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!