If there was ever another candidate for “The Voice” of the 20th century, it would be Mario Lanza. I was reminded of this incredible tenor when I noticed a marathon of his movies on TCM January 31st, his birthday. Although there is no record of he and Ol’ Blue Eyes ever recording together, it’s only natural that these two great vocalists would have a connection. And for one amazing movie scene, Dean Martin would come into the picture too.
Lanza’s story is, unfortunately, a tragedy; his innate talent, combined with a lot of hard work got him noticed enough to become a star. A superstar actually. His records went gold, sold out audience crowds would work themselves into a frenzy, and Louis B. Mayer presented him with an offer he couldn’t refuse to sign with MGM.
His voice dazzled anyone who heard it, including Frank Sinatra who, according to a 1944 newspaper article, was introduced to the young man at the same time as Hollywood legend Walter Pidgeon and they were both enthralled. Sinatra says he swooned and wanted to sign him, but the boy was the property of the US Army at the time.
After starring in Hollywood films for seven years, a disagreement with the studio sent Lanza to Italy to work. In the 1957 movie, Seven Hills of Rome, he shows off his abilities by imitating a number of the biggest voices of the day, including “Dino Martino” in a sort of medley scene. This guy had it all.
This is where the tragic stuff happens; just two years later he died of a heart attack while trying to lose weight for an upcoming film. His distraught wife died five months later. Sinatra telegrammed his condolences. Lanza was only 38.
Even with such a brief time to shine, Lanza is considered one of the top voices of the century and has influenced other opera singers such as José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. Have a listen to one of his songs today, you’ll be glad you did.
As for me, I’m ready for my sold out show at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre where it’s approaching 80 degrees. I love Florida in February!
Mario Lanza & Frank Sinatra Meet
Now under contract of Frank Sinatra and manager." This is what it said on Mario Lanza's Army separation and qualification record. The date was the 29th of December, 1942 and Mario's Army serial number began with U.S. 33--- which meant that Mario was drafted and did not enlist. On this Army document, there were many questions to be answered and the primary question was: "Main Occupation?" Mario chose one word to describe his occupation: singer.
His job summary states: "Was under contract for concert singing. Studied voice under private teachers. Made debut in 1941 at Berkshire Music Festival of Grand Opera. Studied grand opera under the sponsorship of Columbia Concerts with Robert Weede, Baritone of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Stage name is Mario Lanza. Now under contract to Frank Sinatra and manager."
How did that come about? How did Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza meet? Let's go to a press release dated October 5th, 1944 when Mario was still in the army. The story was simply entitled: "Hollywood Incident: Walter Pidgeon raved and Frank Sinatra swooned." And this is how it all came about. First, let Walter rave:
"The other evening I went to a farewell party at Irene Manning's house to celebrate her going overseas. It was rather late when I arrived and while walking up the stairs I heard somebody singing. The voice was so magnificent, so beyond anything I've heard for years, even surpassing Gigli and Caruso, that I said to myself this certainly is going to be boring if we have to sit and listen to records all evening.
"As I opened the door, I saw a young chap standing at the other end of the room, and the voice, believe it or not, was his. I didn't know who the boy was, never having met him before, but I did know from my own experience as a singer that here was a voice in a million. Unfortunately, he finished his song a few minutes after my entrance, so I went over to Irene and asked her if he was going to sing again. She said, 'Sure, a little later on.' Well, I stayed and waited impatiently till 3:30 in the morning. Then the boy sang again. I decided that any time I would be delighted to wait up all night if I could hear him sing just one song.
"A few days later I saw Frank Sinatra and as we were chatting, Frank said, grinning from ear to ear, 'talking about people swooning when I sing, the tables were turned the other day when a young chap came on my set and started to sing. There's no exaggeration in stating that for once in my life I really swooned. I asked him if he wanted to be on my program, but he is not able to accept any contracts right now as he happens to be in the army.' 'WHERE ON EARTH DO I FIND THIS BOY?' I asked? Frank answered, 'With the Winged Victory Cast. His name is Mario Lanza and he is only twenty-three years old.'"
Mario's first son, Damon, was born on the same day as Frank Sinatra, December 12th. Frank was not only a decent human being but he was an institution. Frank and Mario were never great friends but they were indeed friends. Frank loved Mario's voice and Mario loved Frank's voice. What else needs to be said?
Some years after Mario died, stories surfaced about how well Frank and Mario knew each other. Some said that they used to 'pal around together' while others would say they never met at all. Suffice it to say that they met and became friends. Years later, when Frank found out that his and Damon Lanza's birthdays were on the very same day, he sent Damon an autographed picture of himself, which still hangs next to Mario's pictures in our home.
When people hear that Mario and Frank knew each other, the first thing they ask is: did they ever sing together or did they ever do anything together? In all our archives, I have seen nothing to say that they ever did anything together, but who knows? Maybe someone will find something that was put away in a box or a file that teams up the two great singers of their day. I know that this is possible because 35 years after Mario's death, we are uncovering material that we never knew existed, that was packed in boxes and sealed until a few years ago. One can only hope.