Skyliners reflect on film about Janet Vogel Rapp

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"Since I Don't Have You" was a Skyliners hit with a lyric that manager Joe Rock jotted down in a car after breaking up with a girl.

For Gavin Rapp, the heartbroken ballad from 1958 has a more a tragic connotation, relating to the death of his mother, Janet Vogel Rapp. The Skyliners' lovely female vocalist took her own life in 1980 after a battle with drug addiction.

"Jimmy [Beaumont] was the voice, but she was the center attraction," said Wally Lester of the original Skyliners. "Wherever we went, people gravitated to her."

Mr. Lester, a retired sales manager for Clairol who lives in North Carolina, was in town Thursday night for the cast-and-crew premiere of "Since I Don't Have You," a locally produced movie written and co-directed by Mr. Rapp (with Ron Hankison), who previously directed the crime noir film "Trapped" for his Winter Morning Pictures.

"When I turned 37 that was the same age my mother was when she committed suicide," he said. "This is when things really hit me how much I missed her. I wanted to reflect on things that happened in my life that I kind of ignored up to that point."

At that moment, 10 years ago, he started writing the screenplay for this film that should not be mistaken for a Skyliners biopic. The movie uses the Skyliners and their glorious music as a backdrop for the tumultuous story of the Rapp family.

Janet, played by Kristin Spatafore (a model-turned-actress who had a bit part in "Love & Other Drugs"), is a woman trying (and failing) to balance the life of pop star, mother of three, and wife to a domineering husband (Kenny Champion), who clashes with the group and the pistol-waving Rock (Buster Maxwell). The young Gavin (Cameron McKendry) is depicted as a troubled teenage boy, a Central Catholic student, trying to pick up the pieces of his parents' fractured marriage.

Ron Marnich, who plays the golden-voiced Mr. Beaumont, has little more to do in the film than lip-synch the songs during the handful of performance scenes.

Although "Since I Don't Have You" spends only a few fleeting minutes on the rise of the group before jumping to the problems that developed around 1975, Mr. Beaumont, who is shown breaking down at her funeral, was nonetheless impressed.

"I wasn't prepared for how good it was going to be," he said in the crowded lobby of the SouthSide Works Cinema following the film. "It captured the time period well."

"I thought it was right on," he said about the historical accuracy of the film, then added that "a couple things" may have deviated from the real story, "but not enough to make a difference."

After the credits rolled, Mr. Rapp thanked the audience and acknowledged, "This isn't an easy movie to get through."

Nor was it easy to make. Aside from the usual challenges of raising money and securing the locations and actors, he was forced to frame countless painful scenes from his past, not the least of which was finding his mother dead in the garage from carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The writing was the hardest part," the director said. "After I got past the writing, we were more focused on getting the scene right, emotionally, and working with theatrics to make sure we got the right shot and the right take."

Mr. Rapp's father, Kerry, a policeman and security officer who later worked for the University of Pittsburgh, is the clear villain in the film.

"He was one of the reasons I left," said Mr. Lester, who departed the Skyliners in the early '60s and returned for its Madison Square Garden reunion in 1970, remaining for another six years.

Gavin, who is seen clashing with his father over song royalties at the end of the film, says, "I haven't talked to him in about 22 years. I know he moved to Florida about 15, 20 years ago, and I'm sure people in Pittsburgh are contacting him about [the film], but I haven't heard anything from him."

Asked if he was concerned about his father's reaction, his answer was a flat "No."

The movie is scheduled for three more screenings at the SouthSide Works Cinema, including one on Oct. 25 that is not yet sold out. It will be shown at the Capitol Theater in Cleveland on Oct. 18. After that, the filmmaker hopes to enter it into festivals and lure a distributor.

With the premiere out of the way, the exhausting emotional work is behind him.

"I'm a little relieved now. It's really been a blessing to see how many people have been waiting in the wings for this truth to come out about what really happened with Jan and what happened with the group."

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Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576.


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