- A Visit With
By Bill Ronayne
- Marjorie Thompson and Eileen Case backstage with
- Damon Lanza and Eileen (Case) Devereux at the
Mario Lanza Museum in November of 2004 holding the photo of his father
with Marjorie and Eileen.
- I am sure that the title of this article and interview
has your curiosity peaked. The photo above may be familiar to some of
you as part of it appears on one of the Mario Lanza web sites. The ladies
with Mario are Marjorie Thompson on the left and Eileen Case. Ms. Case
later married and her name became Eileen Devereux.
- One day, I received a phone call from Eileen inquiring
about the club. I returned her call and before we said goodnight I found
out that she had seen Mario in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London
and the King's Hall in Manchester and also attended the Sunday Night at
the London Palladium TV show dress rehearsal and performance. I asked
her if she would like to be interviewed for this newsletter and she agreed.
As there is a wealth of information to be gleamed from Eileen and several
important events to be discussed, this interview will be serialized over
a few issues so that we can do an in depth look at this time in Mario's
life and career and gain greater insight about the man and the artist.
- Bill Ronayne: When did you first hear or shall we say,
"discover" the voice of Mario Lanza?
- Eileen Devereux: One morning when I was 13 the Loveliest
Night of the Year was playing on the radio. My mother stopped in her tracks
and told me it was Mario Lanza. She went to see The Great Caruso at the
cinema and refused to leave her seat for fear of missing something and
my mother always had to go to the ladies room during a film. When I heard
this I went to see it for myself. It was my first real experience with
Mario. It gripped me and I was hooked! I immediately sought out his other
films and also his records. I absolutely became a nutcase on Mario!
- BR: In 1957 Mario came to England for the first time
to sing in the Royal Variety Command Performance for the Queen. You were
not at that event but did see Mario perform at his next appearance and
also met him backstage. How did this come to be?
- ED: My friend Marjorie Thompson who just loved Mario
wrote to The Weekly News and asked if the paper could arrange a personal
meeting with him. They said they would try and got us into the Sunday Night
at the Palladium TV show that Mario was appearing on. We arrived in the
afternoon and were able to attend the rehearsal. This was the first time
we saw Mario in person. He wore a blue suit and looked fabulous and well.
- BR: What was his voice like?
- ED: It was awesome! Mario sang full out and didn't hold
back. His voice was so big and round and the high notes were tremendous.
He had the greatest range of any tenor that lived! You had no trouble
hearing the low soft notes either. Mario didn,t know anyone was in the
audience until we applauded. He put his hand to his head to block out
the spotlight and to see who was applauding. He said something, which
I can,t remember, and smiled. After the rehearsal we went out to eat with
Mr. Needham of the paper and walked around for a while. We were in a fog!
- BR: That evening was the TV show. What was that like?
- ED: We sat in the balcony of the Palladium on the end
so we could get away quickly in the event we would be allowed to come backstage.
Mario was wonderful and sang three times. The end of Loveliest Night
of the Year was awesome! The audience reaction was phenomenal. They ate
him up! He also spoke to the audience and said for him it truly was the
loveliest night of the year. The show was a big hit and the ratings were
sky high. Everyone was talking about it.
- BR: Then the moment came when you would go to see Mario
in his dressing room. When did you finally find out?
- ED: Not until the show was over. We received word that
we would be allowed to go backstage. Mr. Needham said, "Let's go"
and led us down a corridor. Marjorie made me go first. My knees began
to wobble and I felt like I was going to burst out in tears. Mario's dressing
room door was open and he stretched his hand out. He said, "Why hello
there. Hope you enjoyed the show." I choked up and said "Hello
Mario." I never took my eyes off him the whole time we were there.
We each had a gift for Mario. Marjorie gave him a large box of chocolates
and I gave him a color photo of Betty and him and a card, which said "To
Mario and Betty, The most loyal and devoted couple we have known. Just
a token of appreciation for all the happiness you have given us. God bless
you both. Your sincere friends Eileen and Marge." He said "My
wife will be so happy when she sees this." I had brought two copies
of the photo with me and handed him the second one. He sat down to autograph
it and wrote "To wonderful Eileen, Hello always from Mario Lanza."
While he was writing I told him how beautiful Betty was and he looked
up and said with a big smile on his face "She's English."
- BR: You and Marjorie had a photo taken with Mario and
then Marjorie asked for a special favor. What was it?
- ED: Yes. Marjorie asked if she could measure Mario's
chest! Everyone in the dressing room was amazed at her request and also
that Mario agreed. She whipped out her tape measure and he unbuttoned
his jacket and raised his arms. Marjorie put her arms around him, measured
his chest, and said "49!" Mario signed his name at the 49-inch
mark. He was just fantastic and incredible. He even gave me his handkerchief!
We were escorted to the door by one of his entourage and Mario followed
saying "Arrivederci." He told us to call him at the Dorchester
Hotel the next day but we didn,t, as we had to be at work. I,ve always
regretted not contacting him.
- In the next part of this interview, Eileen will speak
about her second encounter with Mario Lanza and seeing him live in performance
at the Royal Albert Hall.
- This article original appeared in the January 2005 edition
of "The Legacy of Mario Lanza" newsletter which is published
by Bill Ronayne, President of The Mario Lanza Society of New York