Luisa Di Meo

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aqui...@gmail.com

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Jun 19, 2020, 2:07:42 AM6/19/20
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Three days ago, I took a train to a little village close to Naples to interview Luisa Di Meo.
That is what she told me:
‘Contrary to what some people think, I did not meet Mario in Via Veneto. When Mario came to Rome, he stayed at the Bernini Hotel in Piazza Barberini. It was the first or the second day he was there. I was singing in the square while my brother was playing the accordion. Once I finished my song, we started walking away from the square. As we were walking, a man followed us and stopped us. He asked us ‘please, can you stop for a moment?’. My brother asked him ‘what is it?’. He replied ‘there is a man who wants to hear your sister singing one more time’. So I sung again, and I looked up, and saw Mario, Betty and their children looking at us from the fourth floor. The man who stopped me in the street was Mario’s private chauffeur and once I had finished singing, he came back to see me and handed to us a 10,000 Lire banknote! You know, the big banknote of those days! The man told my brother that that gift was Mario Lanza’s gift. He added that Mario had come to Rome to make a movie and had read in the script that they needed a little girl who could sing. This man then gave my brother the address of the Production Company, Titanus, and told us to go there for the casting. I was 12 years old, I remember well what happened.
When we went there, there were a lot little girls waiting in line. But Mario wanted me, he really wanted me because he had already heard me.
They gave me so much money. I remember when we did the recording, in Via Margutta. I remember all the details.
I know Mario like my singing. I used to sing in Neapolitan and Mario loved Neapolitan. He liked it because he WAS Caruso….
The Producers did not want to pay me much, because we were in 1957, in Italy there was no money. There was poverty. But they had money and my brother insisted in asking more of it, and used to argue with the two Directors, especially with Mario Russo, the Italian Director. In the end, also because Mario only wanted me, they gave me 500,000 Lire. On the day we recorded the song in Piazza Navona, I was sick. I had influenza. I just could not sing, and we spent almost the whole day there trying to shoot that scene. My mother, a few days before, had come from Naples to be with me. We were staying in a small hotel. Every day, the chauffeur would come to the hotel to bring me my meals. They were feeding me well because they wanted me to recover quickly.
I studied with Maestro Carlo Rustichelli.
The man who plays the accordion in the movie is not my brother, by the way. My brother was 19 years old at the time.
Before making the movie, I went to Mario’s house many times and used to play with his children. I always Mario in the huge living room on the ground-floor. He would be sitting there alone, drinking wine from the old fashioned flask of wine. As I would pass by him, he would stop me and say ‘You know you must come to America with me, right?’ and I would giggle.
After the movie with Mario, I was called by Pietro Germi, a famous Italian Director, to sing the soundtrack of one of his movies (‘Il Maledetto Imbroglio’), but my brother destroyed my chances by hitting him on the face.
Betty was very beautiful, always very elegant. She was always following Mario. She was so in love with him. Mario was more reserved, and not as ‘clingy’ as she was with him.
Marisa Allasio was so beautiful. She liked Mario a lot. She was in love with him and for this reason Mario slapped her once. He told her ‘how do you dare coming after me! I am married and have four children!’ I was not there when this happened, but everybody on the set knew this, and they were often talking about it. Betty had sensed there was something wrong. She was jealous. That is why she started going to the set every day. Mario was not that pleased about it, but he would not say anything.
For me this was strange because I was a little girl and for me he was like a father figure.
My brother brought to the set every day. He wanted me to get used to that kind of environment.Renato Rascel was very kind to me. He used to kiss me and tell me ‘Ah, you are the girl who stole all my songs!’.
After the movie, I went back home.
I got married two years later, when I was 14 years old.
Mario loved his children very much. He used to play with them all the time. That is why he liked me, because I was his children’s age. Betty was not so involved with the children. She was often in her bedroom, on her own. Villa Badoglio was so big.
Mario’s grandfather was very kind to me as well. I remember him crying at Mario's funeral.
Marc was very beautiful.
Ellisa has always been very thin and looks like her Mamma.
Mario was always very generous, and I can still feel his hand on my shoulder when he would stop me to tell I was going to America with him.
Towards the end of the movie, Mario changed. He started to eat too much and looked very unhappy. When I started going to Villa Badoglio he was always very cheerful, but then something changed. He was not himself anymore.
I think because they were trying to force him to do something he did not want to do. He was too honest. He could have had an affair with Marisa Allasio, but he was too honest.
I do not think he had other women. He came from such a beautiful, traditional family. He was very handsome. There were always women around him. But he was such a good, generous man. He truly wanted to help me. Just after we completed the movie, the Carabinieri (the military Police) went to my parents’ house to ask their official permission for me to go to America, because I was under age. But then Mario died. And I stopped singing.’

I already knew about Mario slapping Marisa. In my collection I have an Italian magazine printed in 1957, at the time when the movie was being made, and it mentioned the anecdote. Now I know it was true!

Lou Abada

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Jun 19, 2020, 5:16:21 AM6/19/20
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Thank you, aquila67, for sharing the result of your interview with Luisa Di Meo. Presuming Di Meo’s recollection is factual, it moved my estimation of Mario Lanza, the man, up several notches.

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Emilio iodice

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Jun 19, 2020, 6:26:32 AM6/19/20
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As some may know, I live in Rome and over the last twenty years have met numerous people who knew Mario.  They all mentioned his kindness, warmth, and dedication to his family.  Best wishes, Emilo

 

 



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Steff Walzinger

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Jun 19, 2020, 9:54:10 AM6/19/20
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Ciao Emilio,

Please tell us more about your encounters with those people and in which way they were associated with Mario Lanza. Were they colleagues or private friends of his and his family? Apart from their opinion of his personality and characteristics I wonder what they had to say about his voice. What impression did it make on them? What made it so outstanding and unique in their sights/ears? If I were to meet someone who met Mario in person and spent some time with him, be it privately or professionally, this would be my top question on a list of thousands of questions to follow.

Steff
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aqui...@gmail.com

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Jun 19, 2020, 12:27:18 PM6/19/20
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Emilio, I live in Rome too. I read your book.
We should meet For coffee and talk about Mario!
Valeria

María Teresa Camp Gozalbo

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Jun 19, 2020, 12:58:56 PM6/19/20
to 'Lou Abada' via Mario Lanza, Tenor
I loved Mario sinceI was about 14, I am 80 now. My wonderful mother was the one who took me to the movies to watch the films of Mario. I was in Philadelphia twice (2003, 2004) and I met Damon, this was like meeting a little of Mario's himself. There are no people in Mexico that remember or know about Mario as far as I know. But there is someone, Roberto Stuart (which I've not met, just phone and e-mails) that is a fan of Mario's too. Thank you for our wonderful memories about Mario.
Sorry for my Englis, I am Mexican-Spanish so, my language is Spanish. 
I hope eferyone is in good health. Take care! 
Regards fron Mexico

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aqui...@gmail.com

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Jun 19, 2020, 2:39:36 PM6/19/20
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Roberto is a friend of mine. He is a great fan!

Emilio iodice

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Jun 19, 2020, 3:23:04 PM6/19/20
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Dear Steff:

I met people who knew Mario in Rome, starting in the mid-1980s when I was Minister of the American Embassy in the Eternal City.  One of Mario's doctors was still alive.  He told me about his kindness, interest in sports, his love of Italy, and his magnificent voice, which was incomparable. He never made mention of his health. Comments included his devotion to his family and the love of his parents. Lanza was depicted as energetic, exuberant, highly professional, and enormously generous.

The Lanza family lived in Villa Badoglio, in the Parioli section of Rome.  I got to know two families who lived in the same building at the time.  One was a very close friend of mine.  He was a teen when the Lanza's occupied one of the apartments.  It was large, elegant, and beautiful.  Betty and Mario put on splendid parties, inviting the neighbors and all sorts of people from Rome.  Mario often sang. As my friend said: "His voice bordered on perfection in terms of clarity, emotion and was rich in beauty.  Mario could sing anything.  He could be a crooner or a tenor from one minute to the next and in each case sing magnificently."

My friend also said that Mario seemed to always have a bottle of beer next to him.

Another family that lived in the same building had small children.  I met one of them a dozen years ago.  He said some of the same things as others and noted that Lanza was always singing and practicing and took his work seriously.  Rumor had it, he said, that the Lanza's had a high telephone bill because Mario would spend hours speaking to children who were ill and singing to them. Most of them were in the US and trans-Atlantic calls were expensive.

When Mario died, his funeral was held in the church of Sacro Cuore di Maria in Piazza Euclide, not far from Mario's home in Rome.  It would be fitting to have a plaque in that church commemorating the event and most of all, the life of this marvelous entertainer who is still with us today.

Warm regards from the Eternal City,

Emilio



 

 



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Armando Cesari

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Jun 20, 2020, 7:29:47 AM6/20/20
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Hello Emilio, 

As you are probably aware I very seldom post but in reading your latest post I was most interested in your comments regarding the people you met who knew Mario, particularly the doctor you mentioned, who was he?
Also, to the best of my knowledge the Lanza's family occupied the entire grounds floor quarters of the Villa Badoglio while members of the Badoglio family lived in the first-floor apartment. Are they the people you met? 
I would very much appreciate it if you could elaborate on your meeting with these people and who they were. 

In the meantime, my very best wishes,
Armando 

Emilio iodice

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Jun 20, 2020, 10:57:29 AM6/20/20
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Armando, the doctor's last name I do not recall but his first name was Frank and he was an Italian American.  You are, I am sure, of the history of General Badoglio and his family.  At that time, according to my friends and contacts, they rented as much of the Villa as possible to foreigners who paid in dollars.  I did not meet any member of the family but my friend knew them.  He was often in the Villa and they could see and hear Mario in the garden and grounds.  This is all I can contribute.  Best wishes, Emilio

 

 



Armando Cesari

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Jun 20, 2020, 7:33:41 PM6/20/20
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Emilio, the doctor you are referring to is Frank Silvestri, the very one that gave Mario a check-up at 11 am on that fatal day and tried desperately to revive him one hour later. Although Silvestri was merely Mario’s personal doctor as well as friend, he was not responsible for the treatment Mario was submitted to at the Valle Giulia clinic. The Doctor in charge was Guido Moricca  who was openly accused by Dr. Frederic Fruhwein ( who had treated Mario in Germany the previous year) of having submitted the patient to a sleeping cure that caused his death.

 My attempt to speak to Moricca only got as far as his wife who, much alarmed, asked me if I was a lawyer representing the family – in other words, was Mario’s family intending to sue for negligence. Since Silvestri was possibly the only one that could shed light on what had really happened during Mario’s confinement at the clinic I arranged to interview him with the help of Mario’s publicity man Sam Steinman. Silvestri initially agreed but later changed his mind and all subsequent attempts by me and others, including Mario’s Italian biographer, Eddy Lovaglio, met with stern refusals.I covered all this in the Postscript of the first edition of my book.

 I must say that I am more than a little surprised that as a writer yourself you did not think of discussing with Silvestri the circumstances leading to Mario’s death. Now, of course, it’s too late since he is dead.

Emilio, you also stated that a member of one of the families that lived in the villa Badoglio was a very close friend of yours. If so, surely you must recall his name. Was it an oversight on your part when you ended your post by stating “This is all I can contribute.”?  I hope not!

Ciao,

Armando    


Emilio iodice

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Jun 21, 2020, 1:35:14 AM6/21/20
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Armando, other recollections refer to two nuns who are no longer alive.  One recalled that Mario sang personally for Pope John XXIII.  She also remembered a benefit concert he gave to raise funds for a convent.  Her story was verified by another sister who remembered these events. 

As far as my friend is concerned, I do not give names, unless those involved permit it. 

I am sure there are more stories to be uncovered. Unfortunately, I would imagine those who could tell us are gone.

Ciao,

Emilio

 

 



Derek McGovern

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Jun 21, 2020, 3:01:13 AM6/21/20
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Ciao Emilio: As much as I would love to believe that Mario performed privately for Pope John XXIII and also gave a benefit concert in Rome for a convent, I am certain that neither event took place. It's inconceivable that Mario could have given these performances, either publicly or privately, without those in his inner circle knowing about them. On top of that, a benefit concert by Mario would have been a huge media story, since it would have been the first (and only) time he had performed even semi-publicly in Rome.

Moreover, among the many people Armando interviewed in Rome (and I've heard many of the tapes of those interviews), he spent hours with Mario's publicity agent and friend, Sam Steinman, over the course of two days and also interviewed his principal vocal coach, Franco Zauli. Both men would have had to know about the two performances, and I simply cannot believe that neither of them thought to mention such important events.

The other thing is that in order for Mario to have sung for John XXIII, who became Pope at the end of October 1958, this would have had to happen in 1959, since Mario's schedule (filming FTFT, making the Mario! album, and taking the family to Switzerland in December-January) wouldn't have allowed it earlier. According to Paul Baron, whom I interviewed in 1982, Mario was in no condition physically to be giving concerts in 1959, which is why he confined his singing to studio recordings only that year. Unwell and very overweight, he seldom ventured out of the Villa Badoglio in those last nine months or so of his life, which is why we have no confirmed photos of him after January 1959.            

Cheers,
Derek

Armando Cesari

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Jun 21, 2020, 4:03:51 AM6/21/20
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Frankly, Emilio, I would have thought you had something more to say about Silvestri, instead, not a word! I'm not impressed!
As for not wanting to name your so-called close friend, I'm sorry, but  I find that simply laughable!
I'll refrain from commenting on the Pope and benefit concert you referred to as I see Derek has already covered that more than adequately in his post.

Armando

Emilio iodice

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Jun 21, 2020, 6:06:56 AM6/21/20
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Dear Armando and Derek:  I mentioned what I was told.  I related comments said to me.  I do not publish items I cannot verify unless I get three independent sources. I never included this info in my book on Mario, for instance.  Neither did I mention my conversation with the doctor.  Silverstri was not a friend or confidant and I had no interest, at the time, of exploring more details about Lanza.  Once again, you asked a question and I related what I was told,  Best wishes, Emilio

 

 



On Sunday, 21 June 2020, 09:01:15 CEST, Derek McGovern <derek.m...@gmail.com> wrote:


Ciao Emilio: As much as I would love to believe that Mario performed privately for Pope John XXIII and also gave a benefit concert in Rome for a convent, I am certain that neither event took place. It's inconceivable that Mario could have given these performances, either publicly or privately, without those in his inner circle knowing about them. Moreover, a benefit concert by Mario would have been a huge media story, since it would have been the first (and only) time he performed even semi-publicly in Rome.

Moreover, among the many people Armando interviewed in Rome (and I've heard many of the tapes of those interviews), he spent hours with Mario's publicity agent and friend, Sam Steinman, over the course of two days and also interviewed his principal vocal coach, Franco Zauli. Both men would have had to know about the two performances, and I simply cannot believe that neither of them thought to mention such important events.

The other thing is that in order for Mario to have sung for John XXIII, who became Pope at the end of October 1958, this would have had to happen in 1959, since Mario's schedule (filming FTFT, making the Mario! album, and taking the family to Switzerland in December-January) wouldn't have allowed it earlier. According to Paul Baron, whom I interviewed in 1982, Mario was in no condition physically to be giving concerts in 1959, which is why he confined his singing to studio recordings only that year. Unwell and very overweight, he seldom ventured out of the Villa Badoglio in those last nine months or so of his life, which is why we have no confirmed photos of him after January 1959.            

Cheers,
Derek

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aqui...@gmail.com

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Jun 22, 2020, 11:53:53 AM6/22/20
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Derek,
I might be able to find pictures of Mario taken on Easter 1959. He gave a big party, and there were members of the BMLS attending it. I wrote to one of the members asking wether they took pictures or not.
I will keep you posted.

Steff Walzinger

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Jun 22, 2020, 4:33:16 PM6/22/20
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Hi Derek,

As for "Unwell and very overweight, he seldom ventured out of the Villa Badoglio in those last nine months or so of his life, which is why we have no confirmed photos of him after January 1959"," I think we agree, that it would be absurd to think that any photos of Mario allegedly taken on Easter 1959 by a fan, who would later become a member of the „British Mario Lanza Society“ (founded in 1961) would pop up only now – after 61 years!                                                                           

Why should a fan withhold them for decades? Every fan would be proud to share such a treasure with their fellow fans (and so would any of our biographers, who all researched for years!), especially considering they could be one of the last photos taken of Mario.


As we know, Elsie Sword, née Kiss, one of Mario’s biggest, enthusiastic and unwavering fans, from England, who along with her friends would follow Mario around, wrote a little book (joined by Joan Marsden – the fan, who is photographed with Mario and his family on the set of „Seven Hills of Rome“) – „Magic Moments with Mario Lanza,“ in which she shared her memories and photos of meeting Mario. In my attachment you can read what Elsie wrote in the chapter „Easter in Rome, when she and two friends, Pat and Liz, visited the Lanzas at the Villa Badoglio. Let me quote: „The day of the party, Mario had quite a few businessmen, sat at the table, where he was sitting, all talking to him […]. Both Mario and Betty apologised for NOT being able to talk to us.“ This really does not sound as if any photos were taken, does it? And the "big party" wasn’t that big either, as it obviously did not take place due to Mario's business talk!


Derek, as you know, I met Elsie (I think you know that she passed away a few months ago?) in September 2009 at a get-together of the „Friends of Mario Lanza“ in Coventry, England. I understand she run the first Mario Lanza fan club ever in England. She was a lovely lady, and I am 100 % sure, that she or her friends would have shared such photos, as she proudly did those, that were taken in Rome at the Stazione Termini (I remember, years back, Elsie was very desperate, as she had lost the photos, and she was asking, if somebody could provide her with copies. Of course, we could eventually make her happy!).

 

As an aside, Elsie’s funeral took place last February in Ramsgate. I was told that her coffin was covered with photos of her with Mario in Rome. They played Mario’s „Trees“ and „Look for the Silver Lining“ (and also „Don’t Stop Me Now“ by Freddie Mercury“).


Steff

P.S.: The photo shows Elsie signing my copy at the get-together in Coventry, England, September 2009.

Easter in Rome.JPG
Elsie Sword signing her book, FOML get-together, September 2009.JPG

Steff Walzinger

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Jun 22, 2020, 5:20:26 PM6/22/20
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Addendum ...
We sometimes forget that Mario and his fans lived in the "pre-smartphone" - era. People did not walk around with their thumb or forefinger constantly fixed (or shall I say clued) on the shutter button of a photo camera.  Times have changed. Today we are used to capture every moment with a camera for posterity. Back then, people were simply "enjoying the moment," such as meeting a star like Mario.
There are so many moments of Mario's life/career we wished to have photos of. Think of all the concerts he gave in England or in Germany. I wish we could have (more) photos of all those events. Now, who wants to take up a challenge and present me with a photo of Mario from one of his concerts in Germany - preferably Stuttgart as this city comes closest to my hometown Freiburg.

Steff

Derek McGovern

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Jun 23, 2020, 4:47:05 AM6/23/20
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Hi Steff: Yes, I'd be very surprised if any previously unseen 1959 photos were to turn up at this late stage (though Valeria is most welcome to make inquiries, of course!). As far as I know, Mario had visits from only two groups of British fans in 1959: Elsie's trio at Easter (and Elsie recalled that he looked unwell) and a pair of fans (Pat and June; I don't recall their surnames) in June. I've read all their various accounts over the years, and no photos were ever mentioned.   

So the last confirmed photos of Mario in 1959 are those taken at the very beginning of the year when he was in St. Moritz with his family. 

That hasn't stopped various people from claiming over the years that such-and-such photo depicts Mario at the very end of his life. For example, there's an unflattering photo of him absorbed in a game of checkers during his 1958 tour that was once described as showing "a very worried and ill Lanza in his last days." And in the Bob Dolfi-Damon Lanza book Be My Love: A Celebration of Mario Lanza, there's a photo of Mario and Betty on page 200 with a caption claiming that it was the last picture ever taken of the couple. In fact, the photo was taken in 1957!

It's always good, I find, to retain a healthy dose of skepticism where claims about Mario Lanza are concerned :)

Cheers,
Derek

Steff Walzinger

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Jun 23, 2020, 6:18:37 AM6/23/20
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Ciao Emilio,

A member of Mario Lanza’s household, a reliable source, told me, that there were no other families living with them in Villa Badoglio. There were, of course, many people visiting - friends, colleagues, business people.  It was a „Taubenschlag“ (pigeonaire), as we would call it in Germany. For that very reason it‘s unlikely, that Mario and his „entourage“ would have shared space with other families. I can only imagine that staff members, such as the governesses for the Lanza children, would have lived with the family in the villa.

 

Hy Gardner, a Herald Tribune columnist, and his wife Marilyn visited Mario and his family late in 1958 (Derek and Armando might remember the photo of him with Mario and family, which I unearthed a while ago) and Mario told him: „My landlady … Badoglio’s wife, lives upstairs and business is fine with her ever since she’s been collecting rent from me for the last 11 months.“ This does not sound like a multi-family accomodation, does it?


Steff

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Emilio iodice

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Jun 23, 2020, 7:02:14 AM6/23/20
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Ciao Steff, I only related what I was told. I had no way of verifying it.   Today, the Villa is the Chinese Embassy.  Emilio

 

 



On Tuesday, 23 June 2020, 12:21:22 CEST, Steff Walzinger <stefanie....@t-online.de> wrote:


Ciao Emilio,

A member of Mario Lanza’s household, a reliable source, told me, that there were no other families living with them in Villa Badoglio. There were, of course, many people visiting - friends, colleagues, business people.  It was a „Taubenschlag“ (pigeonaire), as we would call it in Germany. For that very reason it‘s unlikely, that Mario and his „entourage“ would have shared space with other families. I can only imagine that staff members, such as the governesses for the Lanza children, would have lived with the family in the villa.

 

Hy Gardner, a Herald Tribune columnist, and his wife Marilyn visited Mario and his family late in 1958 (Derek and Armando might remember the photo of him with Mario and family, which I unearthed a while ago) and Mario told him: „My landlady … Badoglio’s wife, lives upstairs and business is fine with her ever since she’s been collecting rent from me for the last 11 months.“ This does not sound like a multi-family accomodation, does it?

Steff

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Derek McGovern

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Jun 23, 2020, 7:33:20 AM6/23/20
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I'm very glad Steff has been able to clarify this matter. 

Quite frankly, I had been puzzling over the notion that there were at least two other families renting the Villa Badoglio while Mario was there. It simply didn't make sense to me that Mario would have compromised either his family's security or its privacy by sharing the villa (and its gardens) with multiple tenants. That Bohemian scenario may have been plausible for a singer down on his luck in Seven Hills of Rome, but for a major star like Mario Lanza it would have been unthinkable.    
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