By Betty Lanza
Movie Stars Parade
November 1951

Yes, I'll admit it -- my husband had a love before me! What's more, I'm not a bit jealous! The reason, as you've probably guessed, is that Mario's first love was his singing -- and why should this make me anything but glad?
Unbelievable though it may seem, I wasn't really aware of Mario's great voice until we were on our honeymoon. Before that, I had heard him sing only once -- at my brother Bert's birthday party when there was much noisy revelry in the room and Mario's only accompaniment came from a phonograph record. I married Mario because I loved him; his beautiful voice and successful career were an unexpected bonus!
There are women, I've heard, who are jealous of their husbands' careers. But Mario's music is equally important to both of us; it is our life, and so I am never resentful of the time he must devote to it.
Perhaps I wouldn't feel this way if it were not for the happy, busy life I lead. We have no nurse for our two children, Colleen aged two and Elissa, nine months. (I never could see myself handing my little girls over to a nurse and saying, "Here, YOU bring them up!") And though we do have help, a large house is a responsibility.
Since I am kept so busy, I haven't the time to wish Mario were with me every moment of the day. At that, he is home far more than most men. He is able to do his rehearsing at home, and is away only when he is at the studio making a picture, or on a concert tour. And on the tours, I always travel with him. Naturally, we both adore our children, but with me, Mario has always come first, and always will.
Only once did he go on a concert tour alone, when little Colleen was only two months old, too small to be left without me. And did we build up telephone bills during that time! Mario has no idea of the cost of long-distance phoning; he talks as freely from a city thousands of miles away as if he were in the next room. When I'd mention the expense to him, he'd say, "But Betty, I'm so lonesome!" And of course I, too, was miserable. At least when we go away together, we share our misery -- loneliness for the children!
I must admit Mario's career is more demanding than most. When we first were married, almost seven years ago, we went to New York City where he was studying at the time. It seemed quite odd to me -- who had always been strictly a cup-of-coffee-in-the-morning girl -- to have to get up and cook Mario a heavy meal, with meat -- especially at five o-clock in the morning! (His first class began at nine, and he had to digest his food before then.) To this day, Mario eats a big breakfast of that kind in order to get enough protein.
I've always considered any small sacrifices on my part unimportant when I realized how much more Mario has had to give up. He must keep certain hours, and avoid many activities which he would enjoy. For instance, he's really a wonderful swimmer, and loves it, but had to give it up to protect his voice. He cannot go up in planes, nor take pleasure trips, nor spend his time leisurely.
When we are on concert tours, his life is extremely monotonous. Mario stays in our hotel room, except when he must go to the theater for rehearsal and actual performance. Certainly he'd like to go out for diversion, but he keeps remembering all the people waiting in the cities ahead where his concert is scheduled. Should Mario become ill and be unable to perform, he would have to disappoint all those people -- and he is much too conscientious to take chances.
Also, he must take special care to avoid colds. On our latest tour, which lasted four months, we were extremely cautious because of the virus epidemic all over the country. Sometimes the reporters coming to our room for interviews would seem ill, coughing or sneezing. As soon as I'd spot this, I'd whisper to my husband, "Mario, you'd better breathe in the opposite direction from this one!" Or I'd seat the reporter way off in one corner of the room -- as far as possible from Mario!
Because of his strenuous career, we must lead the simple life at home, too -- but we like it. Neither Mario nor I can abide anything that might be termed "phony." There is nothing wrong with going out night-clubbing; we happen not to care for it. When, occasionally, we want to see a certain act which is appearing at a club, we attend the supper show. In this way, we can enjoy our meal, the performance, and leave the club around nine o-clock before it gets smoky and crowded.
Fortunately, Mario and I agree on most subjects. We both like people. We both love California living. And we both tend to be worriers. But we try to be constructive about our worrying. That is, we look ahead to the things which might go wrong and try to forestall them. Outside our house near the driveway, you will find a sign: PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY. CHILDREN. Inside the entrance hall: KEEP THIS DOOR LOCKED AT ALL TIMES. Also we have a fence around our swimming pool. There is no such thing as being too careful, we feel, when youngsters are around.
Important as his work -- his "first love" -- is to Mario, it has never prevented him from fully appreciating family life. How he enjoys the little routine that is followed regularly every morning in our home. As soon as we are awake, Colleen comes to our door and says, "Knock, knock!" In pretended innocence we call out, "Who is it?" And she replies, "It's Colleen, Missy Lanza." Then she is invited to enter and we greet her, singing, "Good Morning To You." This format never varies, and we never fail to get a great kick out of it. There is so much joy in having children. Sometimes Mario will ask me, wonderingly, "Betty, what did we ever talk about before we had the children?"
If you have felt, when listening to Mario sing, that he really means his songs, you've recognized the truth. With my husband, singing is never mechanical. It comes from his heart. That is why he cannot just pick up a piece of music, look it over, and sing it. He must learn that music and really feel its meaning before he even will attempt to sing it.
And because he's such a perfectionist, he often suffers. Sometimes he will make a recording -- a simply beautiful performance -- but when it is played back to him, he will become upset because he's noticed a small flaw which nobody else would ever observe ñ and which, often, I think, exists only in his imagination. When a man feels so intensely about his work, it takes a great deal out of him.
Yes, Mario is sensitive -- and easily upset at times. But then, would he be an artist if he didn't have such powerful emotions? I firmly believe it is because Mario feels things so keenly that he is able to enchant audiences with his singing. And what a thrill it is to watch Mario, with only an accompanist on a bare stage, holding an audience of thousands spellbound!
Perhaps you've noticed I have stressed "live performances" in telling about Mario's work. It's probably difficult for many people to realize, but motion pictures have been only a small part of Mario's career so far. He was an established concert singer before he made That Midnight Kiss, his first picture. He recorded for RCA, and had a financial contract with them similar to the one Caruso had in his day.
We're so grateful for his picture career because it has brought Mario many more friends and fans. (And at this point, I'd like to assert I am not jealous of Mario's fans either! You see, I am one of them myself!) Also we hope his new radio program will bring him closer to more people. Yet, I think Mario will always want to continue making concert tours -- for this seems to be the only way of meeting the public in person -- and Mario loves his public!
Sometimes people ask me, "Do you sing -- or play the piano -- or some other instrument?" I answer, laughingly, "No, I have absolutely no talent!" To which Mario adds fervently, "Thank goodness!" Seriously though, I have always loved music -- it is inside of me, but I cannot express it. I can only appreciate it, and probably that is a good thing for the wife of a singer. If it's true, as I've heard, that two careers in one family are often the stumbling block to Hollywood marriages, I am glad to say our family nurtures only one career. Not that I consider ours a "Hollywood marriage" -- whatever that may be. I consider it a good marriage -- a lasting marriage.
So now perhaps you can understand why I am not disturbed about my husband's first love -- his singing. Why should I care -- when I know his love for our children and me comes first now?