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Lost gem

Some starstruck teenagers daydream of hitting The Big Apple and Broadway.

Others — like Helena identical twins Jerry and Jay Hopkins —  just do it.

In January 1963, they hopped on the North Coast Limited, both clutching one-way tickets to chase their dreams in New York.

There they would find a new life of excitement, glamor and a brush with fame.

A career highlight came in 1968 when they released their first album, “Twinn Connexion” on the Decca label. It had a few moments of glory, attracting stories in the teen zines of the time — but due to bad timing never saw the success some believe it deserved.

But this week it’s getting a new life, a second chance.

It’s just been reissued by Now Sounds, which is distributed by Cherry Red Records of London.

Dressed in fancy Edwardian suits, Jerry and Jay cheerily smile from the psychedelic CD cover — taken from the original album jacket.

Known in the industry as “sunshine pop,” the “Twinn Connexion” album is considered “a lost-and-found gem of the genre.”

But discovering the twins’ story is even more of a lost-and-found gem.

The IR caught up with Jerry, 69, in a phone interview from his home in Woodstock, N.Y., where he’s an artist and gallery owner.

His identical twin, Jay, died in New York City of a heart attack in 2001, a few days before the 9-11 attack.

This loss is the bittersweet part of an otherwise sweet story.

Jay isn’t here in person to share yet another golden moment with Jerry, but Jerry’s convinced he’s here in spirit.

But now, for a little spin back through history.

In the 1960s the Hopkins twins could frequently be found helping at their parents’ store, Hopkins Hi-Way Market, at the corner of North Main and Poplar.

Gerd and James Hopkins hoped their children would follow in their footsteps and take over the business.

But the twins had other dreams. So did their sister, Patty, who went on to skate in the Ice Capades, later becoming a Playboy Bunny.

For the twins, life revolved around the theater and listening for hours to Broadway tunes on the family hi fi.

Performing at venues all over Helena as the Hopkins Twins, they also appeared in many plays directed by the beloved Doris Marsolais Marshall.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without her,” said Jerry. “She was an inspiration to everyone. She was just an amazing human being.”

Marshall, an English and drama teacher at Helena High School, operated the Old Brewery Theatre with her husband, Walter, during summers, bringing in actors from New York City and L.A.

She also introduced the twins to New York City and Broadway in 1958.

And it was their first roles at the Old Brewery Theatre as Horace and Henry in “The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker,” that years later they would reprise on national television as The Imperial Margarine Twins.

Other good fortune came their way in Helena, as well.

They were offered their own half-hour weekly TV show, “Teen Time Varieties,” on KXLJ-TV.

“I had auditions. I found people who would sing or were in the orchestra or band,” recalled Jerry. “It was all local talent and all live. It was amazing how much local talent we had. It was great fun. Everything was impromptu. It was a wonderful learning experience.”

After attending the university in Missoula, they couldn’t wait to hit The Great White Way — arriving in New York City a few days before their 22nd birthdays — with just $100 between them.

“It does require an enormous amount of courage to pick up and leave home,” reflected Jerry. “When you make a decision like that to travel across the world, it’s pretty challenging.”

Actors they had befriended at the Old Brewery Theatre helped them out. Rex Reed, who would later be a famous movie critic, gave them dishes and showed them how to use the subway. Rosemary Brady let them sleep on her apartment floor.

They found a third-floor, walk-up apartment on W. 76th Street for $16 per week.

It was a hardscrabble life — grabbing acting parts, working on sets and costumes, juggling day jobs.

Their clean-cut looks, matching blazers and love of Broadway tunes were out of sync with the Village folk/coffeehouse scene of the time.

Eventually, they landed  regular gigs at such places as Upstairs at the Duplex, The Bitter End and The Champagne Gallery. It was there that Bill Downer, of Northern Publishing, an affiliate of Decca Records, discovered them.

He invited them to do some demo records, which led to the album “Twinn Connexion.”

It was the big break they’d worked so hard for.

“Jay and I wanted to be on Broadway,” said Jerry, recalling why they chose their glitzy costume for the album cover. “We wanted to be flashy. We loved the idea of performing in Vegas, which was really not the thing at the time.

“We were really on a roll,” he recalled.

Their photos and stories were splashed across the covers and pages of Eye, Teen Life, Teen World and 16.

They celebrated the release with a big bash at the New York Playboy Club where Patty was a bunny.

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Unfortunately, the twins’ big break came at a poor time.

“Twinn Connexion” came out the same day that Decca released The Who’s “Magic Bus,” said Jerry. The Who garnered all the promotion money.

However, the “Twinn Connexion” tune “Sixth Avenue Stroll,” did top the charts at Radio Universal in Mexico City, which led to a second Twinn Connexion recording — on the Mexican Orfeon label.

And Twinn Connexion was nominated for a Naras (Grammy) for its 1969 version of the Cyrkle’s hit, “Turn Down Day,” said Jerry.

Just as the twins were gaining momentum, Westinghouse Electric bought Decca. All the folks the twins had worked with were suddenly gone.

For a while, Jerry continued working behind the scenes in theater. He later returned to school, earning an art degree.

Jay became a trader on Wall Street, where he worked until his death.

Interestingly, it was the twins’ costume choice for their album cover that years later caught record producer Steve Stanley’s eye.

While attending a Pasadena College swap meet in 1996 or 1997, he picked up a copy of “Twinn Connexion” for a few bucks.

“I was blown away by it,” he said of the album.

The founder of Now Sounds, Stanley’s been reissuing albums on CD since 2002 by such ’60s artists as Janis Ian, Dion and the Cowsills.

They are “artists who lasted the test of time, but somehow fell through the cracks of time,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

“They were just amazing records but for whatever reason they didn’t share in the successes of their contemporaries. ‘Twinn Connexion’ fell into that format perfectly.

“I’m just honored to present this music on CD for the first time ever.” Stanley said. It includes a 24-page booklet telling the twins’ story, including historic photos and commentary by Jerry.

And Jerry couldn’t be more delighted that “Twinn Connexion” is reaching a whole new audience.

Before meeting Stanley, Jerry had released his own CD “Twinn Connexion: Songs from the Heart,” from tapes he found in Jay’s apartment after his death.

The only sad part of the story is that Jay isn’t here to share the fun.

“Losing a twin — you have no idea. ... half of you is not there,” said Jerry. “People don’t realize the cosmic connection there. He’s still with me. In fact, he’s probably here talking to you through me.”

Order info

Twinn Connexion is available through Now Sounds at http://www.cherryred.co.uk/nowsounds/artists/twinnconnexion.php

Listen: follow the link in this story online at helenair.com

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