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It’s not everyday that you come across a good musical biopic. When you have an adored musical figure, it’s so easy for things to go left. But in my opinion, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, is one of the classics. Larenz Tate, who is far too underrated in Hollywood, was a force to be reckoned with. (There were times when I swore he and Frankie were one and he, Tate, was the one singing those songs.) And the leading ladies held their own as well. They brought the drama, the comedy and the emotion to make this a great film. Check out the behind the scenes secrets of how it all came together.


Close Casting Call

When it came to the women who were cast as Frankie Lymon’s wives, there were some heavy hitters. Vivica Fox’ career was definitely on an upswing after starring in Independence Day alongside Will Smith. Lela Rochon was in Boomerang and had just completed the box office smash Waiting to Exhale. And though Halle Berry had yet to win her Oscar, she was steadily becoming a big name in the industry. But the cast might have looked a bit different if Toni Braxton’s schedule hadn’t been so jam packed in the ’90’s. The people in production wanted her to play the role of one of the wives but with everything else she had going on, she couldn’t swing it.

How did it come to be?

As you know, Why Do Fools Fall in Love was loosely based on Frankie Lymon’s life. And while it may seem hard to believe that this boyish looking man was married to three women at the same time, it was the 1980’s court case that later inspired former “Days of Our Lives” actress, Tina Andrews, to write the screenplay. Though the studio picked up the screenplay within 24 hours after she submitted it, the movie would eventually take 15 years to make it to the big screen. Tina also wrote the screenplay for Dreamgirls; but after Why Do Fools Fall in Love didn’t do as well as anticipated in theaters, studios stopped production on it…until later of course.

Michael Jackson, though?

Knowing what Michael looked like in the latter part of his life it would seem that casting him in this role would be completely out of the question. But considering that the screenplay was written sometime in the ’80’s, Michael was still black-looking back then. Even still, Frankie Lymon was pretty short and Michael didn’t have the body and most likely not even the acting chops to pull this one off.


Why did Larenz take this role?

After his role in Menace to Society, Larenz Tate was the baby faced thug. But he wanted to completely shift his image for the role of Frankie Lymon. But that doesn’t mean that people didn’t have their doubts. Here’s what Vivica Fox had to say about him playing the lead role in this biopic:

“When I first got the script, one of the first questions I asked was who was going to play Frankie Lymon,” Vivica says. “When they said, ‘Larenz’ I was like, ‘O-Dog!? But the thing I enjoyed about working with Larenz the most was that when he was [playing] the teenager he was dedicated, shaving off his mustache…and then, when he became a drug addict, he totally sacrificed himself physically and mentally. He put contacts in his eyes and stained his teeth. He didn’t want to sugar-coat it, and as an artist, that’s what I appreciate.”


Who’s the director?

Following the success of another musical biopic, Selena from the year before in 1997, Gregory Nava seemed like a shoe in to direct Why Do Fools Fall in Love. The movies were filmed so close to each other, that the same technical crew that worked on Selena was virtually the same crew that worked on Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

What did the actors want from this film?

In an article for Black, Vivica Fox and Larenz Tate were asked to describe the hopes they had for the film. Vivica hoped it would reach a different audience while Larenz wanted people take away life lessons from the movie.

“I hope it’s a crossover film. I don’t want people to see African-American faces on the billboard and think that it’s only a Black film, or that it’s just a chick-flick. This film has comedy, drama, and music-elements that are going to make it different from anything out there right now.” Larenz continues, “I just want people to be thoroughly entertained and find that it’s okay to fall in love-just don’t be a complete fool.”

Ms. Jane Pittman

The film takes place over three decades but instead of hiring older actresses, the makeup artists just aged Fox, Rochon and Berry. The woman jokingly, or seriously thought the makeup artists went too far. Here’s what Lela and Halle had to say about the makeup.

“It was awful, I think they went too far!” exclaims Lela. “We looked like Miss Jane Pittman,” adds Halle

All photos courtesy of

What did the wives think of the movie?

There were some very real portrayals of the wives in this movie. Vivica Fox, who played the role of Elizabeth ‘Mickey’ Waters was a prostitute at one point, supporting Frankie’s drug habit. Halle Berry portrayed Zola Taylor, a singer and Lela Rochon a school teacher. Though Frankie had long since passed away, the wives were still living when the movie was released and some had a chance to see the film. Halle said that she didn’t reach out to Zola because she didn’t want her version of the story to conflict with what Tina Andrews had written. But the woman who Lela Rochon portrayed, Emira Eagle, saw the movie, enjoyed it and even attended the premiere.

How did it do in theaters?

Why Do Fools Fall in Love cost $7.5 million but only made $3.9 million during its opening weekend. The film ended up disappointing studios after it ended up grossing $12.4 during its box office run.


What did Roger Ebert have to say about it?

Roger Ebert usually has a valuable and often surprisingly accurate review of films, including the black ones other critics seem to misunderstand. But for this movie, he wasn’t blown away. Though he didn’t bash the actors and their performances, he did state that the plot was unorganized and didn’t allow audiences to identify with any of the characters, with the exception of Frankie, at times.

There are several angles this material might have been approached from, and director Gregory Nava tries several without hitting on one that works. By the end of the film we’re not even left with anyone to root for; we realize with a little astonishment, waiting for the court verdict, that we don’t care who wins.


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