- One Sunday a few weeks ago, Mario Lanza was awakened
at eight in the morning by an insistent hammering on his front door.
- Half asleep, Mario struggled into his robe and shuffled
- He opened the door, and a telegraph messenger handed
him an envelope which contained the following wire: DON'T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER
BUT WE WERE IN VARE JUNIOR HIGH TOGETHER STOP MY MOTHER DESPERATELY ILL
PLEASE WIRE FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS TO BELOW ADDRESS.
- Mario shook his head in disbelief. He couldn't for the
life of him recall the identity of the sender.
- Two days later, he received a special delivery letter
from the same person which said in part, "I didn't want to believe
all those stories about your growing snobbish and swell-headed, but since
you haven't sent the money after my fervent plea, what else can I believe?"
- The fellow who sent that letter was a perfect stranger
to Mario, who has an excellent memory. "Yet," says Betty Lanza,
"you'd be surprised by the number of similar requests we get from
people we've never heard of. As soon as the newspapers carried the story
that Mario made a million dollars last year, he became the target for every
crackpot, beggar and confidence man in the country. It's gotten so bad
we've had to hire someone to separate the legitimate requests from the
- Six years ago, when Mario Lanza was a concert singer
with the Bel Canto Trio, he dreamed of being rich and famous, of owning
two cars, providing his parents with luxuries, and taking pretty good care
- "Now I know," he says, "that success is
a snare and a delusion. It means work and worry, responsibility and duty.
It's a treadmill. Once you get on, you can't just get off. You've got contracts
and obligations. The expectancy of success is a good deal more than the
- By nature, Mario is a plain, generous, easy-going man.
He likes to relax, loaf, travel, talk all night with his friends.
- Ever since success came to him, he's been able to do
none of these things.
- A few weeks ago, when Al Hall, the director of Mario's
latest picture, Because You're Mine, was hit by the flu, the film
shooting came to a halt. Mario had a week off.
- "I feel sorry for Al," he told Betty that night,
"but just think of it! I've got seven days off. Where would you like
- Betty thought for
a moment. "Why don't we go to Las Vegas?" she suggested. "Andy
opens there next week." Andy is Andy Russell, the crooner who is one
of Mario's closest friends.
- So the Lanzas flew to Las Vegas. On the night of their
arrival Mario and Betty sat down at a table in the hotel dining room. Within
three minutes at least a dozen guests had recognized Lanza. They crowded
around his table asking him to sign autographs. Mario smiled and scribbled
his signature across the menus. Then two girls came over and uninvited,
pulled up some chairs. "We're from Philadelphia, Mario," they
said. "Do you mind if we join you?"
- Mario grinned wanly.
- "But we're expecting other guests," Betty said.
- "That's okay," the girls said. "We'll
leave when they get here."
- The Lanzas tried to order some dinner, and eventually
they did -- but they never got to eat it. Word spread throughout the hotel
that Mario Lanza was in the dining room, and an estimated 80 people flocked
in for autographs.
- From that point on the Lanzas had to take all their meals
in their room. They couldn't eat in restaurants, clubs or hotels. Everywhere
he went, Mario was mobbed.
- One morning, Mario received a long distance call from
Los Angeles. "Don't forget," his secretary warned. "You
have to fly in by noon today. You've got your radio show to do."
- So Mario flew back to Hollywood and sang his heart out.
Then he caught the midnight plane back to Las Vegas. When he arrived he
was dead tired, and went to sleep almost immediately.
- They woke him at eight the next morning. The sun was
very bright, and the photographer from the studio publicity department
wanted to get some good color stuff.
- It was a great seven-day vacation. Mario did absolutely
none of the things he wanted to do.
- "Now that I have a few bucks," Mario says,
"I don't even have the time to spend it. I get $25 a week spending
money from my business manager. The other day I put my hand in my watch
pocket and I found three weeks' allowances."
- "That's nothing," his wife says. "Tell
about the time we went to Honolulu. We thought we would have a wonderful
vacation. After all, Hawaii is such a beautiful resort spot. Well, Mario
was talked into doing one concert for Freddie Matsuo, a great guy. Only
the one concert turned into four, and Mario didn't even set foot on Waikiki
Beach. He came back home more tired than when he left."
- Every now and then, Mario entertains the idea of quitting
motion pictures, and restricting his activities to making a few records
and perhaps one concert tour a year.
- But this is an impossibility, because Mario's career
gives employment to at least 100 people, and he's the kind of man who thinks
of others before considering himself.
- If Mario misses one recording date, 65 musicians receive
no salary that week. If he gives up one radio show, another 20 musicians
go without pay.
- No one knows exactly how many people Mario Lanza is supporting
out of his income. When you ask him, he says modestly, "Who cares?
I believe money should be spent. The man with money is the man with headaches."
- Mario not only supports his wife, two children, three
in help and two secretaries, but also his parents.
- When Mario first signed at MGM, he was earning $750 a
week. He sent for his parents at once and rented a home for them on South
Crescent Drive. He then ordered his business manager to see that they got
almost half of his monthly movie salary.
- While at Metro, Mario met
a man in the research department named Felix Wayne. When Metro let Felix
out, Mario put him on his personal payroll as an executive.
- When Coca-Cola began to dicker with Mario for a radio
show, he was willing to listen. "Fine," said the men from the
advertising agency. "Your musical conductor will be Percy Faith."
- "No," Mario said. "My musical conductor
will be Ray Sinatra."
- "Who ever heard of Ray Sinatra?" the agency
boys asked. "Percy Faith is a conductor of stature, an orchestra leader
of renown. We have him all signed up."
- "That's great," said Mario. "But you don't
- The agency boys went around to see Betty. "Why is
your husband so insistent about having Ray Sinatra?" they asked.
- Betty smiled. "I guess," she explained, "Mario
thinks he can use the work."
- A year or so ago, a Hungarian composer named Nicky Brodsky,
was stranded in New York. Brodsky, who had composed some of the finest
operetta music in the Balkans, wanted desperately to come to Hollywood.
But no one in Hollywood had a spot for him. Mario not only brought Nick
Brodsky out to Hollywood but paid his expenses, and soon Brodsky got into
Metro where he composed "Be My Love" for his young sponsor.
- Mario also sends his mother-in-law a weekly allowance.
Practically no other motion picture star can make this claim. Betty's mother
works as an interior decorator in Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago.
She is 56 years old and has three daughters to support, and Mario thinks
it only fair that she have a little extra spending money.
- Only recently, Mario lent his name to his uncle Arnold
for use on a brand of supplies to be known as Lanza Groceries. Any profits
from this business will go to the Lanza relatives.
- During his Oregon workout last year, a workout in which
he cut his weight from 240 lbs. to 180, Mario met Dale Goodman, an ex-GI
who had parted with a lung on Iwo Jima. Mario learned that Dale had always
dreamed of owning a chicken ranch. Mario purchased such a ranch and went
into partnership with Dale.
- One evening last October, Dale phoned Mario. "I
hate to bother you with this, Mario," Dale said, "but our new
baby is suffering brain hemorrhages. The doctors around here don't know
what to do. Is there anything you can suggest?"
- "Try not to worry," Mario pleaded. Mario got
on the phone, and in a couple of hours, two top Chicago specialists were
flying to Rogue River.
- Ask Mario how much that little bill came to, and he grins,
"Two ninety-eight," he says.
- A month before this incident, Betty's aunt May from McKeesport,
Pa., sent the Lanzas some newspaper clippings. The clippings told the story
of a one-day-old infant who had been abandoned in an apartment house vestibule.
The baby had been sent to the Pittsburgh Hospital where, because of his
lusty cries, the nurses had nicknamed him, Mario Lanza.
- Mario was proud as a peacock to think that strong, lusty
volume was almost synonymous with his name. That night he said to Betty,
"Is it okay with you if I send that little baby in Pittsburgh $500?"
- Betty answered with a kiss.
- When no one claimed the
foundling at the Pittsburgh Hospital, he and his $500 were sent to the
Roselia Foundling Home where he was named Mario Lanza II. As soon as this
item hit the press, the Mother Seton Sisters of Charity who run the Home,
were swamped with adoption offers. Hundreds of couples wanted little Mario
for their very own.
- By the time you read this article that blond little blue-eyed
baby will be living comfortably with his new parents in a healthy decent
home. What counts, too, is the fact that the Mario Lanza Fund is now established
at Roselia, and Mario will add to it each year.
- One more illustration of where the Lanza money goes and
why Mario can't quit. Remember 11-year-old Raphaela Fasano, the little
girl from Newark who lapsed into a coma last September because of the supposedly
incurable Hodgkins Disease?
- Well, Raphaela has improved so much that she is now attending
fifth grade at the Dayton Street public school. She attributes her miraculous
recuperation to Mario Lanza. It was he who not only sang to her on the
phone from California but paid all her expenses to Hollywood. He supplied
her with the best medical care and imbued her with the will to improve.
Mario still phones Raphaela whenever he gets a chance.
- I don't mind the responsibility that comes with success,"
Mario explains, "because after all that's a man's role in the world
-- the acceptance of responsibility. The thing that gets me about success
is the way you become a target for every Tom, Dick, and Harry. As soon
as you're in the public eye, people begin taking potshots at you. You ask
for a little favor, and all of a sudden they accuse you of being temperamental.
You don't hear what one guy is saying and right away you're a snob. You
have 103 temperature and the doctor orders you to bed, and right away they
say you're a baby, and 'My, doesn't he take care of himself.' You make
an innocent statement like 'I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for
Kathryn Grayson because she was in my first two pictures,' and overnight
the newspapers are building up a big Grayson-Lanza feud.
- "When you're married to someone like my Betty, feuds
are impossible, anyway. As soon as someone gets angry with me, Betty rings
him up. She believes in clearing the air at once. She tells everyone how
I'm really such an angel and how hard I work. They don't fall for that
angel routine, but they realize that I work pretty hard and that constant
work will keep anyone pretty tense."
- What can Mario Lanza do about his work schedule? Friends
predict that eventually it will cost him his health and his voice. "He
cannot make pictures," one voice coach recently pointed out, "and
also do radio shows, recordings, concert tours, and study opera. Not even
Caruso would dare tax his voice that much."
- Mario's answer is, "I can't help it. I'm a man who
likes to sing. I sing for pleasure not for money. Money has given me a
lot of headaches and fame has taken some of the fun out of life. But when
I sing a song and people's eyes light up, that's worth all the bother,
all the responsibility, all the headaches. As to how long I can go on singing
-- that's in God's hands."