- A Reporter Remembers Mario
By Fredda Dudley Balling
- In 1958, Marie Stuttard (then Bennett)
was a reporter for the daily newspaper, the Belfast Newsletter (est. 1737!)
in Belfast, Northern Ireland. One of her assignments was to attend a press
conference for Mario Lanza, then on his concert tour of the region. She
went on to have a highly successful career in journalism, including the
authoring of ten books, & is now a lecturer in speech & communication
in Auckland, New Zealand, where Lindsay Perigo asked her what she could
remember of her encounter with Mario.
- MS: I can remember going in to the Grand
Hotel & waiting & waiting for him, & when he finally did come,
I think he'd been a bit hassled. He was alternately a bit sharp with people
& then charming. The thing that impressed me was the incredible power
of the man. I remember that so clearly after all these years. The breadth
of his shoulders. The strength that came out of him. The obvious lung power.
The resonant speaking voice. The star quality.
- Some of the reporters asked him a few
silly questions, but the one I remember most was, "Why isn't your
wife with you?" He shot back, "Because she's at home with a bun
in the oven!" It took us all by surprise because in those days even
stars didn't say things like that! But when he got a little bit calmer
he was lovely. He just chatted away about his background & things.
I can't remember the details, & unfortunately I definitely was not
at his concert. I assume that a much more senior person than me snaffled
the tickets! If I had seen him I would never have forgotten, because I
was a great fan of his. My memory, forty years later, really is just of
that "power man." And that beautiful speaking voice. Because
people with such resonant singing voices usually speak beautifully as well.
And you can see from watching his performances how he fine-tunes the lyrics,
makes them as beautiful as the music itself - and this has always been
my passion, to hear words spoken & sung so well.
- LP: So he was articulate?!
- MS: Oh absolutely, very articulate. But
he didn't go over the top. By the way, you know, in Ireland in those days,
before all the troubles, to have someone like him coming was really a BIG
event. And he certainly measured up!
- LP: When you talk about the "power"
of the man, it was not just physical ...
- MS: Oh, no, no! It was presence! The
moment he walked in, everybody felt it. There was no doubt about that star
quality - it was VERY strong. The man was simply an exceptional person.
We were all blown away.
- LP: And you also had the impression that
he was not to be trifled with?
- MS: Oh, absolutely. No, he was not to
be trifled with. No way. And even with his manager, he called the shots.
"When I'm ready I'll go!" sort of thing. Mario was the boss.
He made it very plain that he would answer the questions he wanted to answer,
& what he didn't want to answer he would not answer! Very strong &
- LP: Were his humour & mischief very
- MS: There was humour there, but not to
any great extent, because he was answering relatively serious questions.
The "bun in the oven" thing was sort of like a slip of the tongue.
As I said, he was very pleasant, but once or twice he did answer a bit
abruptly. He looked as if he had been round it all, thousands of times
- LP: Did he look ill at all?
- MS: No. He seemed fine. I wouldn't say
good-looking exactly, but striking. Quite a dramatic cast of features,
including his whole body. He certainly wasn't anybody you'd pass over!