is about to be mounted again on Broadway for the first time in half a century - the new show stars John Stamos and Gina Gershon (in the roles of Albert and Rosie created by Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera). Dick Gautier (of countless 70s gameshows) played Conrad Birdie - the teen idol drafted into the Army.
I thought I would take a moment to remember the actor/singer Jesse Pearson.
Jesse Pearson was a young actor and singer from Oklahoma who was chosen for the part of Conrad Birdie in the national stage company of the musical Bye, Bye Birdie. The producers of the film liked Jesse's performance enough to cast him in the same role for the 1963 movie (when he was age 32).
In the film, Jesse sang 3 songs: "You Gotta Be Sincere", "One Last Kiss", and "I Got a Lotta Livin' To Do". Despite excellent reviews for his work in 'Birdie' - Jesse, like many actors in Hollywood, found it difficult getting other acting jobs. He played (the same sorta) hillbilly turned rock star (named Johnny Poke) on 2 early Beverly Hillbillies episodes (1964) and played Mayberry singer Keevy Hazelton on Andy Griffith Show (1966).
He released a single on RCA, "Talk to Me Baby" that was featured on the Bye, Birdie soundtrack album. Besides his 60s TV work, he got a small part in the film "Don't Go Near the Water."
Poet/Songbird Rod McKuen adds:
I met Jesse when, between acting jobs, he came to work for me as an assistant. He stayed with me until I was lucky enough to find Gerry Robinson who became my secretary, assistant and confidant for two decades until her retirement. Jesse remained a life long friend to Edward, Gerry, Wade and me. When casting a voice for "The Sea" I felt his presence and intimate vocal quality was just what the project needed. He was easy to direct and both Anita Kerr (who wrote all the music for The San Sebastian Strings albums) and I found him a joy to work with. He was the voice on "The Sea," "Home to the Sea" and "The Soft Sea." Later he did two more albums for Stanyan, "The Body Electric" & "The Body Electric, Two." They consisted of Jesse reading the erotic poetry of Walt Whitman that I had set to music.
Hear Jesse's sexy talk here
He was a kind, sweet, handsome and more than a little complicated man. In the hands of the right agents and managers his charm, acting ability and lanky good looks should have made him a natural for film and TV work.
Jesse resurfaced in 1979, using the pseudonym “A. Fabritzi”, as the writer/director of two pornographic films (ie: Pro-Ball Cheerleaders, Legend of Lady Blue).
His career as helmer of adult films was just beginning when Mr. Pearson died at age 49 from cancer on December 5, 1979 in Monroe, Louisiana.