- Terry Robinson
- Terry Robinson, world-famous fitness
authority and legendary 'trainer of the stars', is the man who was with
Mario day in and day out during his meteoric years in Hollywood; from his
magnificent triumph in the Hollywood Bowl to the Silver Screen in the Great
Caruso; from training with Mario at home and on 'Muscle Beach' to fighting
the cruel and heartless film industry which sought to drain every ounce
of profit from Mario...and then to trying to help him recover after the
tragic Student Prince walkout and fiasco.
- Terry was with Mario at every recording
session from RCA to Radio Recorders to MGM. Terry was with Mario for every
take of every scene of all the MGM films. He shared Mario's innermost feelings
and emotions for years as only two of the closest friends can. Terry played
a major role in not only Mario's life but the lives of his mother and father
and his children...especially in their later childhood years. Mario told
Terry many times, "you're my only brother."
- Terry's book, The Tragic Life Of Mario
Lanza, remains a powerful portrait of the incomparable tenor and can still
be found by doing online book searches or working through used book sellers.
- On a personal note, I've known Terry
for over 20 years now, and I will state, without hesitation, that I have
not met a man I hold in higher personal regard, or for whose decency and
achievements I have greater respect. Terry is the kindest, most honorable,
generous, caring individual one could meet. His memory is RAZOR sharp and
he is more physically fit in his eighth decade than most men in their thirties.
- Terry Robinson is a living testimonial
to friendship and to the memory of the man whose voice will light up hearts
and lives around the world as long as there are people who can hear. Recently,
over lunch, I asked Terry (yet again) what was it like to actually be in
the room with Mario and to hear his voice. Terry said, "Oh...my God...it
still makes the hair on my arms stand up just to think of it. " And
- Below are some questions...and answers...about
Mario which I think you will enjoy...
- Session #1
- JR: This first question is from Rod Tierman: "Terry,
of all the recordings Mario made, did he, to your knowledge, have one that
he considered his absolute favorite?"
- TR: Well, you can't put your hand on any one in particular,
but whenever he sang, and gave a concert, he always sang 'O Sole Mio.'
I don't know if that was his favorite...but he also did one that was very
interesting that he loved. After it was finished, I remember having remarked
about it...it was The Song Of India, which Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics
for. Johnny Mercer was a friend of Mario, and I remember he told Johnny
that he was real happy ...very happy...with the results. So that's two,
but he really didn't have one favorite one.
- JR: What was he happiest singing: Opera or Popular?
- TR: Opera. He said because Opera is 'the story of life'
more than anything else...and the success and the tragedy of life. Opera
was the standard that he went by, more than anything else.
- JR: During his concerts, when you were there, and watched
him sing, he always sang 'O Sole Mio'?
- TR: Well, not always on a concert tour, but, for instance,
one night, we left the Hollywood Bowl and went to Ciro's to watch Dean
Martin and Jerry Lewis. They were up on stage and spotted him and they
made him get up and sing, and he sang 'O Sole Mio.' (And at the end of
that song, Dean and Jerry, realizing there was no way to compete, excused
themselves and walked off the stage -ed). And the night we went to the
Shriners' program at the Shrine auditorium when they had that major benefit,
where all the major stars of Hollywood were appearing, he did 'O Sole Mio'
....he always put that in as his short repertoire, where he didn't have
to sing a lot of songs.
- JR: That Shriners event was really something...
- TR: Well, all the major stars in Hollywood were present
I mean I'd be a name-dropper if I kept mentioning all the names...everybody
- JR: Who came by the dressing room before his performance?
Didn't you tell me it was Flynn?
- TR: Errol Flynn...and he was drinking Smirnoff vodka...
- JR: Was Errol in good spirits?
- TR: Oh, sure! Mario was sharing a dressing room with
the famous violinist, Isaac Stern, and Isaac Stern wanted to practice,
and he couldn't with Errol and Mario in the room. So, he went into the
men's room, and practiced in the men's room....now that's a first.
- JR: So, Errol and Mario were sort of kindred spirits
in some ways?
- TR: Oh yeah, they could have been good buddies.
- JR: OK, the second question is from Edna Falloon, who
saw Mario sing twice live at the Hollywood Bowl, and then at the Lux Theater,
where CBS did a special theatrical production to launch a new MGM-owned
radio station in New York. She was also at his Rosary. Her question is:
"Dear Terry, I was at that sad Rosary, having given up eight lunch
hours time-off to be able to attend. This has been my question all the
years since. When Mario's coffin was taken to the alter, who was the man,
at the rear who leaned over and clasped the coffin and draped himself over
it and sobbed? I was in the third row, left side, facing the alter, on
the aisle, and I was sobbing, too. Thanks for your answer...I would like
to know who was grieving as much as I was. With love and respect, Edna."
- TR: It was Mario's Father, Tony, who said "Why don't
you take me? Why don't you take me? I'm an old man. Why do you take this
- JR: Here is another question...from Weldon Barker of
Summerville, South Carolina: "Dear Mr. Robinson, many years ago, I
read your bio of Mario, and was troubled by your suggestions that Mario's
sudden and tragic death was due to foul play, probably by the Mafia. But
there was only a very superficial incomplete description of your suspicions.
Perhaps the publisher was unwilling to treat it in greater detail. Could
you offer us any real evidence or explain why you seem so sure of this?
Do you still believe Mario was a victim of a Mafia 'hit'?
- TR: I can't be sure because I wasn't there. I only repeated
what Mario Lanza's mother and what Mario Lanza's wife told me. They felt
it. When Mario Lanza's mother went over to Italy to visit her son...he
knew and had meetings ...and Lucky Luciano used to come over to his house.
She once said to him...she always called him 'Freddie'...she said to him,
"Freddie, why don't you stay away from those people? We stayed away
from them all the time in California." And he said, "Mom, they
will never do anything. They are alright. He just likes my voice, so he
comes over." Betty Lanza never enjoyed those people coming to her
house in Italy, and she felt they did something wrong to her husband. That's
what they told me when they came back to the states. I would like to add
to this, Mario Lanza's uncle Vincent...when Mario was nine years old...his
uncle Vincent was shot by the 'Mob' and he saw his uncle Vincent laying
in the street. Vincent was Tony Cocozza's brother. From that day on, the
Lanza family including Mario's grandfather, wouldn't pay any attention
and didn't want them in their store...and didn't want them in the neighborhood
and were not friendly with them.
- JR: There is recent information out that suggests that
Mario had one or two heart attacks in the preceding months up to the time
- TR: Well, I wasn't in Europe, so I don't know about that.
- JR: How was his health, as far as you know, when he was
- TR: I wasn't there but he would call me and talk to me,
and he said he felt alright. We used to discuss it, and I'd ask him how
he was doing, and he'd say, "Oh, I'm OK, I'm alright."...that
everything was fine and that he was happy over there.
- JR: But he was ready to come home, wasn't he?
- TR: Oh, yeah. Well, he stayed away two years.
- JR: The reason he went to Italy is not understood by
a lot of people. Why did he go over there, Terry?
- TR: There was a law that if American people went over
to Italy, and stayed two years, they wouldn't have to pay the United States
- JR: And he had back taxes?
- TR: And he had back taxes, but he paid those off. RCA
paid the money he owed the government, so they had a lifetime of Mario
Lanza records and voice. But, he stayed over there two years, and he made
films over there, he did concerts over there. Since he was living in Europe
for the two years, he set a precedent (with the IRS), so he didn't have
to pay taxes.
- JR: But he was going to come home?
- TR: Oh, yes. He even mentioned that on the Ed Sullivan
show...and how much he missed America.
- JR: This is from Deborah Earle, who asks: "Dear
Mr. Robinson, I first read about your relationship with Mario Lanza in
Constantine Callinicos' biography when I was in High School 15 years ago.
Sure, Mario lived and died before my time, but I grew up with my parents'
copies of his albums around the house. We managed to keep these and other
albums intact over the years as the Air Force moved us from base to base
over the years, which could be quite a feat. My question is, how close
was Mario to his childhood friend, Al Martino (another of my favorites)
during the 50's?
- TR: Mario and Al were friendly because, indirectly, Mario
helped Al get his career started. Mario was sent a song to do after Mario
did 'Be My Love' and he had become the biggest recording star. Al Martino
was trying to make it and Al called us up. I picked up the phone, and handed
it Mario, and said it was Al Martino. Al said there is a song I have, that
you (also) have, and you have one great big hit. Mario said to Al, "You
want to record this song they just sent me?" And Al said he'd love
to, so, Mario said, "OK, you record it."
- JR: So Mario gave Al Martino that first big song?
- TR: Yes. Well, he said, "you do it Al, and I won't
do it." So, Mario didn't record it, and Martino did, and it went right
up to the top of the charts. (NOTE: The song was 'Here In My Heart').
- JR: OK, continuing with Deborah Earle's question: "As
the careers of Tenor and Crooner took off and mesmerized the world, how
often were they in contact?"
- TR: Al lived in Beverly Hills, and there wasn't great
contact because each traveled their own way. Mario stayed here and made
films, and Al traveled doing concerts around the United States. He came
back when he played that part of Frank Sinatra in the movie The Godfather.
Then Al was on the road again. So, you couldn't say that they went to each
- JR: Her next question is: "Having read two biographies
on Mario Lanza, I think I understand how he was distracted from the operatic
stage to Hollywood and the movies. When he moved to Italy with his family
- the new start - why then did he again choose movies over opera?
- TR: He didn't choose movies. The reason he *went* to
Europe was to make films, and then to follow-up by doing something at La
Scala in Milan. He went over there because he had these films to do.
- JR: So, the deals to make films, at least one of them,
had been made at the time he left? TR: Oh, sure, by the time he left America
to do the film in Italy. (This arrangement was explained in considerable
detail by Al Teitelbaum, as well. - ed)
- JR: The next question is: "After all these years,
I still have deep regrets that he did not accept the La Scala invitation
to open a season there. Any ideas why, Mr. Robinson?"
- TR: I think the first reason was that Betty was pregnant.
And, let me add here, that whenever his wife was pregnant, she had very
tough time...tough pregnancies. She was sick for the eight/nine months,
and we had to have a certain nurse in to personally take care of her. Mario
didn't want to leave her while she was sick, because he always said I can
do it (appear on the operatic stage) some other day.
- JR: Here is a question from Russia. It is from Julia
Huseynova, and she asks: "Dear Terry, please tell me if Mario ever
visited Russia or thought about it.
- TR: "No, he never visited Russia, and actually,
we never spoke about it. I do know that in Russia he has a lot of great
fans. George London went over there. In fact, I remember when Dorothy Kirsten
came back, she made a remark that everybody knew her in Russia because
she had made a movie with Mario Lanza called 'The Great Caruso.'
- JR: In1968, Mario Lanza was the number one recording
and film star in the Soviet Union. They used to have Mario Lanza Concerts
where they would play recordings to theaters full of people.
- TR: That's true...that, I heard about.
- JR: Mario Lanza had a difficult life. Everyone recognizes
that. The stresses of recording, the stresses and tribulations of dealing
with Hollywood executives and all the chicanery and double-dealing and
treachery, and all that. He was a sensitive man. Did he have peace at home?
Was he able to go home and find it a refuge from all his battles?
- TR: I would say 'yes', and 'no'. There were times when
he had trouble at home. Of course, he loved his wife, he loved his four
children but like most married folk, you have troubles. I'm not going to
say every day was a peaceful day; there were many, many arguments between
he and Betty. But they overcame their arguments. He never divorced Betty...she
never divorced him. But life doesn't always run smoothly.
- JR: You were with Mario for so many years. What were
some of the fun and relaxing things for him that you guys did together?
- TR: We'd get in the car...and he'd put on his disguise...and
we'd drive around.
- JR: Describe his disguise.
- TR: His disguise was a felt hat, eyeglasses without glass,
and a putty nose that was made at the studio for him that reshaped his
own nose differently.
- JR: A putty nose...and you guys would drive around.
- TR: Yeah. He'd be able to lower his window and drive
around and nobody would recognize him. If he was in his 'normal' look,
our car would be followed. I used to have to drive up and down the back
alleys of Beverly Hills so people wouldn't follow our car. Sometimes people
would sing out "Be My Love!" and "There is Lanza!"
He always thought that someone was going to get in trouble (chasing after
him), like hit our car, or hit another car, so we had this disguise and
we carried that with us in the car.
- JR: So, one of the things he liked to do for relaxation
most, was to go out like a 'real person'...unrecognized...and just enjoy
- TR: Yes, unrecognized. And enjoy the outside once in
awhile. On a concert tour, we'd be gone for three months, and he couldn't
get out...he was a 'victim' of every hotel room we stayed in. As I mentioned
in my book, about coming back on the train cause he didn't like to fly
much because it hurt his ears. I asked him how it felt to be one of the
most talked-about men in America...on the cover of Time...and the wonderful
tour that broke all records of any artists going out on tour. He said,
"Terry, I was a prisoner of every hotel we were in! You were able
to out and walk the streets and go to restaurants. I ate in my room, I
stayed in my room, I walked up and down. The only time we ever went out
was after a concert at one in the morning for a little airing out in the
town or some city we were in."
- JR: Mario really loved people, didn't he?
- TR: Absolutely! You know he was an only son, an only
child, not just an only son, so all he had were his friends. I had four
brothers, besides myself. You have two brothers besides yourself. But he
was an only child; so, having friends was essential... he brought everybody
into his home. That's why he had four children, so they wouldn't be alone.
He always felt that he wanted people around him.
- JR: He had a huge "extended" family then?
- TR: Oh yes, everybody was 'family' to the kids. I guess
I was the first one who became an 'uncle.' There would be 'Uncle' Terry,
and then Ray Sinatra coming over with his wife: "this is 'Uncle' Ray
and 'Aunt' Prima," (Sinatra's wife).
- JR: Then the downside to that was there were a lot of
people who tried to attach themselves to Mario as leaches.
- TR: Oh, yes. Every big star has leaches.
- JR: How did you try to protect Mario and keep those people
- TR: Well, the people that didn't like Terry Robinson,
called me Mario's 'hitman'...or Mario's 'Gangster' because I had to keep
him away from all that and having them put their 'two-cents' in. I wasn't
a very well-liked guy at the time. By the way, I would never do it again,
because I have my own personality and I have to live my own life. Part
of my life, I lived as 'Mario Lanza,' and that's very hard to do...or,
for any other star.
- JR: The filming of The Great Caruso is said to have occurred
in a little over a month. Tell us about that...at MGM and how you handled
Mario during that period.
- TR: At that time, the studios had people under contract
and the studios made movies, they didn't loan out their studios for others
to make movies. They had the "Star" system. At MGM, they had
apartments where a star would live at the studio while working on a film.
So, Frank Sinatra had just made a movie there called 'The Kissing Bandit'
with Katherine Grayson. Frank had just moved out of the studio after that
and they gave us his apartment. We lived in that apartment while we made
the film called The Great Caruso. Mario pre-recorded in about three weeks,
and the actual shooting of the film took about a month, or a little over
a month, but we lived at the studio and I lived with him there. Weekends,
we went home to visit the children, and his wife.
- JR: How did he feel about the film when it was under
- TR: He loved it. That was the kind of a film he always
wanted to do. He chose Peter Herman Adler to come out to conduct for him...who
had earlier conducted some concerts for Mario, and he loved it. Mario loved
the 'opera people' coming out...he got along great. We had many funny days
when they all sang on the set, and when they sang backstage...it was a
great, fun thing. Mr. Mayer was in charge of the studio, and he allowed
it all to happen because he was getting what he wanted done, and he brought
the picture in, completed, before they thought he would.
- JR: So, Mario interfaced with the Metropolitan stars
well; they showed him respect, and it was a good relationship?
- TR: A wonderful relationship. As they left, they said,
"You must come to the Met!" and "We need you at the Met!"
- JR: You were at the RCA recording sessions...and the
MGM recording sessions...for the film. He was in magnificent voice. Were
there any troubles with the recording sessions?
- TR: None, whatsoever.
- JR: Dorothy Kirsten made a couple of comments about how
Mario was 'late' to the set.
- TR: I think Dorothy didn't know how to read her wristwatch.
I don't remember him ever being late, and I was the one (living in the
apartment with him) and who drove him to the studio, and drove him home.
- JR: The cover of Time Magazine was considered, and is
considered by most to be a very unflattering artist's portrayal of Mario's
face. How did he feel about the picture?
- TR: Well, you know, Jeff, I'm an artist. I'm not a great
artist...but Mario said, "Damn it Terry, they should have had you
do that! But, of course, you know it was a caricature and it wasn't Mario;
it was a caricature and he got a kick out of it. He wasn't that pleased
with Jimmy's story, but you know, they were good friends. Jim Murray was
the one who wrote the story. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer,
who passed away. He was a dear friend of Mario, and myself.
- JR: Was that story rewritten by some of the editors of
Time? Or, was it all Jim Murray's writing?
- TR: Sam Wyler had a lot to do with that story. You notice
my name is not even in there. Jim Murray knew me well and he would have
used my name. If my name was in the original story, you can bet that when
Sam Wyler read it, he took me out. Sam Wyler never liked a guy named Terry
Robinson...and I might add, it went visa-versa. There were some things
in there said by some people which never should have been said. I mean,
you don't say that a man never bathes. I can tell you that Mario sometimes
bathed two or three times a day. It was Johnny Silver who made that statement...it
was stupid. I never knew Mario to be a slob. (Mario was known to be meticulously
clean and well groomed).
- Session #2
- JR: This question is from Nelson Farnsley: "Is it
possible that any criticism of Mario's performances stems from 'professional'
jealousy of current critics and performers?"
- TR: The 'Big Three' today, Pavoratti, Domingo, and Carreras,
not to mention Met star Richard Leech, all praise Mario as their inspiration.
Certainly, during his prime, Mario was put down by New York/Eastern purists
and snobs because he made movies and didn't sing in the opera houses. It
was really only a handful of people who had influence in the media. But
without Mario in the movies, opera would not be as popular as it became
with much of America.
- JR: Dorothy Kirsten said Mario could have sung in 'any
opera house' and would have had a 'fabulous career.'
- T Dorothy also made a wonderful statement. She said,
upon returning from a trip to Russia, that everyone knew of her because
of her appearance in The Great Caruso with Mario! There she was...a world
famous Met opera star..and the only reason they knew about her was her
work with Mario in the film. The baritone, Robert Merrill, he once made
a comment that Mario made a mistake in making movies and not singing in
opera houses. But Mario didn't make a mistake because that's how Robert
Merrill came to make a movie! And his movie was very bad...they didn't
show it much. Listen to the title of the movie: 'Aaron Slick From Pumpkin
Crick'! I think Warners' did it.
- JR: How did Mario and his family feel about the Christmas
- TR: Major parties! (fondly laughs). The largest Christmas
trees in Beverly Hills! It took the Beverly Hills Electric Company to come
out and bring it in and hook up the tree!
- JR: Really??
- TR: Oh, heck yes! They had to take the doors off at the
house....every house we ever had...and Betty hired the Beverly Hills Electric
Company. She kept the trees up even after the first of the year. We used
to put decorations on the bottom of it...the kids would put things here
and there...but it was decorated by professionals. Even when he went to
Italy, a tree was sent over and set up, and it was said to be the largest
Christmas tree ever seen in someone's home.
- JR: Tell us about his recording of 'O Holy Night.'
- TR: Well, the orchestra couldn't believe what they had
heard. It is probably the greatest version of 'O Holy Night' that anyone
- JR: Were there other carols done at that session?
- TR: Oh, yes, he never did just one song, he always did
three or four. But when he did 'O Holy Night' at the finish of it...I don't
think the orchestra could believe it...they were mesmerized. I mean they
couldn't believe it. And when they played it back and he hit the final
notes...they stood up and they applauded...sheesh...they couldn't believe
it! That's something rare...