- Mario Lanza...
The Modern Caruso
By Terry Robinson
Strength & Health Magazine
From Pat Burkhart <email@example.com>
- Just twenty-eight years ago in a humble
section of Philadelphia dark-eyed and black-haired beautiful Maria Cocozza
gave birth to little Alfred. He naturally was the pride and joy of mamma
Maria and his world war hero daddy Antonio--and he looked like any other
baby, but he was destined to become the greatest tenor voice of his time.
This baby today is Mario Lanza, acclaimed as the logical successor to Enrico
Caruso, the immortal.
- Mario Lanza's physique, his strength,
good looks and personality are outstanding, and second only to his remarkable
singing voice. As there was only one Caruso, there is now only one Lanza.
What was the background, and what was responsible for this tremendous personality?
Mario was born of wonderful parents. His father was an athlete and a hero
of World War I. "Pop" was a champion bicycle rider, and trained
in his spare moments with weights using the wall pulleys mainly. He captured
the first German prisoner, and was wounded in action, and as a result he
received the Purple Heart and other decorations. he was also a lover of
the arts, and his collection of Caruso records is one to behold, as his
knowledge of the opera is priceless.
- Mario's mother, Maria Lanza Cocozza,
is a real dark-eyed and dark-aired Italian beauty. "Mom" has
had the good sense to have been logical and understanding and to have helped
guide the young boy to his present success. She went to work to help out
when dad came home wounded. She got up at 5:30 every morning and traveled
on the old trolley in all types of weather, and then came home and cooked
and washed and sewed to keep her two men healthy and happy.
- When Pop and Mom found out that their
son had a good singing voice, he was encouraged and given every chance
for study. They also encouraged him to train physically, for they also
noticed his athletic abilities. They bought him a set of "York"
weights, and Mario worked out at home after school. He also studied his
singing by playing Caruso records and singing along with them.
- Mario was growing fast, playing football
and baseball and boxing as he continued his studies in voice and opera
with the hard earned help from his parents. As he gathered momentum his
weight-lifting began to attract notice. mom said his chest was getting
so big she couldn't buy shirts to fit him. Mario recognized that as he
exercised with the weights his voice was also growing.
- After graduation from high school Mario
was examined by a doctor. This doctor told Ma Lanza that Mario should stop
weight training because it would make him "muscle-bound." Mario
laughed at this, and trained all the harder. mom said she would shiver
every time she heard the weights being pushed around upstairs. (Mario is
a boy who knows what he wants and what is best for him. He continued to
train because he knew that this conditioning and the building of his body
would give him strength and good circulation, proper breathing and muscle
control to help his singing.
- It was time now for Mario to go to work
and help along with the household expenses, so this husky boy went out
to become a truck driver and a piano mover. It was while moving pianos
to the Philadelphia Academy of Music that Mario was urged to sing by a
man who had heard his voice. He was urged to sing because Serge Koussevitzky
was in a room opposite to where the pianos were being delivered. After
a few minutes of "Vesti La Giuba," Koussevitzy could not believe
his ears, whereupon he grabbed Mario and made him promise to attend the
Koussevitzy conducted Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts.
- Mario went with Koussevitzky and studied
for seven weeks. During this time he also trained with his weights. They
were as much a part of him as his voice. At the age of 20 Mario made his
opera debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After this he was signed
to a concert contract in New York with Arthur Judson. All was going great
when Mario was drafted to become a GI and served with the Army Air Corps.
His soldiering put an end to his weight training for a few years as the
Army chow took its toll. he gained a great deal of weight, especially around
- After his discharge he met and married
Betty Hicks, sister of his war time pal, Bert. Betty herself, a believer
in exercise, put Mario back on his schedule of training, as well as back
to his vocal studies. Things were tough at this time, but with Betty's
help, Mario once again started to climb back to his natural self. And with
this change other things began to happen. Sam Weiler, a wealthy businessman
who was studying voice himself, became interested in Mario, sponsored him,
and to this day is still a very important cog in a whirling career that
promises to become the most fabulous of modern times.
- Pop and Mom put Mario on first base,
Betty placed him on second, Sam Weiler on third and now he was ready for
"Home" and "Goal."
- Mario Lanza, who was one day to carry
on in the tradition of Enrico Caruso, commenced studying again, this time
with Enrico Rosati who was the teacher of Beniamino Gigli of Metropolitan
fame. It was soon after that MGM signed Mario to a contract. It happened
this way. Walter Pidgeon, the motion picture star, attended a concert at
the Hollywood Bowl where Mario was performing. He was so impressed with
this great voice that he immediately arranged for an audition with Louis
B. Mayer, which was followed immediately with a contract. Walter Pidgeon
is known to have said, "This is the great tenor of the century."
- Upon the termination of his current commitments,
Mario then moved to California. Having gained some weight he decided to
again regain his athletic figure. So he joined the Bert Goodrich Gym in
Hollywood where he worked out three days a week. His exercises included
squats, dead lifts, high pull ups, deltoid lifts and prones and curls.
As he got stronger, the weights and repetitions were progressively increased.
- It didn't take Mario long to get in shape,
and now he was ready for his first movie assignment, "That Midnight
Kiss," with Katherine Grayson, Ethel Barrymore, Jose Iturbi and Keenan
Wynn. quite a cast for a boy's first picture! And to top it off, right
before the filming started, Betty Lanza presented Mario with prize beauty
of the year, little dark-eyed Colleen.
- While making this movie Mario decided
he needed a more convenient way of doing his exercises, so we built a little
gym on the roof of his garage. Every night we would meet, go up stairs,
and watch the fat go and the muscles grow.
- A movie star's life may seem an easy
one, but take my word for it, it's tough. From 6:30 AM to 6 PM the stars
work under hot lights in full makeup-interviews, studying lines and with
acting thrown in it's rough. I've seen stars sleep the moment they got
home, but Mario Lanza went up to his little gym and trained with the weights.
- Well, after this picture Mario went on
a personal appearance tour, a trip that kept him going from morning until
night, and then some. Again, he got away from his training, and with the
abuses in diet and sleep that come with traveling, he put on an excessive
amount of extra weight. This would never do. So, shortly after his return
to Los Angeles, and after Mario and Betty moved into a big Spanish type
home in Beverly Hills, we set about erecting a gym near his spacious pool.
We decided to go on a regular six day a week training schedule. Mario said
that once and for all he was going to get training in every day.
- I wrote out a course of three days a
week heavy lifting. On heavy days Mario has military pressed 200 lbs, dead
lifted 400 lbs, prone pressed 250 lbs, and curled with 190 lbs. On the
other days we did abdominal exercises, dumbbell routines and stretching
exercises. One thing we always watched, that we never over-exercised any
particular part of the body. Mario practiced proper posture, and especially
proper breathing while exercising. He has found that deep breathing and
fast workouts with only one minute rest periods has been the most beneficial
of all systems. Fresh air is also an important factor. We do all our training
outdoors, and Mario keeps properly clothed.
- In a six day a week training schedule
we train about one hour each day, and use a progressive system continuing
always to keep in mind that we are building a proportionate body. About
one week each month I put a little variety into our program, like boxing
and the training routine of a fighter. This keeps us sharp and fast, and
Mario who is a darn good boxer, gets the chance to keep his body and temperament
at an even keel. Remember always that an artist with Lanza's talents must
let off a lot of steam, and this is a good way of doing it. Mario is an
expert at punching both the big sandbag and the little fast punching bags.
Any exercise Mario is shown he masters, his mind is that quick.
- Our workouts are pleasurable, for we
are watched by the family. This is great to witness. Here is one of the
world's great talents training at home, and the family of Betty, Mom and
Pop, and little Colleen observing our every move. This is American and
good. Believe me, it is better than the family worrying where the children
are and what they are doing.
- In Mario's case, he is always on the
go. When he isn't making a picture he is cutting records for RCA Victor.
At present, there is available "The Midnight Kiss" album, and
records of "O Sole Mio," "Mattinata," "Lolita"
and "Granada," available for sale all over the world. He is also
booked for numerous concerts and opera appearances.
- Truly then, you can see that this is
no easy life, and that it calls for top physical conditioning.
- Mario Lanza's latest released picture
is called, "The Toast of New Orleans." All through the making
of this picture he trained whenever he could. There were times when he
worked out at the studio. I would bring his (York) set over to MGM and
in between takes on a scene, Mario, instead of sleeping (as most actors
do) would exercise. We were limited in our exercises because once the makeup
was on we had to be careful not to permit too much sweating. So we did
curls with dumbbells and barbells, pullovers, deltoid exercises with dumbbells,
and supine (prone) pressings.
- Whenever we trained at MGM studio, many
of the actors would watch us. In fact, pretty Kathryn Grayson tried her
hand at lifting and dead lifted 104 lbs. the first time she picked up a
weight. It was great watching J. Carrol Nash and David Niven lifting weights.
They enjoyed themselves also, and congratulated the star of their picture,
Mario Lanza, for his perseverance.
- As I sit here and write this story, I
recall the many people in all walks of life that I have trained, and no
one has ever compared to Mario Lanza. Just picture this great talent, full
of fire and busy as any ten men--stopping his numerous activities each
day to devote one hour to training with weights, and training hard. I've
watched the sweat pour from his brow, and I've heard his phone ring constantly,
people all wanting him for something. Photographers bulbs flashing, and
writers of all descriptions firing questions at him, are a daily occurrence
in Mario's life as a star--but he has not only taken all this in stride,
but he has taken time out for physical conditioning, which he believes
is most important to his career as a singer and an actor.
- As I reflect further, I see his wonderful
parents urging him on and offering help in many ways--his wife, Betty,
reminding him of his training, Sam Weiler aiding with his good sense by
allowing me every chance to train and condition this great artist.
- There should be more Ma and Pa Lanzas,
More Bettys and Sam Weilers in this world--and by all means, more leaders
like Mario Lanza.