The Lanza Biographies

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Sam

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Nov 27, 2007, 8:11:53 PM11/27/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
I know that most here admire Armando's excellent tome as the best
Lanza biography to date. I am curious what people think of the other
four books, including Matt Bernard, Terry Robinson, Constantine
Callinicos, and Derek Mannering. I am not including Edy Lovaglio's
book since it is still only available in Italian and I am not
including the German book (although it has an interesting picture of
Mario when very overweight and the sad photo of him lying in the
coffin). Also am not including Bob and Damon's book because it is more
an anthology than a biography.
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Derek McGovern

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Sep 2, 2013, 7:28:39 AM9/2/13
to
Hi Sam: I wouldn't take it as a given that most people here prefer Armando's book - for the simple reason that many of our members are completely unknown to me! (And that's yet another unsubtle hint that
it'd be nice to hear from them.) But you're right about Armando's book being an "excellent tome." While it hasn't gone down well at all with those who prefer *their* Lanza sugarcoated as a kind of cross between
Mother Teresa and Baden-Powell, it remains - in my opinion - the most penetrating, well-researched, and musically astute biography on Mario Lanza yet published.

In fact, Lindsay Perigo said it best in his magnificent Foreword to the book:

"Armando Cesari's biography is a fitting tribute to a beautiful voice and a a beautiful soul. It explains the tragedies that stilled his talent far too prematurely. It is meticulously researched and scrupulously fair. I salute its author
and its publishers on its timely release."

Which of the other Lanza biographies do I like? Derek Mannering's second book, followed by Callinicos's, and then Mannering's first effort. About the others, the less said, the better!


Incidentally, I plan to read Edy Lovaglio's book over the summer.

Sam

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Nov 28, 2007, 8:42:04 PM11/28/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
I would really like to know what you think is so bad about Bessette's
book. I can understand why you would put down the Teitelbaum book, but
even that has plenty of good moments. I would estimate that only
fifteen percent is trashy.
Sam
> > an anthology than a biography.- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -
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Derek McGovern

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Nov 29, 2007, 3:38:44 AM11/29/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Hi Sam: Firstly, I'd like to elaborate on my thoughts about the two
Mannering biographies.

I see them both as good, solid efforts - particularly the latest one
(Singing
to the Gods, 2001). The first book (Mario Lanza, 1991) is really too
brief an account to cover anything more than the bare bones of Lanza's
life - even for a man who lived only 38 years. One reviewer called it
a
"serviceable biography", and I think that's a fair description. But at
the
time that it came out, it was the first serious Lanza biography since
Callinicos's 31 years earlier - and I was grateful to have it. I even
wrote to
Mannering at the time and thanked him for it.

Singing to the Gods was a considerable improvement, though like the
first Mannering bio it doesn't delve deeply enough into Lanza's
singing
for my liking, other than making some very general observations. I
feel that a biography on one of the most gifted operatic singers of
the 20th century ought to include in-depth musical analysis, not
sweeping statements that don't really bear close scrutiny (eg, he says
that the Caruso Favorites is "outstanding from start to finish"). I
would have liked to read more about Lanza's vocal development, his
vocal and stylistic strengths and flaws, his interpretations of
various arias and songs, his timbre, his ability to lighten or darken
his colouring, etc. (I don't think the book even stated what type of
tenor voice Lanza possessed, e.g, a lirico spinto, as opposed to a
lyric or dramatic tenor.) Nor was there any discussion of the
considerable stylistic changes in his singing from 1955 onwards. And
in a book as relatively short as this, why waste valuable space
discussing something as lightweight as, say, Come Prima when Lanza
made far more important recordings?

Then again, the emphasis here is really on Lanza the popular singer
and movie star, not Lanza the operatic tenor who also made popular
recordings and movies. The distinction is an important one!

But in my opinion, Singing to the Gods is much superior to Roland
Bessette's Tenor in Exile (1999). Why? Because I find Bessette's book
deeply unsympathetic to Lanza as a person and damaging to his
reputation as a singer.

I don't believe that's an exaggeration. Every professional review I've
read of
this book has accepted Bessette's thesis. Here's a typical example
from Lee Milazzo in the American Record Guide:

"Mario Lanza lived a life of excess. He drank so constantly and so
heavily that he was usually uncontrollable and frequently unconscious.
He ate in such binges that not even his 50-inch chest and 19-inch neck
could hold the pounds. He attempted to diet only after his weight
ballooned to 300 pounds and then would starve himself to lose well
over 100 pounds in too short a time. He pursued women as if he were a
hunter and they were prey. He was so impossible to work with that his
name was a curse word in Hollywood and elsewhere. He abused his
magnificent voice to such an extent that it had begun to disappear in
his mid-30s.

"If all of this makes Lanza sound like a monster, he was - as Roland L
Bessette demonstrates in his biography of the tenor."

Milazzo also accepts Bessette's assertion that Lanza was
"unteachable". But what is this based on? The bitter reminiscences of
a second-rate conductor at Tanglewood, who conveniently fails to
explain how such a poor student could somehow learn an operatic role
in six weeks and be lavishly praised by the New York Times for his
efforts. Bessette makes no effort to balance the view of Lanza the
musical ignoramus with the testimony of the many gifted musicians who
did work with him successfully, and who invariably came away praising
his intelligence and musicality. So rather than quote conductors of
the calibre of a Ferrara or a Peter Herman Adler in support of Lanza,
he instead quotes the daughter of a member of an orchestra with which
Lanza recorded a popular ditty, recalling that her father said he was
"no Caruso". Big deal! I'd accept Victor De Sabata's view of Lanza any
day over the the secondhand account of someone who was in Henri Rene's
orchestra.
It's this kind of slant throughout the book that I most object to.
Bessette also never addresses the obvious contradiction inherent in
the assertion that Lanza was musically incompetent, yet somehow
managed to learn the role of Pinkerton or record, say, a brilliant
duet
and monologue from an opera as difficult as Otello.

I also don't accept Bessette's amateur diagnosis that Lanza was
suffering from bipolar disorder. Super-sensitive Mario undoubtedly
was (what great artist isn't?) - and prone to mood swings - but a
manic depressive? Why did this never occur to those who actually knew
him?
Besides, if lawyer Bessette is convinced of his diagnosis, then I feel
his book should have been more sympathetic to Lanza; after all, why be
so critical of a man whose actions were the result of an undiagnosed
mental illness?

There's a very different Lanza that Bessette completely misses here -
not the "monster" that the reviewers detected, but the actual essence
of the man: a flawed but fundamentally decent and loving human being.
An adorable person, in many respects. It's too bad that Bessette
didn't
dig a little more deeply, for he ultimately would have found that
Lanza.

Lover of Grand Voices

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Nov 29, 2007, 8:17:03 AM11/29/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Derek, as always, you are clear and penetrating in your views and
analysis. I have read Derek Mannering's book and Armando Cesari's
book and wrote Amazon reviews of both. Mannering does a splendid job
of depicting a great tenor and a great human being, who. like all. had
some flaws, none of which prevented him from being one of the greatest
artists of all time. Cesari, on the other hand, adds a deeper
dimension into his exhaustively researched work. It is the portrail
of Lanza as a magnificent tenor who was able to crossover into popular
music in a way no one before or after has. Cesari digs into Lanza's
musical heart and soul and explains to the layman and expert why we
are in awe when we listen to Mario sing opera or Romberg and be able
to give us pleasure that no other tenor could. We owe both authors
debts of gratitude and I hope that those who write about Mario in the
future concentrate on the artist and not the myth of the man. The man,
who I believe was warm, kind, generous and gracious, is gone but the
artist is not.

I have not read "Tenor in Exile." and am not sure I will. Shortly
after Mario's death in 1959, the tabloids began to write articles
about his weight and temperment problems and some were so damaging to
his reputation that many fans simply refused to listen to him again.
Some said this in their reviews of the book in Amazon. Yet why did
all these allegations show up in the kind of news that first class
periodicals would never print? It's because there was never any real
evidence or substantiation of these claims. Everything was hearsay
or, it seemed to me, often a fabrication and gross exaggeration.
Lanza was not the first celebrity to go through this and will not be
the last. The important thing is that as a global "rediscovery" of
this marvelous talent blossoms, it concentrates on his musicality and
not his human frailties.

I hope that the dark period of concentration on these aspects of his
life are over and that each of us dwells on the pleasure he
incomparably gave to his generation and now to new generations who
deserve to listen and enjoy the qualities of The Great Lanza."

All the best, Emilio
> > fifteen percent is trashy.- Hide quoted text -

Derek McGovern

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Nov 29, 2007, 1:35:23 PM11/29/07
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Thanks for your comments, Emilio. I do agree that Armando adds a
deeper dimension to our understanding as to why Lanza did some of the
things that he did (The Student Prince walkout, for example), and,
most importantly, he offers genuine insight into what led to the
excesses of his life. Unlike Bessette, he doesn't maintain that Lanza
had the best career he was capable of having - that he could never
have made it as an opera singer because of alleged musical and
personal limitations. Instead he makes a much more compelling case for
the *true* tragedy of Mario's life: that his operatic aspirations were
always within his grasp, that, in fact, he had everything he needed to
be outstanding on the stage, and that the excessive drinking was a
direct result of his failure to realize that potential - not, as
Bessette would have it, another pre-existing flaw in his makeup that
would have precluded an operatic career.

In other words, Bessette has it the wrong way around: he describes a
man born with the seeds of self-destruction already in him; Armando,
on the other hand, describes a larger-than-life extrovert who had
started out with all the promise in the world, but who through a
tragic combination of bad choices and events that, realistically, he
could not have foreseen (eg, his enormous success in films and the
unexpected degree of public and critical scrutiny that arose from
this), lost his self-confidence and self-respect - and thereafter
increasingly sought refuge in alcohol.

Lover of Grand Voices

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Nov 30, 2007, 12:31:12 PM11/30/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Yes Derek, that is exactly what I saw in Armando's splendid
biography.

Here was a man from a very humble background that I can identify with
because it is very similar to mine. Here is a man who is truly "self-
made" and sharpens a magnificent talent as no one else has ever done.
Here is a man who is launched on a meteoric career toward speed-of-
light fame and fortune who had to adjust, and transform himself via a
metamorphosis that changed a simple kid from South Philadelphia into a
global sensation. And what a sensation he was!! After one movie he
leaps into the imagination of people of all generations around the
world and sparks a love of opera and music that no single artist
before him accomplished. Despite his serious setbacks, that would
have driven a lesser man to the ultimate of extremes, Mario, at his
death, was one of the world's top performers in all the catagories he
mastered: opera, movies, the stage and tv and was starting new and
more exciting projects when his golden voice was silenced.

Few people will ever dwell to a large extent on the personal blemishes
of great leaders in their field like Mario when they see the gigantic
accomplishments and legacy that is left to us. As time goes on, and
more "lovers of grand voices" learn about Lanza, the footnotes about
his weaknesses will fade away as the majesty of his voice thrills new
generations.

Thank you Derek and thank you Armando and thanks to all our friends
who are contributing to keeping his memory alive.

Emilio

On Nov 29, 6:35 pm, "Derek McGovern" <derek.mcgov...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for your comments, Emilio. I do agree that Armando adds a
> deeper dimension to our understanding as to why Lanza did some of the
> things that he did (The Student Prince walkout, for example), and,
> most importantly, he offers genuine insight into what led to the
> excesses of his life. Unlike Bessette, he doesn't maintain that Lanza
> had the best career he was capable of having - that he could never
> have made it as an opera singer because of alleged musical and
> personal limitations. Instead he makes a much more compelling case for
> the *true* tragedy of Mario's life: that his operatic aspirations were
> always within his grasp, that, in fact, he had everything he needed to
> be outstanding on the stage, and that the excessive drinking was a
> direct result of his failure to realize that potential - not, as
> Bessette would have it, another pre-existing flaw in his makeup that
> would have precluded an operatic career.
>
> In other words, Bessette has it the wrong way around: he describes a
> man born with the seeds of self-destruction already in him; Armando,
> on the other hand, describes a larger-than-life extrovert who had
> started out with all the promise in the world, but who through a
> tragic combination of bad choices and events that, realistically, he
> could not have foreseen (eg, his enormous success in films and the
> unexpected degree of public and critical scrutiny that arose from
> this), lost his self-confidence and self-respect - and thereafter
> increasingly sought refuge in alcohol.
>

jora...@comcast.net

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Nov 30, 2007, 4:07:33 PM11/30/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Beautifully said, Emilio!
> ...
>
> read more >>- Hide quoted text -

Sam

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Dec 4, 2007, 7:35:49 AM12/4/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
I agree that the focus of future biographies should be on Mario the
singer and not Mario the flawed man.That being said, I still find it
hard to believe Mario did not chase after many women, overeat
terribly, and drink to excess. Too many concert cancellations and the
like lead me to believe this of him, not to mention good friends like
Costa and Terry who were there to witness the self destruction first
hand. Sure, many will doubt their sincerity and think they wrote such
things in their books for commercial purposes. I for one do not
believe this....
PS. Thanks Derek for your incisive remarks on my question about the
different biographies.

On Nov 30, 4:07 pm, "jorain...@comcast.net" <jorain...@comcast.net>
wrote:

Derek McGovern

unread,
Dec 4, 2007, 1:33:07 PM12/4/07
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Hi Sam: Of course, a responsible biographer should acknowledge Lanza's
excesses, but just as importantly the inner conflicts that led to such
behaviour need to be addressed. Knowing *why* Lanza drank excessively
or went on eating binges is the key to understanding him.

As for his supposed womanizing, I'm convinced that this has been
exaggerated. Most of these lurid stories have come from Terry Robinson
and Al Teitelbaum; others who were close to him such as Callinicos and
Sam Steinman, insist that he wasn't the rampant womanizer portrayed by
tabloid types. Even Paul Baron, who was not at all well disposed
toward Lanza (after all, he was fired by him!), told me this.

Derek McGovern

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Jan 25, 2008, 8:36:10 PM1/25/08
to Mario Lanza, tenor
While I was staying with Armando and Carmel earlier this week, I took
the opportunity to re-read three Lanza biographies: those of Al
Teitelbaum (1971), Callinicos (1960), and Bessette (1999). I hadn't
read the first two in more than 20 years, and in the case of
Bessette's book, I wanted to find out if I'd been too tough on the
work in my earlier comments on this thread. (It turns out I hadn't
:-))

First of all, my opinion of Al Bernard/Matt Teitelbaum's book
(reportedly written while he was serving a well-deserved prison
sentence for fraud) hasn't changed one jot. It's a piece of trash with
not a single redeeming feature. The fact that its author has for years
been living - to quote Bessette - "in grand style" while *still*
receiving a percentage of Lanza's royalties (along with Sam Weiler's
heirs and sundry other individuals) only rubs salt into the wound.
Let's not forget that because of his association with Teitelbaum, not
only did Lanza get dragged into the whole sordid business of having to
testify to the Grand Jury for old Al - and at a time when his
reputation scarcely needed any further notoriety! - but he also ended
up naively (to put it mildly) signing away sizeable chunks of his
future income to Teitelbaum's various associates, such as lawyer Greg
Bautzer. Not content with having made so much money out of Lanza,
however, Teitelbaum then went on to write a book in which he portrays
himself as Mario's saviour!

The Callinicos book, on the other hand, is somewhat better than I
remembered it. It's got some good stuff in it, and is reasonably well
written, no doubt due in part to its co-author, professional
journalist Ray Robinson. Next to Armando's, it's also the most
musically accurate Lanza bio. I did scratch my head, though, over
Callinicos's assertions that Mario was in "magnificent" form at The
Vagabond King session in July 1959 and also, a month later, when he
recorded the first two numbers for The Desert Song. (Callinicos
doesn't say what these two numbers were, but the RCA Italia logs
reveal these to have been Then You Will Know and The Riff Song -
hardly the shining moments from that final album.)

What bothers me about Callinicos's book, however, is the number of
obvious inaccuracies in it. For instance, he claims that Lanza sang
badly (with only "the scar tissue" remaining of a great voice) at the
Albert Hall on February 16th, 1958, when we know that such a recital
never took place. Even allowing for the fact that he may have confused
the date with January 19th (which was when Mario appeared there for
the second and final time), it does seem a strange error for someone
to make only two years after the event. He also claims that the Albert
Hall audience was unforgiving and did not believe Lanza's excuse of
having injured himself a couple of days earlier. This doesn't tally at
all with the comments I've read from people who were actually at the
second Albert Hall concert.

More preposterously, Callinicos claims that Mario's final words were
"Betty, I love you...oh...oh." Considering the fact that Lanza was
alone when he was stricken - and was discovered already unconscious up
to 40 minutes later - this is a fairly outrageous fabrication! Coming
on top of the obviously bogus tale about a final Lord's Prayer
recording in September 1959, this deathbed story - no matter how
kindly intended - makes me wonder how many other parts of Callinicos's
book can be trusted.

The question mark over Callinicos's reliability gains particular
significance when one considers that Bessette relies heavily on the
former's assertions that Mario was already a troubled individual
*before* moving to Hollywood in his own portrayal of Lanza in Tenor in
Exile. Bessette's thesis is, of course, that Mario was mentally ill
his entire life with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. To support this
view about a period when his chief source (Teitelbaum) didn't know
Lanza, he has to rely on comments about Lanza's alleged misbehaviour
from Callinicos - who in turns quotes other individuals - and even the
anonymous high school teacher quoted in the equally anonymous Time
magazine author's cover story on Lanza, which claims that Mario was
"one of the biggest bums" to enter the US education system. Hmmn.

What I'd forgotten about this book, however, is just how relentlessly
Bessette lists every one of Mario's alleged misdeeds - cheerfully
aided in large part by Teitelbaum's unsavoury reminiscences. He paints
Lanza as so thoroughly unlovable an individual - violent, crude,
sex-addicted, often vile in his behaviour towards women - that you'd
have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would have wanted to
associate with him. There's no sense of balance and no attempt to
establish context; it's just page after page of Mario's supposed
misdeeds. Even when he's right - as he is about Lanza's initial
behaviour towards Doretta Morrow - he only tells half the story,
omitting the crucial fact that Mario profusely apologised for his foul
language and ended up enjoying a good working relationship with his
co-star. Furthermore, Bessette often doesn't name his sources - even
when he makes the occasional positive statement. I'm surprised that
his publishers (Amadeus) didn't insist on proper referencing.

What surprised me the most, however, is whenever I opened a page at
random, I discovered a glaring factual mistake. Some of these were
inconsequential (such as his laughably inaccurate translation of
"porco miseria"); some were simply sloppy (eg, he says Betty Lanza was
36 when she died). But the musical errors are perhaps the most galling
of all; for instance, he claims that Mario's 1949 Celeste Aida for RCA
was in a higher key than usual (??!!), and later says that Lanza's
haunting 1959 One Alone ends on a B. (It's actually a whole tone and a
half lower!) Compounding these mistakes were some of his musical
pronouncements: eg, asserting that the 1955 O Paradiso was strained
(while maintaining that the 1955 O Soave Fanciulla was very good!),
that the 1958 O Sole Mio was terrible, etc, etc.

Bessette does provide some fascinating details about the extent to
which Lanza was cheated financially by some of those around him (not
to mention unscrupulous film producers), and in the closing chapter he
makes some surprisingly touching comments about the man. But for me,
at least, it was a case of too little, too late. As we've already seen
in the reviews, it's Lanza the monster that commentators have
preferred to focus on - and this book gives them ample ammunition to
support that view, regardless of whether its "retrospective diagnosis"
of a bipolar disorder (which, in any event, is mentioned only at the
very end) mitigates any of the man's so-called misbehaviour.

Joe Fagan

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Jan 25, 2008, 8:48:10 PM1/25/08
to mario...@googlegroups.com
you have reminded me of how sad and unfair these 'docu's" were to such a
noble artist. What a great shame! Thank God for the other, much more
reliable voices, such as YOU and Armando!!

Joe F

Derek McGovern

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Jan 25, 2008, 10:33:11 PM1/25/08
to mario...@googlegroups.com
I forgot to mention earlier (in that interminably long post above)
that the best thing about Bessette's book for me was the reminiscences
of two of the musicians who worked on the Coke shows. One of them was
Harold Diner - husband of Babs from the Kidel doco. The men had some
interesting things to say about Lanza's conduct during the sessions
(eg, he was always patient when others made mistakes - unlike Ray
Sinatra, who would often lose his temper). My only gripe is that
Bessette should have placed one of the men's comments to the effect
that Lanza was a poor musician in its proper context; after all,
*many* other celebrated operatic singers are no better in this regard!
(Think of Corelli and Di Stefano, to give just two examples.)
*Musicality*, of course, is a completely different kettle of fish, and
Bessette should have made the distinction clear.

I've always felt that Lanza's overall singing on the Coke Shows was
better in 1952 than it was in 1951 - possibly reflecting the pressures
he was under while filming Because You're Mine in the latter part of
1951 and at the very beginning of 1952. Coincidentally, one of the
above interviewees commented that Lanza's musicianship improved during
the 11-month period that he recorded for these shows.

Muriel

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Jan 26, 2008, 12:56:22 PM1/26/08
to Mario Lanza, tenor
Thanks, Derek, for this thoughtful analysis of these three Lanza bios.
I never read the Bernard one, but I can't say I'd be happy from all
I've heard about it. Costa's I should re-read as I forget many
details. It seems to me that he should have tried to write another
later on as some of his opinions changed according to what we hear in
his interview with Lindsay. He tried to minimize Mario's drinking by
then...

Bessette's book was an eye-opener for me! I had just begun to
reaquaint myself with Mario at that time and was in the process of
buying as many of his CDs that I could find. My hopes were high as I
saw there was a brand new bio to read. And, read it I did, in one
sitting! However, the joy of hearing his amazingly beautiful
recordings once again soon turned to total desolation! I did not want
to believe all the terrible things I was reading. Surely, this man who
gave me so much joy could not be the same man as depicted on page
after page. I think I must have told everyone I knew about my feelings
as they had sent me into a state of panic. I almost felt if I talked
about this, those feelings would somehow go away. It couldn't be true.

It's easy to tell this writer was a lawyer as he put details down as
though preparing facts for a trial. I grew weary of all the real
estate figures and detailed accounts of contracts, etc. Where was the
music? Where was the empathy? Why wasn't I receiving the sense that
the biographer even liked Mario? He was like a prosecutor trying to
convince us, the jury, that Mario Lanza was a severely flawed
individual who somehow became a singing movie star! He didn't give
his great talent any consideration as it might well have been
coincidental to any successful endeavors.

His bipolar diagnosis came purely from discussing certain events with
a relative with a psychology degree. No honest doctor would ever give
such a diagnosis without having seen Mario in person. It can only be
conjecture after having only random information fed to him or her.
Mario was a highly creative figure and his personality was in keeping
with that of many other similar people. You can't really expect dull
reactions or behavior from such a person. His emotional quotient was
high and that translated on to his way of singing and further into his
personal life.

I'm off my soapbox now, but I'll never be able to forget what a
disservice Mr. Bessette did to Mario's public portrait. Thank goodness
for Armando, who came along and dispelled many of the untruths.

Ciao for now... Muriel

On Jan 25, 10:33 pm, "Derek McGovern" <derek.mcgov...@gmail.com>
wrote:
> I forgot to mention earlier (in that interminably long post above)
> that the best thing about Bessette's book for me was the reminiscences
> of two of the musicians who worked on the Coke shows. One of them was
> Harold Diner - husband of Babs from the Kidel doco. The men had some
> interesting things to say about Lanza's conduct during the sessions
> (eg, he was always patient when others made mistakes - unlike Ray
> Sinatra, who would often lose his temper). My only gripe is that
> Bessette should have placed one of the men's comments to the effect
> that Lanza was a poor musician in its proper context; after all,
> *many* other celebrated operatic singers are no better in this regard!
> (Think of Corelli and Di Stefano, to give just two examples.)
> *Musicality*, of course, is a completely different kettle of fish, and
> Bessette should have made the distinction clear.
>
> I've always felt that Lanza's overall singing on the Coke Shows was
> better in 1952 than it was in 1951 - possibly reflecting the pressures
> he was under while filming Because You're Mine in the latter part of
> 1951 and at the very beginning of 1952.  Coincidentally, one of the
> above interviewees commented that Lanza's musicianship improved during
> the 11-month period that he recorded for these shows.
>
> > > On 12/5/07, Derek McGovern <derek.mcgov...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > >> Hi Sam: Of course, a responsible biographer should acknowledge Lanza's
> > >> excesses, but just as importantly the inner conflicts that led to such
> > >> behaviour need to be addressed. Knowing *why* Lanza drank excessively
> > >> or went on eating binges is the key to understanding him.
>
> > >> As for his supposed womanizing, I'm convinced that this has been
> > >> exaggerated. Most of these lurid stories have come from Terry Robinson
> > >> and Al Teitelbaum; others who were close to him such as Callinicos and
> > >> Sam Steinman, insist that he wasn't the rampant womanizer portrayed by
> > >> tabloid types. Even Paul Baron, who was not at all well disposed
> > >> toward Lanza (after all, he was fired by him!), told me this.
>
> > >> On Dec 5, 1:35 am, Sam <s...@bee.net> wrote:
> > >> > I agree that the focus of future biographies should be on Mario the
> > >> > singer and not Mario the flawed man.That being said, I still find it
> > >> > hard to believe Mario did not chase after
>

Mike McAdam

unread,
Feb 7, 2008, 10:02:50 AM2/7/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
Just came across this when Amazon "spammed" me with their usual
quarterly reminder about "something on Lanza I may be interested in"?
Viz:
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A one sided anecdotal view, June 5, 2004
By miss l vesey (England) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Mario Lanza (Hardcover)
This book is yet another book on the great tenor Mario Lanza. It
contains vibrant prose remeniscent of a novel rather than a serious
study. Though the information is plentiful, a lot is made of hearsay
and uncorroborated material. There are always inaccuracies made in
books of this nature so the author should not feel overly concerned
about such issues but there are some outright opinions that give the
book a one sided view of Lanza. It is clear that Mr Mannering is only
interested in the early voice of Mario Lanza rather than the operatic
voice of 1955-59. Readers must not be put off by the book's slamming
of the second Student Prince recorded by Lanza in 1959. This
recording, when heard 'on pitch' is an absolute masterpiece! I'm
afraid by slamming this recording in print, the author does untold
damage to the recorded memory of the great man. Hopefully one day this
recording will see the light of day and in the correct pitch, unlike
the LP. Then we shall finally hear the best 'I'll Walk With God' Lanza
recorded. Readers should by all means buy this book as it does possess
an 'enthusiastic fan' quality to it but a genuine historical study of
Lanza from an Operatic view has yet to be written. There is no 'one'
authority on Lanza as everyone who has written a book on him believes
they are the one. *Maybe a musical historian with a genuine knowledge
of Opera singing can one day oblige*. Until then read Mr Mannering's
tomes along with other Lanza offerings to gain a more round but still
less operatic view.

Safe to say that fortuitous comment in the lady's 2nd to last sentence
(the * are mine) has now become a reality with Armando's Lanza
biography....which does everything she suggests; and then some! (would
we were able to make more of the great unwashed out there aware of Mr.
Cesari's work)

Cheers, M.
(P.S: I'll ask a question on Ms Vesey's 1959 Student Prince comments
in a later post)

Derek McGovern

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Feb 7, 2008, 5:16:08 PM2/7/08
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Mike: I'm familiar with that review, and, believe me, it wasn't
written by a woman! The person's name escapes me right now, but it was
an Englishman who used to belong to one of the old Lanza Yahoo forums.
He had a bit of an obsession with the 1959 Student Prince, and
presumably believed that ridiculous conspiracy theory about someone at
RCA with a grudge against Lanza deliberately slowing down the album by
a semitone.

But in other respects the fellow certainly makes some valid points!

Message has been deleted

Muriel

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Oct 26, 2008, 8:26:31 PM10/26/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
Thanks for opening this discussion again, Derek! I must contact
Baskerville again about those copies I ordered several months
ago....arghhh! Jeanette, from the Lanza museum, would like to order
some of the new editions to sell there and asked me to find a contact
for her. Perhaps you or Armando could do this?

Another thought I have is: Wouldn't it be nice to have our Amazon
reviews of Armando's book published right here where they can be
easily accessed by our members and readers? So here is mine!

Mario's Time To Shine, February 11, 2004
By Muriel Agnello (Olney, MD USA)


Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy by Armando Cesari is a must read to
know the real Lanza, musically and personally. This author, a musical
authority, presents this great artists's life for the first time in
both a sympathetic and knowledgeable way. He does not editorialize
about what should have been, but instead focuses on things as they
"were" and how they "came to be". First and foremost, Mario had
probably what was the most unique and recognizable voice of any artist
in the Twentieth Century. In fact, he possessed a voice that most
likely will not be experienced again in our lifetimes.
Mr. Cesari brings to this work thirty years' worth of interviews and
research and that, along with his expertise, gives us a valid picture
of where the Lanza voice should be placed in the world of serious
music. Mario's talent should be recognized as the phenomenon it is.
From the lush pool of quotes, we become familiar with how critics and
fellow artists felt about his natural gift. Mr. Cesari interviewed
figures including friends, operatic artists, musicians, movie actors,
family members, managers, conductors, and many other people who came
into contact with Mario on a personal level. Every quote is
substantiated by a footnote telling its source. Even though he did not
follow an operatic career, there are many tributes from operatic
artists attesting to the idea that he could have been one of the most
successful divos of his day. And so, we get a well-rounded portrait of
this man as well.
I especially liked reading some of the critics' accounts of his
concerts from the beginning of his career until his last concert tour
in Europe. From 1947, here is (in part) what Claudia Cassidy wrote
after Mario's concert at Grant Park, in Chicago: "Lanza sings for the
indisputable reason that he was born to sing. He has a superbly
natural tenor which he uses by instinct, and though a multitude of
fine points evade him, he possesses the things almost impossible to
learn. He knows the accent that makes a lyric line reach its audience,
and he knows why opera is music drama." Even toward the end of his
life he continued to impress his listeners. This from his accompanist,
Constantine Callinicos on what was Mario's last concert in Kiel,
Germany in 1958: "He seemed that night to be at the height of his
powers as a singer. His voice, "darker" and richer than I had heard it
in years, thrilled me. Its volume and substance rivaled any male voice
I had ever heard in my life." Of that same concert, music critic Dr.
Kurt Klukist of the "Lubecher Nachricten", wrote: "(Lanza) really can
sing. The material belonging to this wonderfully melodious tenor is a
natural gift...It is difficult to know what to admire most. The
faultless breathing technique, the elastic precision of his wording,
the light "piano". The constantly desciplined "forte".. The well-
synchronized join between registers. When he is not singing, he seems
a little nervous. When he sings, he is fully relaxed...[there was]
applause and more applause." This, indeed, was an artist to be
reckoned with.
Mario has been often been touted as a difficult person to work with.
Mr. Cesari spoke with John Green, the MGM Musical Director, and this
is what he remembered about Mario: "I was convinced when I was working
with Mario, and I still am, that the instrument itself, the voice
itself was the voice of the next Caruso. Mario had an unusual, very
unusual quality...a tenor with a baritone color in the middle and
lower registers and a great feeling for the making of music. A great
musicality. I found it fascinating, musically, to work with Mario. He
had a sensational ear and he was bright..Mario was not stupid at all!
I was very fond of him. He was capable of such warmth and he had a
nice sense of humor. You could have great fun with Mario." It is a
pleasure to read accounts like this because some of his previous
biographers tended to focus on his negative behavior. Of course, some
of Mario's playful antics are found in this work too, but they are not
distracting.
Perhaps the most distressing event of Mario's life - his suspension
and ultimate firing from MGM during the Student Prince filming is
treated with as much sympathy as possible. Through interviews with
those who were around Mario at that time, we are made aware of the
extreme pressures that surrounded him. Mr. Cesari explains the various
situations in Mario's life instead of just tossing out cold facts.
I found this book to be more than pleasurable to read. I believe it
will do much to promote the musical legacy of Mario Lanza. I hope
those who have never heard the voice will be enticed to listen to his
many recordings still available today. The accompanying CD gives us a
sampling of what he sounded like in home rehearsals and live
performances. Hearing his voice as it "was" and not as a polished
recording studio product is exciting. The sound quality is only as
good as the recording technique of each venue allows it to be. Derek
McGovern's liner notes reflect both his love and knowledge of Mario's
music. He writes with humor and extraordinary sensitivity.
It is indeed, Mario's time once again to shine!


On Oct 26, 5:51 pm, "Derek McGovern" <derek.mcgov...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Speaking of Lanza biographies, I see that Baskerville Publishers have
> finally updated their site to show the 2008 second edition of Armando's
> book:http://www.baskervillepublishers.com/store/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&P...
>
> About time! :-)

Babajaga

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Nov 18, 2008, 5:10:40 PM11/18/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
In fact I just currently read about a Russian Lanza book, written by
an Azeri baritone, Muslim Magomaev. I managed to find it in Russian,
and at the weekend I'll read it. If you find it interesting I'll try
to write a review about it.

gary from N.S.

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Nov 18, 2008, 7:50:33 PM11/18/08
to The Mario Lanza Forum
Hello to all,
I have just quickly scanned these and other threads from the last
couple of days, and I cannot wait to get off this crazy week at work,
and settle in to read all in depth. The synopsis' (is that the
plural? :-) of the 3 bios is/are great.Anyways I look forward to
Saturday coming, to read and post.
My best to you all.
Message has been deleted

Derek McGovern

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Jan 11, 2009, 7:18:15 PM1/11/09
to The Mario Lanza Forum
One thing I've noticed while comparing the Lanza biographies is how
much they vary in their accounts of Mario's final weeks.

Bessette, for example, claims (without providing any sources) that the
pneumonia that Lanza suffered from in August 1959 was misdiagnosed --
that, in fact, part of a blood clot had broken loose "causing a
partial blockage of the pulmonary artery [and showing up] on the x-ray
as a spot on the lung." I'm curious to know where he got that account
from, just as I'd like to know what his source is for his claim that
photos from Lanza's Desert Song sessions that month "show a tragically
impaired man who bore little resemblance to his screen image." Why
have these supposedly devastating pictures never been seen? He also
claims (again, without providing sources) that when Lanza's old friend
Peter Lind Hayes visited the Villa Badoglio in September, Hayes judged
Lanza as having "slipped beyond manageability."

To the best of my knowledge, Bessette -- unlike Armando -- never
travelled to Italy to interview any of the key people who were with
Lanza during his final weeks. Nor, I assume, did Mannering. And
Callinicos, by his own admission, wasn't in Rome during the four weeks
before Lanza's death. Yet all three claim in their books that Mario
entered the Valle Giulia clinic for the final time because he was
suffering from chest pains (which Bessette says were symptomatic of
acute phlebitis"). Confusingly, however, they have him entering the
clinic on *different* days, eg, on September 25th in Callinicos'
account, and on September 30th in Bessette's version. Again, no
sources are provided. Bessette also states that on the morning of
October 7th, Lanza "left his bed and moved about, placing pressure on
his right leg," which ultimately proved to be fatal as it caused "a
substantial piece of the clot [to] break away." But in the absence of
stated sources or an autopsy, how does he know this crucial
information? Here, as in so much of his book, he appears to take on
the role of omniscient narrator.

In his latest biography, Mannering states that "tabloid" speculation
that Lanza underwent the so-called twilight sleep treatment while at
the Valle Giulia clinic was unfounded, yet he ignores the fact that
Terry Robinson, the trusted source of many of the accounts in this
same book, himself states on the American Caruso documentary that the
twilight cure was administered. (However, he uses the novel term
"hypnosis therapy" :-)) It turns out that Robinson was right in this
instance. In fact, as Robinson implies in his 1980 book, and Armando
established in his biography through interviews with people who with
Lanza at the time, the reason Mario entered the clinic was to lose
weight for his upcoming film, Laugh Clown Laugh, not to undergo
treatment for phlebitis and/or chest pains. And, contrary to Bob
Dolfi's claim in his Be My Love book that Lanza was still at the Villa
Badoglio on September 30th, the date that
he actually left the villa to enter the Valle Giulia clinic was
September 25th. (At least Callinicos got that bit right!)

Another discrepancy is that of Mannering's and Robinson's accounts of
a charity concert in Naples that Lanza had supposedly agreed to
perform at the beginning of October. This is also mentioned by
journalist Mike Stern on the American Caruso documentary. The story
goes that Mario, having backed out of the concert because he had
admitted himself to the Valle Giulia clinic, got Betty to go to Naples
on his behalf to placate the audience. Now, more discrepancies!
Mannering states (without providing reference notes) that Betty was
the well-received "belle of the ball" at the event in Naples, whereas
Robinson says she was booed "and fortunate to escape unharmed"! But in
lieu of solid evidence, I'm not convinced that Betty ever went to such
an event. (Interestingly, Bessette doesn't appear to think so either,
for he fails to mention this incident in his book. Ditto Callinicos.)

Mannering's and Robinson's source for this story is presumably Stern,
but the problem here is that Stern, as Sam Steinman recalled in 1977,
was not a particularly reliable commentator. In fact, according to
Steinman, most of what Stern wrote about Lanza after his death was
"made up." (This may have had something to do with the fact that Lanza
refused to cooperate with Stern on a book that the latter had wanted
to write on him.)

All very curious...

andrew...@gmail.com

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Jan 12, 2009, 4:36:36 AM1/12/09
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Thanks for that post Derek
It is amazing how different accounts can be. It is hard to establish how much is deliberate fabrication, to support a pet theory or juice up the story, and how much is purely innocent "chinese whisper" inaccuracy. The Robinson book talks about the so-called "twighlight sleep" therapy involving the use of urine from pregnant ladies! I can't seem to find out what actually was involved in the treatment, but I thought it was merely sedation to keep him asleep while he was fed nutrients intravenously. Does anyone know more about this?
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

-----Original Message-----
From: Derek McGovern <derek.m...@gmail.com>

Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 16:18:15
To: The Mario Lanza Forum<mario...@googlegroups.com>
Subject: Re: The Lanza Biographies



Derek McGovern

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Jan 12, 2009, 5:18:21 AM1/12/09
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Andrew: Just to confuse you further, what Robinson said in 1982 on
the American Caruso documentary contradicts what he wrote in his 1980
book!! In his so-called biography, he doesn't actually state that
Lanza was kept asleep during most of the time that he was in the
clinic (in fact, he makes Mario sound quite active there!), and he
confuses the business about the urine injections with events that
happened more than two years earlier. Shortly after arriving in Italy
in May 1957, Mario had indeed been injected with the urine from
pregnant women as part of a metabolism-boosting weight-loss treatment
administered by a Dr. Simons. (This is discussed on page 222 of
Armando's book.)

The twilight sleep treatment involved putting the patient to sleep
with the drug Megaphen. (This is also discussed on pp 262-263 of
Armando's book.) But I'm not sure whether this drug was used on Lanza
at the Valle Giulia clinic. As Armando points out, the doctors at the
Walchensee Sanitorium in 1958 found that the standard dose didn't work
on Mario, and, since a higher dose could have proved fatal, they
decided against administering the twilight sleep treatment. (Stern
wrongly claims on the American Caruso doco that the treatment did go
ahead at Walchensee.)

Cheers
Derek

On Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 10:36 PM, <andrew...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Thanks for that post Derek
> It is amazing how different accounts can be. It is hard to establish how much is deliberate fabrication, to support a pet theory or juice up the story, and how much is purely innocent "chinese whisper" inaccuracy. The Robinson book talks about the so-called "twighlight sleep" therapy involving the use of urine from pregnant ladies! I can't seem to find out what actually was involved in the treatment, but I thought it was merely sedation to keep him asleep while he was fed nutrients intravenously. Does anyone know more about this?
> Sent using BlackBerry(R) from Orange

Derek McGovern

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Jan 12, 2009, 5:32:59 AM1/12/09
to The Mario Lanza Forum
A PS to the above, Andrew: In his 1991 biography on Lanza (pg. 117),
Mannering emphatically states that Lanza *did* receive the twilight
sleep treatment at Walchensee, but in his 2005 Singing to the Gods
(pg. 173) dismisses the story as "popular legend" and adds for good
measure that the urine story was "fantasy". Yet he provides no sources
to back up these claims in either book.
Message has been deleted

leeann

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Jul 5, 2010, 12:25:56 PM7/5/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Dear Derek, Thank you for pointing out this thread and for the very
thoughtful reviews people shared.

A recent cruise through the Billboard archives sent me back to An
American Tragedy. (As an aside, it's fun how many skeletal outlines
about people, the public, and the musical business over time can be
pieced together via those archives.) The article that sent me back to
Armando's book talked about Lanza, MGM, and the Student Prince and
was tucked at the end of an column about Hollywood's dilemma with the
challenge of TV and tests of big-screen television carrying major
sports events!

The article appeared just as MGM was preparing to take Lanza to court,
gave a brief background, and then this perspective, in part: "Flare-
ups by artists have caused costly production delays, but the studios'
recourse for the most part, had been to temporarily suspend an actor.
Seldom if every had the celluloid Peck's bad boys gotten more than a
tongue lashing and a reminder that it was the studio that made them
what the are. Whether Lanza or Metro is to blame in the present
situation, it's interesting to note that the studio has gone beyond
the usual bounds in dealing with an artist that fails to show up for
work. ..."

"Gone beyond the usual bounds" got me, and I wanted to read again
Armando's coverage of The Student Prince episode--such a monumentally
pivotal event in Lanza's life and career. When I finished re-reading
that and other parts, I was again appreciative of how An American
Tragedy tackles what has to be a tremendously difficult kind of
biography. It's probably an understatement to say that just a few of
the challenges would seem to be that you have a controversial,
colorful celebrity whose public persona was manufactured to a great
extent by the studio, critics, and the press--and oh yes, even by
Lanza himself. Then, unlike biographies of say, political figures,
there really isn't extensive documentation--letters, official
publications, etcetera. So much of the story, of necessity, has to
derive from how other people remember Lanza, from perceptions and
memories that, of course, shift with time and are highly colored by
personal points of view. Both gathering evidence and sifting through
it to write a reliable biography seems quite difficult.

One of the many things that really drew me as a reader to An American
Tragedy--besides, of course, that this is a musical biography!--is the
transparency Armando has brought to his writing coupled with the
balance of his narrative. Armando doesn't deal in innuendo, he doesn't
shade his vocabulary, and he doesn't pass off his own point of view as
objective fact.

We know who is speaking, whether it is Armando, as the author, or
another source, and we pretty much get enough information to evaluate
that source because footnotes and attributions in the text tell us
where the information comes from.

Opinions have context, and in expanding or clarifying the record about
Lanza's life and voice, Armando gives us both sides of arguments and
discussions. As William Albright wrote in The Opera Quarterly, "Cesari
doesn't soft-pedal his subject's myriad personal career, and financial
problems..." Albright also specifically points out that this isn't
the "tabloid-worthy frat-boy" biography authored by Terry Robinson and
friend.

I know that with public figures--celebrities--there are things that
we, as fans want to believe, want to be true, want to know, and that
what we accept as true about public figures is to a large part colored
by the impact they have on us. But really, regardless of the
contributions other biographies of Lanza may have made, too much of
their narratives simply didn't compute or were obviously undocumented,
one-sided, or biased by the perception of the author. I clearly also
happen to think Armando's book is wonderful. Best, Lee Ann



Message has been deleted

Joseph Fagan

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Jul 5, 2010, 2:02:15 PM7/5/10
to mario...@googlegroups.com
excellent summary Leeann! Armando's book is the best Lanza bio, hands down. In fact, I just now completed RE- reading it. It is a great read even though I always feel a little sad when doing it. What could have been!
 
Some of the *other* so-called bios do for the Lanza legacy what the "Lanza on Bway" does. This why it is so important that the public receive an objective balanced report,,,which Armando does very expertly in "The American Tragedy". Equally important, he discusses the voice itself.

Derek McGovern

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Jul 6, 2010, 3:54:31 AM7/6/10
to mario...@googlegroups.com
What a wonderful post, Lee Ann. And Joe, I loved your observation
that, "Some of the *other* so-called bios do for the Lanza legacy what
the 'Lanza on Bway' does"!

I've always been an avid reader of biographies, and I find it
fascinating how often the telling of the subject's life is coloured by
the prudery, prejudice, snobbery, or just plain old self-righteousness
of the biographer. (Think of Albert Goldman's book on Elvis Presley,
which just oozes with hatred of the entire culture that spawned him.)
Edmund White once said that most biographers end up loathing their
subjects, and it's pretty obvious to me when reading, say, Mario
Lanza: Tenor in Exile, that that's exactly what's happened in the case
of Roland Bessette. His dislike of Lanza the person (though not the
singer) permeates practically every page.

I realize, of course, that it's Bessette's prerogative to disapprove
of his subject, but I feel his book goes out of its way to paint an
unflattering portrait of Lanza. Look at the sensationalistic quotes,
for example, that he begins successive chapters with towards the end
of the book: a dubious piece of British tabloid reporting from 1958
that has Mario denouncing Caruso as "a ridiculous legend" who
"couldn't even whistle" and an equally questionable putdown of Lanza
from (of all people) a Hamburg prostitute! Where are the positive
quotes from that period? Where are the comments of Coast, Ferrara, and
others? Lanza's life in 1958 can't be summed up accurately by those
two quotes.

In Armando's case, while it's clear from the start that he admires
Mario, his book never crosses the line into hagiography. The way he
approaches the whole Student Prince debacle, for example (and I'm glad
you brought this up!), is a model of objectivity -- and by the far the
most illuminating and well-researched account of that convoluted
episode that I've ever read.

Another thing I admire about his book is that, unlike Bessette,
Armando never attempts to use humour or sarcasm. Those qualities have
no place in a biography!

Incidentally, this July 1952 feature on Lanza could almost have been
written by Bessette (and, taking its lead -- if not much of its
"research" -- from the 1951 Time cover story, sets the tone of many of
the articles that appeared on Lanza during the remainder of his
lifetime):

http://www.seektress.com/nliberty.htm

What angers me about this piece is not so much what it states, but
what it omits.

Cheers
Derek

Maria Luísa

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Jul 7, 2010, 9:09:58 AM7/7/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Derek I loved to read this strange but somehow clarifying article, it
was knew to me. How sad to read some passages where Mario-the-man is
so awfully described. It is said that he had a difficult temperament.
Of course he had but what about it? Most of tenors and sopranos have
it and they are much loved anyway. That Mario ate too much... so
what? Why did these minors unimportant particularities matter so much
to those people? It is notorious that only to those who totally
disliked him. Why they worried so much printing those personal
problems which in fact only respected Mario himself? The man possessed
such a grand voice and instead of talking exclusively about it, they
were only preoccupied with his personal life. What seems to me is that
behind the words of those who wrote these incredible things, besides
of disliking him completely (perhaps because of him being an Italian-
American and not a 100% American?), were tones of envy and jealousy.
This is perfectly detected in this kind of writings and in other
similar during his career.
After all Mario wasn't a bad person on the contrary he was extremely
kind to those who worked with him and they said so. He was a good
friend to his friends and a very good family man. And on top of this,
he had that unbelievable, grand, unique voice. How could a sensitive
man like Mario, who knew very well his own value, not feel extremely
sad and his beautiful soul so terribly hurt after reading rubbish like
this - most of it pure lies and/or mostly exaggerated - on newspapers
and magazines? And the worst and saddest thing of all is that those
evil articles kept coming almost during his entire professional life.
Congratulations on your own comment and thank you very much for the
link to this curious article.

Derek McGovern

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Jul 10, 2010, 12:46:50 AM7/10/10
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Luísa: I agree that to a super-sensitive soul like Lanza, Jack
Hirshberg's article would have been very upsetting. (Come to think of
it, one would need the hide of a rhinoceros not to be hurt by it!) But
it gives an excellent idea of what Lanza was up against, particularly
in 1952, when everything in his life was about to be thrown into
turmoil.

I know that many people -- even those who love his voice -- subscribe
to the view that Mario was a "seriously screwed-up individual" (as a
certain Mannering acolyte and admirer of Bessette's book once insisted
to me privately), but how many of us could have walked in his shoes?
The negative press that Lanza received in his lifetime from 1951
onwards was relentless, and it was a rare day indeed when any of his
outstanding artistic achievements (eg, his singing in The Student
Prince and Serenade) received favourable comment -- let alone their
due praise! -- from reviewers.

In other words, if Lanza had not already developed a drinking habit by
the time this Hirshberg article came out, he might have been sorely
tempted to begin one! Very few artists would have remained unaffected
by what Mario endured at the hands of the press, and I think that if
he had indeed possessed the massive ego that Hirshberg asserts he
had, then he wouldn't have self-destructed.

As I wrote much earlier in this thread, I'm convinced that -- contrary
to what the Bessettes of this world would have us believe -- Lanza was
not born with the seeds of self-destruction already in him. The young
man that Toscanini's assistant (and future conductor of the Baltimore
Symphony Orchestra) Herbert Grossman came to know and like in the late
1940s was a celebrant of life, not a disturbed individual. To quote
Maestro Grossman:

"As to the state of Lanza's mental health, I can tell you that in our
encounters, including the rather extensive period preparing for what
turned into the [1948 David] Sarnoff audition, I saw no signs of
anything other than the characteristics you mention: an easy going,
fun loving nature, complete confidence in his ability (and why in
God's name, wouldn't he have had that in abundance?) and an excellent
rapport with colleagues (from Adler's point of view, had he been a
problem child in
any way, he wouldn't have nurtured, one might even say, adopted him)."

Moreover, Grossman wrote, "In the midst of all the fun, I, like
everyone else, found that, along with a voice that only could have
been a gift from God, he was, indeed, serious about his art."

Now where is any of that in the Hirshberg article??!!

As James Kilbourne once wrote,

"In a civilized world, Mario Lanza would have been cared for like the
Hope diamond. In his career, he would have been singing with Maria
Callas and Renata Tebaldi, not Jean Fenn and Kathryn Grayson.
Everything would have been done to help him develop his golden voice
and open his radiant heart. He would have been shown his own value
and, unburdened of all the small-minded sycophants and daily drivel
that make life difficult for all and impossible for the great, he
would have been granted the serene periods a great artist needs to
replenish his soul. Every morning, someone would have come to him and
said, 'Let’s go discover beautiful things together. Let’s get
healthier, stronger, smarter today.' Instead, he was surrounded with
an indifference that shown to an average artist would be an insult,
but to Mario Lanza was a grotesque monstrosity. How could his
self-esteem not be damaged by the chilling sense of unimportance that
surrounded all his efforts?"

Message has been deleted

Derek McGovern

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Jul 10, 2010, 1:30:37 AM7/10/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
A couple of further thoughts on the Hirshberg article at
http://www.seektress.com/nliberty.htm :

Hirshberg makes no mention of the fact that Lanza received excellent
reviews in both the New York Times and Opera News for his performances
at
Tanglewood. In fact, he doesn't even mention that Lanza appeared in
The Merry Wives of Windsor there! One would never guess from his
assertion that "concentrating on poker and women rather than study,"
Mario actually learned an operatic role in less than six weeks -- and
went on to perform it to considerable acclaim. Similarly, Hirshberg
diminishes the two Pinkertons that Lanza sang in 1948 by stating that
that they were sung "with a New Orleans group" (and again fails to
mention the glowing reviews he received for his efforts).

Some "group"! The New Orleans Opera Association was prestigious enough
for the likes of Jussi Bjoerling, and its director, Walter Herbert,
was certainly no musical slouch.

Later in the article, and without actually identifying which Caruso
family member he's quoting, we're told that "the [Caruso] family
regard Lanza as "just a beginner, with a crude, uneducated voice,
unworthy of Caruso."

Well, all I can say to that is that Caruso's son, Enrico Jnr,
certainly thought Lanza worthy enough to present him with an award
when he sang in Naples in July 1957, and later wrote of him:

"Mario Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices
of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and
very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct. His
diction was flawless, matched only by the superb Giuseppe Di Stefano.
His delivery was impassioned, his phrasing manly and his tempi
instinctively right. All are qualities that few singers are born with
and others can never attain."

As for Hirshberg's regurgitation of the 1951 Time article's
observation that Dorothy Caruso "privately" considered Lanza unworthy,
musically speaking, to portray her husband, I find it hilarious that
he neglects to mention that Dorothy, by her own admission, knew
absolutely nothing about opera or singing!

Message has been deleted

Derek McGovern

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Jan 15, 2012, 3:22:27 AM1/15/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
I've noticed in recent weeks that Armando's book has been consistently high in Amazon's best-selling Classical Music Biographies genre. Earlier this week, it was at #3---incredible, really, for a book that's been out since 2004---and I see it's still doing very well at #7:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/2332/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_1_5_last

I'm really chuffed!

Lou

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Jan 15, 2012, 12:50:32 PM1/15/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Derek: I just checked the link you had provided. Armando's book is at #13, but if one disregards the Kindle and paperback editions of the other biographies, it's at #7. I presume that's what you did. Indeed it's a pretty impressive record, especially since none of the other Lanza biographies made it to the top 50. Not surprising, though. The cream always rises to the top.

Derek McGovern

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Jan 15, 2012, 7:31:18 PM1/15/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Lou: No, it was at #7 overall when I last checked. It would have been cheating for me to disregard the Kindle and paperback editions!

For me, the fact that it's even in the Top 50 is impressive. Almost every other title that it's currently rubbing shoulders with is much cheaper. It's also worth remembering that it's nearly double the price of Bessette's and Mannering's books (since, unlike their efforts, it includes a CD and over 250 photos).

Cheers
Derek

Vincent Di Placido

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Jan 16, 2012, 3:48:35 AM1/16/12
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Actually, Armando, have you been approached about a Kindle edition of
your book? It would be a great idea, the downside obviously is the cd
wouldn't be included but it would open up a huge market...

Lou

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Jan 16, 2012, 4:19:41 AM1/16/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
I'm sorry, Derek, I didn't mean to imply that you were cheating. It's just that I could see the logic in reckoning the hardcovers apart from the Kindle and paperback editions, as lumping them together is rather like mixing apples and oranges.  At any rate, I 'm sure the value-added CD has been a significant sales booster.

Armando

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Jan 16, 2012, 4:32:48 AM1/16/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com

Certainly thought about Kindle, Vince, but it’ up to the publishers, and from what I gather they are not likely to go down that path. But you are certainly right- it would open up a huge market.

dreeny

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Feb 3, 2012, 3:08:17 AM2/3/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hello,
my name is Doreen and I joined the group towards the end of last year, this is my first posting.

I have been a "fan"!! (don't really like that word) of Mario's since 1950 when, here in England, "That Midnight Kiss" graced
our screens.  I had always liked musicals so off I went with a friend, down to the local cinema and from that day on I was smitten.
At that time, here in the UK anyway, we only got sporadic releases of his songs, I think the first would have been "Be My Love,
recorded on 78rpm where there would be a further offering on the flip side, from memory I think this was "The Bayou Lullaby".
Following on from that my friend and I would pester the local record shop frequently for further releases of Mario's songs.  I believe
the next one available here was "Temptation" followed by "Because" from The Great Caruso.  However, there was a long wait
between recordings which, in a way, was rather exciting.  I believe I still have those vinyls tucked away in a stout tin box in the
garage ... memories.

In about 2004 I watched a programme called "Singing to the Gods" which I found very interesting and had a sighting of Kathryn
Grayson giving her thoughts on Mario, I hardly recognised her.  However, towards the end of last year I purchased the book of
"Singing to the Gods".  I had avoided these books previously thinking they would contain a lot of made up theories etc., but I
was so wrong.  Who is to say what is true or untrue but I thoroughly enjoyed the book and could not put it down.  At christmas
I asked for as a present "Sublime Serenade" by David Bret, however, I am a little disappointed with this one and have to confess
to even struggling to keep my interest, however, I shall plod on gradually before a final verdict.

We are so lucky these days with the www and the music now available, unbelievable when I think back to the 1950's.  At the
moment I would find it hard to say which is my favourite.  However, reverting again to those early far off days I would go with "Because
Your Mine" just pipping the post ahead of Be My Love.

Enough of my memories for now, down to earth as the day beckons with the chores, however, I shall, as always, have Mario playing
in the background as I toil.

Doreen

Derek McGovern

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Feb 3, 2012, 5:36:45 AM2/3/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Doreen: Thanks for your post. It must have been exciting in the 1950s anticipating each Lanza release!

Mannering's Singing to the Gods is a solid effort, but the definitive Lanza biography in my opinion is Armando Cesari's Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy. I argue my case for it here:

http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/the-biography-mario-lanza-an-american-tragedy.html

To put it mildly, David Bret's book on Lanza is a travesty!! We have a discussion on it here:

http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/forum-mario-lanza-tenor.html?place=topic%2Fmariolanza%2FU6vLVQ4tGW8%2Fdiscussion

I couldn't imagine a more inappropriate Christmas present than Bret's sleazy "retelling"---and I'm not surprised you struggled with it!

Cheers
Derek



 

Derek McGovern

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Apr 3, 2012, 10:30:33 AM4/3/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
I've often vented my frustration on this forum regarding the damage that I feel Roland Bessette's Mario Lanza: Tenor in Exile has (unfairly) done to Lanza's reputation, both as a person and as an artist. (This post sums up some of those frustrations.) Too often, Bessette's book has been used as a reference point for pushing the view that Lanza was an out-of-control, mentally ill person throughout his life---and one who therefore never stood a chance of realizing his potential. And here's yet another example of how Bessette's depiction of Lanza has been swallowed hook, line and sinker.

In the 2008 Charm and Speed: Virtuosity in the Performing Arts, V.A. Howard---borrowing almost entirely from Bessette---describes a life-long manic depressive and virtual tyrant whose operatic career was doomed from the start:

"What Lanza lacked was emotional stability whilst being all too egotistical and headstrong. . . . He could tolerate neither criticism nor direction. No commitment, no contract, no demand or routine bound him. Rehearsal, practise [sic], and revision were anathema to him. In Bessette's words, 'More than anything, Mario Lanza could not endure long-term expectations and was seldom productive when an attempt to manage him was made.'"

You can read more here:

http://books.google.co.kr/books?ei=QAB7T6bdFKqyiQe0wOS3DA&hl=ko&id=qLXVeMzOvncC&q=lanza#v=snippet&q=lanza&f=false (starts on page 78)

A few of the six or so pages devoted to Lanza are not viewable, but there's enough here to give you the general idea! Howard---again relying on Bessette---also manages to get both the date and the reason for Mario's final admission to the Valle Giulia clinic wrong, and then adds a fiction of his own: that Lanza died after lapsing into a coma!

If only V.A. Howard had read a different Lanza biography for his research.

Joseph Fagan

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Apr 3, 2012, 11:45:24 AM4/3/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hmnn, I wonder how Mario ever  managed to get through his military service? Military is nothing but direction and EVERYONE follows ( or spends time in the brig). I know Mario didn't like his time in the service ( who does ?), but this is not consistent with the above.
Message has been deleted

leeann

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Apr 3, 2012, 1:15:24 PM4/3/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com

I gotta wish that academics, people with expertise in particular areas, would stick to their own fields. The appalling and sad part of Howard's work is that the man is (was, he passed away in 2011) a highly respected academic  (20 years at Harvard, co-founder/co-director of that university's Education Research Center).  According to an obituary, he also was a professional singer of opera and classical music.

But the conventions of writing in his field are apparently not those of scholarly historical and biographical writing, any more than  Bessette's legal background apparently transfers to the methodology of those fields.

It's regrettable that a scholar such as Howard would NOT look at the lack of documentation and the rife speculation of Bessette's biography and say, "Hey--substantiated evidence behind the analytical premise and erratic conclusions in this book isn't adequate at all." (Truthfully, I wish Bessette had written a shorter, well-documented article on Lanza's financial world;  he seems much more qualified and well-situated to do so.)

I was really struck, and not for the first time, when I read Armando's recent publication "Some Facts About Operatic and Concert Singing" published on the website with the difference between good writing about Lanza and bad. Any biography's going to have speculation, opinion, voids and blanks to fill  (and I'm differentiating a biography here from a memoir or an oral history--like Robinson or Callinicos, for example.) This article gives us a well-crafted theoretical framework about music, the voice, the concert venue, and a bit about the recording industry and how it works. It constructs a perspective, or a lens, if you will, to view Lanza's career and artistry in light of the greater context of what it means to be a musical artist. 

Fortunately, Armando's biography, An American Tragedy rampantly outsells both Howard's and Bessette's books on Amazon, for sure. Best, Lee Ann

Lover of Grand Voices

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Apr 3, 2012, 4:09:47 PM4/3/12
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Interesting discussion Lee Ann. Well said.

I do not consider myself a 'biographer of Mario Lanza," even though I
have written a book about him that is in many ways biographical. I
have read every book about Mario Lanza that I could find. The motives
behind a biography or a work on an artist like Lanza are essential to
understand. Armando Cesari wrote, in my view, the quintessential book
about him. It is complete and filled with facts.

He notes that he was writing to bring out "truth." This is the proper
work of an historian and one who wants to paint an accurate picture.
I feel the motives of other works were to portray elements of
sensationalism, whether or not they were factual or germane. Their
motive could be to prepare the basics of a movie that would stress
scandals, drama and misbehavior instead of the magic of a wonderful
tenor who offered so much to so many. Movie rights are lucrative.
Truthful biographies are for posterity and those of us who appreciate
substance over form. Regards, Emilio

On Apr 3, 1:15 pm, leeann <leeanngha...@gmail.com> wrote:
> I gotta wish that academics, people with expertise in particular areas,
> would stick to their own fields. The appalling and sad part of Howard's
> work is that the man is (was, he passed away in 2011) a highly respected
> academic  (20 years at Harvard, co-founder/co-director of that university's
> Education Research Center).  According to an obituary,<http://www.brenansfh.com/obituaries/64359>he also was a professional singer of opera and classical music.
>
> But the conventions of writing in his field are apparently not those of
> scholarly historical and biographical writing, any more than  Bessette's
> legal background apparently transfers to the methodology of those fields.
>
> It's regrettable that a scholar such as Howard would NOT look at the lack
> of documentation and the rife speculation of Bessette's biography and say,
> "Hey--substantiated evidence behind the analytical premise and erratic
> conclusions in this book isn't adequate at all." (Truthfully, I wish
> Bessette had written a shorter, well-documented article on Lanza's
> financial world;  he seems much more qualified and well-situated to do so.)
>
> I was really struck, and not for the first time, when I read Armando's
> recent publication "Some Facts About Operatic and Concert Singing"<http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/rebuttal.html>published on the
> website <http://www.mariolanzatenor.com/> with the difference between good
> writing about Lanza and bad. Any biography's going to have speculation,
> opinion, voids and blanks to fill  (and I'm differentiating a biography
> here from a memoir or an oral history--like Robinson or Callinicos, for
> example.) This article gives us a well-crafted theoretical framework about
> music, the voice, the concert venue, and a bit about the recording industry
> and how it works. It constructs a perspective, or a lens, if you will, to
> view Lanza's career and artistry in light of the greater context of what it
> means to be a musical artist.
>
> Fortunately,* *Armando's biography,* An American Tragedy* rampantly

Lover of Grand Voices

unread,
Aug 3, 2014, 11:50:47 PM8/3/14
to
Derek, you mentioned earlier about how any artist could endure the
kind of cruel criticism Mario faced which, as you note, was perhaps
due to envy as much as anything else.  We often forget that he was
among the top in several categories at the same time:
1. As a Tenor: Mario was certainly considered among the most amazing
tenors of his time.  He was the only crossover tenor to succeed
amazingly with popular singing both in English and Italian.
2. A Global Movie Star:  He was successful as a product of Hollywood,
despite the problems.
3. A Major Concert Performer:  He was sought after around the world to
hold more and more concerts.
4. A Leading Recording Artist:  Mario's fans adored him and bought his
songs and records long after he was gone and into this century.

We need to add that besides being successful at radio, he began to
venture more and more into television.  If he had lived, it is likely
that he would have had a show of his own.

Can anyone tell me of another tenor who was so successful in all these
mediums?  As a result, it was obvious that he was under constant
stress to achieve in all of these areas.  We need to put this into
perspective.  I believe, on the contrary to some of those who have
written bold lies about him, that Mario Lanza handled being among the
best and brightest in so many fields extremely well.  At the end, he
was still rising and more success was on the horizon.  It would have
gotten better and he would have handled it better.  I'm convinced of
this.

Derek McGovern

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Apr 4, 2012, 2:21:58 AM4/4/12
to mario...@googlegroups.com
Hi Lee Ann: Thanks for that background information on the late Professor Howard. I'm amazed that such a distinguished academic didn't consider sources other than Bessette when researching his section on Lanza. Yes, it is bizarre: here we have a lawyer (Bessette) putting forth what is merely his own theory---that Lanza suffered from bipolar disorder---and the good Prof. Howard comes along and presents it as a fact. Nowhere in his book does Howard acknowledge that Lanza was never actually diagnosed as a manic depressive. It's one thing to believe the posthumous diagnosis from a non-medical person (!), but quite another to restate a contentious theory as if it were an established fact.

In many ways, I feel that Bessette's book, in terms of what it does or seeks to do to Lanza's reputation, is the equivalent to Albert Goldman's ghastly biography of Elvis Presley (a book famously and brilliantly discredited by Greil Marcus in his essay "The Myth Behind the Truth Behind the Legend").

Cheers
Derek

Derek McGovern

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Aug 10, 2019, 10:32:50 PM8/10/19
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Our new member, Flo, was asking the other day about the trustworthiness of the various Lanza biographies, apart from Armando's, so I thought I'd revive this interesting thread on that subject. 

Just a couple of additional comments: 1) I've written about Armando's book here (and there's an interview you can watch with Armando at the same link), and 2) David Bret's Mario Lanza: Sublime Serenade is to be avoided at all costs! (There's a thread about Bret here that will explain why.)


Palmarola2012

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Aug 11, 2019, 3:47:26 AM8/11/19
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Armando's biography is by far the best and most comprehensive book written about Lanza. My work is a series of essays, in English and Italian , and by no means compares with the detail and research Armando has conducted. My book is that of a "fan" remembering and honoring his idol.
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