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Courting the King of Romance : To Share a Moment With Englebert Humperdinck, Fans Sacrifice Cash, Gifts and Innocence

July 02, 1987|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

It seemed like such a simple request.

Ronny Hornstein, an unmarried nursery school teacher from Brooklyn, N.Y., said she didn't expect a marriage proposal. Although, she had to admit, it would be the answer to her every dream. Debbie Doyle, a happily married mother of four from Burlington, N.J., said she didn't want to change her life.

All the pair wanted, they said, was to meet Englebert Humperdinck.

And for those whose memory of the British singer ne Arnold George Dorsey melds with that of archrival Tom Jones, it wouldn't seem like a tall order. Humperdinck hasn't had a major hit since "After the Lovin' " in 1976, although he continues to cut albums.

But no. Having become one of the heirs to that vast female kingdom once dominated by Elvis Presley, he has at least 240 fan clubs nationwide, according to his publicist, each with 30 to 200 members.

'67 Hit Bumped the Beatles

About 230 members converged last weekend on Southern California for the 20th anniversary celebration of "Release Me," which in 1967 knocked the Beatles' "Penny Lane" out of front running on the pop charts and indelibly printed Humperdinck--mutton-chop sideburns and all--in the minds of shy women.

So Hornstein and Doyle hired a Los Angeles outfit called "Dreams Come True." A for-profit company modeled loosely on a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to the dying, "Dreams" offers a menu of "prearranged" dreams such as "Fly a 747 jumbo jet" (in fact, a simulator is used) and arranges customized fantasies. The meeting was set for Saturday.

Neither Doyle, Hornstein nor the company will divulge the cost of the fantasy that included two $19 tickets to local Humperdinck appearances. (The two women bought tickets to a third concert on their own). Company president John Alexander would only say, "Most customized dreams cost at least $1,000."

Alexander, however, couldn't make the dream come true for all seven of the members of their Englebert Humperdinck Love Boat Fan Club. Club president Jackie Cannella, in town to represent the organization at an anniversary party aboard the Queen Mary on Friday, had to wrangle a ticket to the concert on her own.

Dressing for Success

Then there was the matter of Cannella's shoes. After spending the better part of the afternoon dressing for Saturday night's concert, the women decided at the last moment that the white patent-leather belt that she chose to wear with her red gauze dress didn't precisely match any of the heels she had brought for two concerts at the Universal Amphitheater and one concert at Irvine Meadows.

"You feel like you're going on the most important date in the world," Cannella explained good-naturedly.

Getting out of their hotel's lobby was difficult too. Loaded down with bouquets, a sweater and a hat for their idol and trailed by a television crew and photographer, they created a stir. "Must be a wedding," one bystander observed.

Getting to the concert wasn't any easier. "Dreams" had mentioned a limousine. But the women ended up having to walk up a tall hill, taking care to avoid a bush that had been sprayed by skunks.

Hornstein, 34, and Doyle, 29, were almost in their front-row seats when a woman wearing a badge that identified her as a member of the "Just The Way You Are" Fan Club planted herself in their path.

She glared at the hat that Doyle hoped her idol would take from her during his last number. "He doesn't do that anymore," the woman taunted.

But for the pair who marched through the '80s resolutely oblivious to Michael Jackson, Prince and Sting, no sacrifice is too great for the singer also known for the 1967 hit "There Goes My Everything."

Hornstein, a serious woman who dresses sensibly, estimates she has already attended 25 concerts this year and expects to attend another 25 before year's end, for a career total in the neighborhood of 100. Still living with her parents to keep down expenses, she also lavishes him with gifts.

Doyle, who resembles a grown-up cheerleader, says she manages to make "only 12 or so" concerts a year. She says she would attend more but she doesn't want to "push it" with her husband of eight years, Michael.

No concert is too distant. Each show gets a new outfit.

Doyle once baked him 42 pounds of cookies. Their fan club helped raise $3,500 for one of his favorite charities.

Doyle's affection even extends to her third born. "When she was 4 years old, Lindsay was hit by a car and knocked unconscious," Doyle said. "When she came to, she asked for me, my husband and Englebert Humperdinck. . . . All my children like him, but Lindsay is one of us ."

A drum roll and strains of "Welcome to My World" announced Humperdinck, who flew on stage in a white tuxedo and boots, his pelvis gyrating like a U-joint.

Two scantily clad dancers relieved him of his coat and tie. He unbuttoned his shimmery, synthetic shirt to reveal a large, gold crucifix.

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