A Visit With
Eileen Devereux

By Bill Ronayne
Marjorie Thompson and Eileen Case backstage with Mario.
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