Mario Lanza


The Whole Truth And Nothing But
By Hedda Hopper With James Brough
Pyramid Books, 1963
Note: In addition to a large number of gross factual errors, Hopper's version of Mario's life and difficulties are biased, highly subjective, and full of speculation and hearsay. The following chapter from her book reflects much of the same tired and distorted material that has always attended most recountings of Mario's Hollywood years. Unfortunately, the following reminiscences fall far short of reflecting the title of her book. We reprint this as an historical artifact, not as a necessarily accurate or truthful account of the events described herein. Thanks to Grazia and Russ and Coleman for sending along this material for posting. --jr.
Chapter 18
His voice was the making and the breaking of him, a blessing and a curse. He could melt your soul or shatter mirrors with it when he set it free. One night, all over the hearth rug in my den, there lay chunks of broken glass to prove his point. In his fevered love affairs he was a stallion, with a body as strong as an animal's, and he called himself "The Tiger."
Mario Lanza roared upward to fame and to fortune like a Fourth of July rocket, then fell back to Earth, a burnt stick, lost in the darkness. For a moment, while he lit the sky, he brought back to incredible life the archaic days of madness, romance, depravity, and glory. But there had never been anyone quite like Mario, and I doubt whether we shall ever see his like again.
It was easy to be captivated, though often hard to tell exactly why. His smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak. He was the last of the great romantic performers, born in the wrong century - maybe there could never be a right one for him. "Reality," he believed, "stinks most of the time. It's a star's duty to take people out of the world of reality into the world of illusion, and a motion picture is the ideal way to do that."
He ate too much, fought too much, drank too much, spent too much. He could no more handle success than a child can be trusted with dynamite. So many of the themes of this story met and merged in Alfredo Arnold Cocozza, from Philadelphia's Little Italy, who borrowed his mother's maiden name, Maria Lanza, as a ticket to destruction.
He developed a God complex a mile wide. "I'm the humble keeper of a voice," he used to tell me in all seriousness, "which God has entrusted to me. This is not easy. There are sacrifices you must make. I love champagne - I can't drink it. Red wine I love - I must refuse it. I must not smoke - it is bad for the voice. I am the fortunate and unfortunate guy it passes through."
He couldn't be called a liar, because he found it increasingly hard to distinguish between the facts and the fables he wove around himself. He could boast of his abstemiousness and, a few hours later, wander into a bar on Sunset Strip like The Players, a favorite haunt of his, which Preston Sturges used to run. They could hear Mario coming by the slap of laces in the handmade elevator shoes he imported from New York to add a couple of inches to his own natural grown five foot seven. The fancy footwear must have been uncomfortable; the laces were seldom tied.
He turned up at The Players one morning fifteen minutes before the 2 am curfew, which California law demands, awash from the red wine he guzzled after dinner. Closing time arrived but Mario and Sturges lingered at the table with two girls, killing more wine. Two state liquor inspectors dropped by for a friendly, after-hours drink. They were off duty and well acquainted with Sturges, but Mario hadn't been told that.
One of them walked up behind him, grabbed the bottle, and, as a joke, grunted: "Okay, you're all under arrest." That was the last thing he knew until long after dawn broke. Mario snatched the bottle from the inspector. With a fist as hard as a rock, with a seventeen-inch biceps behind it, he sent him flying against a far wall, cold as a mackerel, with seven teeth knocked out of his head.
The other officer tried to tackle Mario. For his trouble, he was picked up bodily and hurled against the same wall, dead to the world, slumped on the floor beside his companion like a second sack of broken bones.
Sturges was aghast. Before he called an ambulance he shoved Mario out the front door. "Start running and get lost," he said. The now-terrified tenor put on so much speed he shed one of his shoes in his flight to the apartment of a friend, who lived close to the Chateau Marmont on Sunset. At 4 a.m. Sturges telephoned Mario's press agent to report the massacre. "Keep that maniac away from me," he said. "He's likely to kill us all in our sleep."
The press agent made a beeline for the nearest sheriff's substation, on Fairfax Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard. Standing in full view on the desk was Mario's shoe, as distinctively his as a fingerprint, but nobody had any idea who owned it.
"Have there been any charges filed?" the agent asked. There had not. "Well, my client would like his shoe back." "Who's your client?" asked the desk sergeant.
"That's neither hear nor there. No need to identify him until charges have been filed." After some persuasion the law accepted that viewpoint and handed over the shoe. Mario got it back the following morning, along with a lecture from his agent.
Lanza was contrite and, as always, willing to pay. The inspector with the missing teeth received a $4,000 job of expert dentistry. Both he and his colleague were given $200 cashmere suits by the agent as balm for their wounds. To this day they don't know what him them - or who.
Mario may have been on to something with the claim that his voice was a gift of God; he certainly didn't owe a thing to formal training. He simply taught himself by listening to his father's collection of opera records, including one Caruso disk that he once played twenty-seven times in succession, matching his voice to the great Enrico's. He was a blubbery fat boy, an only child, spoiled rotten by his mother, who was the only working member of the Cocozza family. She was up at five-thirty every morning, to sew uniforms in an army quartermaster depot as the sole support of Mario and his father, a pensioned veteran of World War I.
The studios later had a hard time inventing jobs that Mario was supposed to have held down as a young man. The handouts pretended he'd been a piano mover or a truck driver. But he used to sprawl in bed until lunch time, and hadn't done a lick of real work until he was drafted into the Army.
He had one other hobby in his Philadelphia era besides singing, and that was girls. "I can't help it if I was born in heat," was the way he put it. "I am always the lover - I never stopped. I spend ninety-nine and ninety-nine one hundredths of my time in a romantic mood. That accounts for my high notes."
Women mobbed him every step of his career. Wherever showed his face in public, they ripped at his clothes, grabbed him, smothered him in lipstick from the top of his curly head down. It was impossible for him to escape them. They followed him to his home, rang his doorbell in the middle of the night, and some of them were the biggest stars in our business.
As an Army private, Mario got to Los Angeles on furlough. A lot happened to him there. A fellow soldier in the same outfit, Bert Hicks from Chicago, introduced him to his sister, Betty, who became the one and only Mrs. Lanza after Mario was discharged. They were married in Beverly Hills Municipal Court, with neither of their families knowing anything about it. At a Frances Mario party loaded to the doors with stars, with Father Murphy up from New Orleans, and myself, Mario sang clear through from eleven o'clock one night until the birds started giving him competition at seven the next morning. At another party, Frank Sinatra heard him and invited him to stay at his home.
After I'd heard Mario sing, I asked him over to my house. There was a big, gilt-framed mirror over the fireplace in the den. "I could break that with the power of a single high note," he boasted. Like a fool, I told him: "I'd like to see you try." Like a little boy, he had to prove it. When he had gone, the house seemed oddly quiet. I was sweeping up bits of glass for days.
Walter Pidgeon and I both became Lanza boosters, but it was Ida Koverman, true to form, who took him to Louis B. Mayer. Mario had been cutting some tests for RCA Victor to see whether his voice would be right for commercial recording. Ida, who was board member of the Hollywood Bowl, laid hold of some of those disks to play for her boss.
To Louis, that tenor sounded like a symphony orchestrated for cash registers. Mario was presented with a seven-year contract, starting at $750 a week, with a bonus of $10,000 payable on signature. I begged him not to sign, because his voice wasn't ready to be exploited the way Metro was sure to exploit it. But he was beating his chest so loudly he couldn't hear me. He was twenty- six years old. He had twelve more years left to him. Metro had a sad history with its tenors and baritones. There'd been Lawrence Tibbett, a baritone of large frame and a big voice, who was hauled out of the Metropolitan Opera to do The Rogue Song, music by Franz Lehar, screen play by Frances Marion. He did New Moon with Grace Moore, then faded like the morning dew.
Igor Gorin was hustled out to Culver City, too, under Mayer's strategy of always keeping an understudy in the wings to prevent any star from getting too big-headed. Gorin was kept hanging around doing nothing in particular for two years, though Louis admitted he had a better voice than Nelson Eddy, who was piling up the profits for the studio as a team with Jeanette MacDonald.
But Louis grew tired of Nelson, so he was handed the Impossible Script treatment - given stories so remote from his abilities that he was bound to turn down. This continued until he cracked and announced: "I'm through." That was the day his bosses had been banking on and waiting for. Food was always a delight to Mario right from the teenage days when his invalid father used to serve him breakfast in bed. He swore by the "Puccini and pizza - greatest combination since Samson and Delilah." Also by spaghetti, ravioli, meat balls, a steak and six eggs for breakfast; thirty and and forty pieces of fried chicken at a sitting, rounded off with a whole apple pie and a quart of eggnog.
His studio bosses watched his weight go up and down like the stock market. There were times when they put him in a drug-induced coma for days on end; he would have to lose twenty pounds before he was allowed out of bed. They peeled him down to 169 pounds for his first picture, That Midnight Kiss, and kept scales on the set to weigh him every morning like a prize bull ready for market.
He hadn't started picture number two, The Toast of New Orleans, before he took to the bottle as enthusiastically as to the knife and fork. He recognized no authority, no discipline, no frontiers except his own gigantic appetites for food and drink and women. One afternoon on the set he fell into a brief, blazing argument with Joe Pasternak the producer. But he resumed work in the scene, a lavishly decorated New Orleans restaurant, replete with crystal chandeliers, velvet draperies, snow-white tablecloths adorned with glass and silver.
In the middle of one take, he spotted a friend who had come onto the set, so he stopped cold, still raging from his quarrel with Pasternak, to take the visitor to his portable dressing room. Inside, Mario launched into a tirade against the producer, the studio, and the lousy picture he was making. From the little clothes closet he pulled out a fifth of Old Granddad and yanked out the cork. In two gargantuan gulps, he emptied the bottle.
Suddenly, he was as calm as a lake. "I think I'm making too much of little things," he said, and, steady as a rock, walked back before the cameras. There were two steps leading down to the restaurant floor. He negotiated the first without difficulty, but on the second the bourbon hit him. He gave a thundering roar, then burst on the set like a bomb. Tables collapsed as he crashed into them, chandeliers shattered into fragments, curtains were torn to rags, while above the chaos sounded the screams of his co-star, Ann Blyth. He made his way across the set leaving havoc in his wake, then subsided to the floor, unconscious.
The Toast of New Orleans presented a special problem to Mario, who had been introduced to the pleasures of coffee and brandy by J. Carroll Naish. Starting before breakfast, Mario was taking 30 cups of coffee a day, with disastrous effects on his kidneys. The picture was being shot on the old backlot of Culver City, a long block away from the nearest washrooms. He spent the better part of his working day in transit, until production had slowed to a crawl. He made poor walking time anyway --he had broken his foot, which was in a cast, and he was forced to limp along with a cane.
His director, Norman Taurog, and Joe Pasternak appealed for help to Dore Schary, who, with Mayer on his way out, was now in charge of production. Schary luxuriated in an impeccable office furnished in old-English fashion, with a mahogany desk that reeked of class and the antique showroom. The first time Mario was summoned, he sat nursing his cane in patient silence. "We can't have the picture held up by your bladder trouble," said Schary. "We must find a solution."
"Okay," said Mario. "Leave it to me." His solution was simplicity itself. By now, shooting was concentrated on a New Orleans quay, bright with fishing nets and boats at anchor. Mario didn't bother hobbling to the washroom: the water in the quay was more convenient. So was a bucket half-filled with a still photographer's used flashbulbs.
The whole company was in an uproar, most notably David Niven, whose voice was raised in indignation on behalf of Ann Blyth and other women in the cast. Mario was called again to Schary's office. But now his temper had changed. He shouted down every word that Schary tried to utter, until the producer cowered in fright behind his beautiful desk, watching Mario pound it to a battered wreck with his cane. But Schary wasn't one to nurse grudges. After the first preview of The Great Caruso he showered Mario with hampers of fruit, bouquets of flowers, and cases of champagne.
When I first heard his mighty voice, I wrote: "If Lanza can act, he's the man to play Caruso." I still have Caruso records, along with a framed caricature he drew of DeWolf Hopper to celebrate the birth of our son. Caruso's eloquent title for his sketch of Wolfie, scribbled on the back of a Lambs Club banquet menu, was The Bachelor!!!!!
Nick Schenk was opposed to The Great Caruso, whose chances of box-office success he rated at zero. Mayer, prompted by Ida, pushed it along toward production. It was completed in thirty-one days of shooting; it ran for ten weeks and earned $1,500,000 at New York's Radio City Music Hall alone; around the world it piled up $19,000,000 the first twelve months after release. Mario's pay check was $100,000.
His finances were already tangled like knitting wool tossed into a cage full of tigers. On the face of it, he was earning from movies and records about $1,000,000 a year. But there were complications. The greatest singing attraction in the world was a monumental spendthrift. After Caruso, he bought two dozen gold watches, had them engraved "With love from Mario," and handed them out like lollipops. He insisted on having 14-karat gold fittings on his brand new Cadillac, which was upholstered in tiger skin. He ran up delicatessen bills so huge he was leery about showing his face in the shop.
And there was Sam Weiler, who collected a cut of everything Mario made. Weiler was a nondescript little man who owned a boys' summer camp in Pennsylvania and yearned to be a singer. Soon after the Lanzas went to New York to spend their honeymoon in the Park Central Hotel, he heard Mario singing at the studio of a voice teacher, Polly Robertson, and decided on the spot that managing this talent was a much better bet than trying to make it to glory on his own larynx.
When he offered to pay off Mario's debts -- $11,000 or so, by Weiler's account -- and subsidize his career, Betty and her new husband calculated they could get along on $70 a week in living expenses. In return, Weiler was to collect five per cent of all Lanza's earnings for the next 15 years. Eighteen months later the manager's share was increased to ten percent. A third contract pushed his cut to 20 per cent, and when Mario signed for a radio show later, Weiler was in on the ground floor at $500 a week. According to Mario's reckoning, Weiler advanced $70 a week for seven months and drew a subsequent total of more than $350,000 in commissions.
Cash money and Mario were almost strangers. He never saw the tens of thousands of dollars he made every week. Nobody actually put cash into his hands until he was in the middle of a man-killing concert tour that took him and two or three followers clear across the nation, singing his heart out at every performance.
His life had come down to a deadly dull routine: sing every night, come off stage and drink a case of beer, sleep, drive on to the next town. Even his thick skinned followers felt sorry for him. "Why not give him something for himself?" they asked each other. "Let him have the money from the program (sales)." Those souvenirs of the concert sold at one dollar apiece, cost no more than twelve or so cents to produce. So, while the tour was bringing in $30,000 a week in Oregon, which is (was) silver dollar territory, Mario was permitted to store up five hundred of those dollars, which he squirreled away in a canvas bag.
Only this bull of a man would have the muscle to tote around a sack of silver like a change purse, but he took it everywhere with him, day and night. In the car, he set it down on the floor between his legs and occasionally, subconsciously, gave it a reassuring chink. At night, he slept with the bag under his bed.
The biggest money came in, unseen by him, from his records. He sold more than 110,000 albums from The Great Caruso before the picture was shown to any public audience. Then he topped this by selling a million copies in less than a year of a single record, "Be My Love." No classical artist in RCA history had ever equalled that mark. The record was cut in one flawless attempt while he was muzzy with wine and soaking wet from head to foot. When he was awarded his first golden record for selling a million copies of it, he would have nobody but Hedda Hopper present it to him. The studio was furious. They wanted one of their start to perform that service so all the glory could be kept in the family.
He had gone through a normal rambunctious day at Culver City, drinking steadily but staying out of trouble. At seven-thirty that evening, he had an appointment at Republic Studios, where one particular sound stage came so close to acoustic perfection that RCA consistently hired it for cutting its Red Seal classical label records. A sixty-five piece orchestra had been engaged to work with him through the night in a four hour session, to make an armful of master recordings.
On his way home from the studio Mario thought he'd stop by for another drink or two at the home of a good friend of his, a free lance writer. The tempestuous tenor was distinctly the worse for wear when he arrived, and his condition did not improve. Phyllis Kirk, a young actress who lived in an upstairs apartment, was invited down to have a drink with Mario. Before he collapsed into alcoholic slumber, he had tried to rip the dress off her shoulders.
Lanza's long-suffering press agent was eating dinner when he had a call from an RCA representative waiting at Republic: where was Mario? Within minutes another telephone call provided the answer, from the free-lance correspondent: "Will you kindly come over and get your degenerate, unprincipled client out of my apartment?" The agent had a favor to ask first: Can the three of you drag him into a cold shower, prop him up, and keep him there? If he drowns, he drowns, but will you please try it for me?" Be happy to, the writer said. When the agent got to the apartment, Mario was fully clad, three-quarters conscious, and half drowned. The idea that he had work to do had somehow penetrated his curly head. But he had a bargain to make first. "I'll go out to Republic if you come with me," he told the agent. "I'll do one number, then we go and have a bottle of wine together." Agreed. The orchestra, impeccably dressed, had been waiting nearly two hours when Mario staggered in, splashing water wherever he stood. He frowned at the conductor, then turned on the musicians. " ---- all of you," he said to introduce himself. "I don't want any bull. We're going through this thing once, and it had better be right."
And that's how it was done. Half an hour later Mario was sitting with his press agent in a bar in Coldwater Canyon quaffing Ruffino by the quart. A year and a half later the same agent was handed a check for Mario representing his take from nine months' sale of "Be My Love" --$405,000. That one record earned over $2,000,000. In 1961, Mario Lanza records were still collecting royalties of $275,000 per year. Mario wasn't around to share in as much as a nickel, but the percentage merchants still had contracts which continued to give them their cut.
"Be My Love" was selling like hotcakes, especially in Philadelphia, when a fan magazine appeared on the newsstands quoting Mario's reminiscences of his old neighborhood. These memoirs had been concocted between the singer and a writer in the course of another battle of the bottle that began at 5:30 one afternoon in Mama Weiss's Hungarian restaurant and ended at seven-thirty the next morning when Mario got home to Betty. His imagination had run wild through the night with lurid tales of gang wars in Little Italy and bullets whistling past his ears when he lived on "Murderers' Row."
Publication of these highly colored tales so enraged some of his former neighbors that they invaded local stores and smashed every Lanza record they could seize. Rocks were hurled through the windows of his relatives. The mayor was forced to telephone Hollywood: "Please bring Mr. Lanza to Philadelphia for a personal appearance, or I'm afraid we may have a major riot here."
Mario was always officially on a diet. "I've never been fat," he bragged, "only seductively buxom." But he was a compulsive eater who ballooned up to 300 pounds between pictures. Schary was forever plagued with the problem of paring down Mario who was pure gold at the box office, his four pictures for Metro brought in $40,000,000, a phenomenal figure. He had so many temptations to eat and drink in Hollywood that Schary decided his prize tenor would have to be hidden away somewhere for the poundage to be lost.
Ginger Rogers had a secluded ranch on the Rogue River in Oregon. She would be happy to let Mario use the place for reducing. He couldn't ride in planes because of a punctured eardrum, so he was driven up there with Betty, his press agent and wife, and a colored butler. Mario wasn't short of willpower when the occasion demanded it. For six weeks he held himself down to eating three tomatoes and six eggs a day. Every morning he puffed half a mile each way up and down the road, sweltering in a specially made latex suit. He had to work out alone. The agent sat on the porch of the ranch house with a .22 rifle. Whenever Mario slowed down, a shot would come singing into the roadway by his feet to speed him up again. He had one more great record, "The Loveliest Night Of The Year," and one more miserable movie, Because You're Mine, to make before his feud with Metro took on the proportions of a nightmare. Much of the blame has to be loaded onto his wife's shoulders. She loved him in her own shrill fashion, but she no more knew the greatness in him that she could sing Aida. She loved the money he made, the house it bought with butler, cook, maids, gardener, chauffeur. She loved the $20,000 mink he bought her, but she couldn't spare the time to listen to his new recordings when he burst into the house with them like an excited schoolboy.
He was wonderful with his own children and every other child. I've seen him romp around his living room floor by the hour with his family--who are a family of orphans now. He tried to keep one little child alive and failed through no fault of his. Raphaela Fasona of New Jersey was a ten year old fan, one of the army of them throughout the Western world whose letter kept Mario's mother, father, and a staff of three others busy answering them. "Ray" was in the hospital, a victim of Hodgkin's disease. Mario had great compassion for the sick, sent out hundreds of his albums to them. He talked to Ray in person or by telephone every week, sang to her, told her fairy tales.
He flew her with her mother to Beverly Hills one Christmas, gave her a party with stars and their children as guests--Kathryn Grayson, the Ricardo Montalbans, Joe Pasternak, David May, Mrs. Norman Taurog among them. the children chuckled over a puppet show and a magician, and I watched Ray's great luminous brown eyes fill with wonder. When he illness came to its inevitable end, Mario planned a concert in her memory, donating the proceeds for cancer research.
Betty Lanza was a cheerleader in the bleachers that were filled with the stooges who lived off Mario. "You don't have to go to the studio," she used to tell him. "You're too big a name for that now. Make them come to you."
The studio did come to him once more, to make The Student Prince, thought the bosses were panicky about his weight, which has puffed him out to look more hippopotamus than tiger.
I went to his house to get his side of the donnybrook that broke out and kept his name in the headlines for months. "I was treated cheap while I was Tiffany. Box Office Tiffany. They gave me the little-boy routine, and I'm not a little boy. They took my advice before. Then when I became a big star, the said, "We'll take the reins in on this sonofabitch."
I could hear all kinds of people talking through his lips as he spoke: his wife, his sycophants, whole generations of stars and the relatives of stars dating back to the days when Hollywood first made dreams of fame and greed come true.
Eddie Mannix, MGM vice president, was a target for Mario's fury. "I told him I'd kill him. He said: 'You wouldn't hit an old man.' I said: "I'll tie my hands behind my back and fight you with my head.'" In the middle of the battle Mario to a look into the books of Marsam Enterprises which agent Sam Weiler had set up with his wife, Selma, as partner to handle Lanza's business affairs. The ledgers showed he had little left. Weiler promptly quit, and Mario subsequently filed suit against him. His memory was kept green in Mario's private gymnasium, a boxing ring under a tent in his garden. Painted on the punching bag was a portrait of Weiler. "I can keep in trim the rest of my life," Mario boasted, "because every time I work out I can beat the daylights out of that sonofagun."
The studio had allotted twelve weeks to cut the recordings for The Student Prince. Mario finished the job in two. When he played them over for, he sat a million miles away, saturated in the music, until the last notes had died. "A critic wrote about me once: "He sings every note as though it's his last on Earth.'" Mario said softly: "It's true. I do. I can't help myself."
The sound track was all he made of The Student Prince. He refused to work on the picture after that. He was suspended, then sued for the potential profit on that and future pictures. The figures mentioned in the legal documents were a gargantuan jest to him. "They asked for $13,500,000 plus $855,066.73. Now what I want to know is, what's the seventy-three cents for? I guess Eddie Mannix had his drawers laundered."
He could joke about it in daylight, but darkness brought about a Jekyll and Hyde change. He kept to his house during the day; at night, with his chauffeur-trainer for company, he roved through the streets of Beverly Hills seeking out his enemies. He drove to Joe Pasternak's house to smash the entrance gates off their hinges. Another night he used the Cadillac to batter down Joe's mailbox.
The rocket had exploded, and the charred stick was tumbling down. A letter from Eddie Mannix, on behalf of Loew's Incorporated, came to Mario: "For good and sufficient reasons your employment under the contract between us is hereby terminated. We shall hold you fully accountable for all damages and loss suffered by us as a result of your actions and conduct; and we expressly reserve all rights and every kind and character acquired by us under said contract." Mario promptly had a banner made to hang in his house: "The Lion Is Dead," it proclaimed. "Long Live The Tiger."
I was one of Mario's friends who begged him to commit himself to the Menniger Clinic. Once again, he tried to strike a bargain with Jack Keller, another friend: if Jack would go with him, Mario would take treatment. But he made the mistake of letting Betty know too soon.
"He's no crazier than you are," she raged at Jack. "But it's for your happiness as much as his," Jack countered. It was known by now that the Lanzas were on drink and drugs together. Their domestic battles often stopped short of murder only by a hair's breadth. But Betty set her foot down: no trip to Topeka for her husband. In theory, he could still make records but he was in no shape for singing. He tried and failed repeatedly, his throat was shut tight with tension. The Lanzas owed money to everybody, from Goldblatt's delicatessen to Uncle Sam. A psychiatrist familiar with his case had an explanation: "Lanza has lost all touch with reality. He no longer knows who he really is or the personality he wants to be."
His first job after two years of seclusion was a television show, Shower Of Stars, for the Chrysler Corporation. It ended in a furor when he simply mouthed the words to old recordings as they were played off camera. The sponsors had invited reporters from all over the country to come out for the occasion, with supper afterward at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Mario went straight home after his performance. I went to the party to hear what the reporters had to say. Most of them thought Mario was through. He hadn't even been able to synchronize his lip movements to his recorded voice.
At 12:30 am, I drove to his house. He sat in the drawing room with his wife and the Hubbell Robinsons, drinking pink champagne. I'd always been rough with him because I loved him. "What do you think you are doing?" I asked. "Celebrating a wake?"
He leaped to his feet in a white heat of anger. "What do you mean?" "That's what is was --a wake. I stayed at the party long enough to hear what the reporters had to say."
Suddenly, he became a little boy, "What can I do to redeem myself?" "There's only one answer. Nobody thinks you can sing. Can you?" "Of course, I can."
"Then tomorrow afternoon you'll invite the reporters here to your house and sing for them. You've got to if you want to save your reputation."
"Will you come? Will you sit where I can sing to you?" I reluctantly said I would. They came, and he sang as only he could when he knew it was a question of success or failure. He saved what was left of his career.
He was booked by his agents, MCA, to appear at the opening of the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for $50,000 a week. I preparation, he forced himself once more on to a heroic diet, worked out religiously with bar bells and exercise machines, submitted to hours of pounding on the massage table, then took off for Vegas with Betty, their children, and his trainer, Terry Robinson, in a total entourage of twelve. The staff at the New Frontier had strict instructions not to let Mario start drinking, come what may. The town's gamblers anticipated trouble, the wise money was eight to five against.
On the afternoon of the opening, Louella Parsons went looking for him. Ben Hecht, who was writing a new picture for him, also sought him out. He found Mario in his suite, pale with nerves, but dry as a bone. Ben felt like a drink and a waiter arrived with champagne.
I tried to reach Mario that afternoon but couldn't get near him. I went to his suite and knocked and knocked. I could hear voices inside, but nobody let me in. "I did all the drinking." Ben said later. "When he left me at six o'clock he was okay to walk out on to any stage and do handsprings. Whether he had desert dust or goofy dust in his throat, I don't know." He added: "I've never seen a guy suffer so because of what he was doing, whatever that was. Does he always have those soul agonies, or doesn't he give a damn?" And then: "I've listened to his story --some of it funny, most sad. I've heard this same story in this town for thirty years. The minute a guy gets big, people start sitting on his head. I still have complete confidence in the guy."
After he left Ben Hecht in the hotel, Mario disappeared. Half an hour before the show, he staggered back to the New Frontier. There were panicky efforts to revive him. But he passed out cold. A star-flecked audience, including Sonja Henie, Ann Miller, Jack Benny, George Burns, Robert Young, and 150 newsmen, waited for him in vain. The management canceled his contract and sued him for $125,000.
The rest was all exclusively downhill. Beatrice, the Lanza's colored housekeeper, paid some of the bills out of her salary to hold things together. He desperately tried for work at other studios but nobody would take a chance on him. So he took up a deal to make a picture in Rome, to give concerts there and everywhere else in Europe, taking his family along. In Rome he rented the fabulous Villa Badaglio, where crystal chandeliers gleamed on statuary and marble floors and old masters decorated the walls.
In London, he failed to appear at the Albert Hall concert that had been arranged for him, same thing in Hamburg, where crowds jeered his name. He died in Rome, aged thirty -eight suffering from phlebitis and a blood clot in a coronary artery. Not long after, when Betty had brought her children back to Beverly Hills, her mother tried to get her committed for psychiatric care. Betty would listen to no one, any more than she had listened when Mario's sanity was at stake. There were five more months left before drugs took Betty's life. Love for the man she'd lost? Desperation? The verdict simply said: cause unknown.

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