Classic Movie Hub (CMH)

Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza

A minor uproar once resulted when Lanza went on an early '50s TV show and lip-synched to one of his hit songs rather than singing live. (This was not done in the early days of TV).

A rarity, in that he was a best-selling classical artist, Mario Lanza's many recordings on RCA Victor Red Seal, most notably "Be My Love", The Great Caruso (1951) soundtrack album and "Christmas Hymns and Carols" were top-sellers at the time and have continued to enjoy good, consistent sales, this more than four decades after his premature death.

According to Hedda Hopper's Hollywood (radio show broadcast February 11, 1951), he was playing semi-pro football in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the 1940s. Scranton named February 15, Mario Lanza Day.

Although greatly admired by generations of opera stars, including Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Roberto Alagna, Lanza himself only performed two operatic roles on stage - Fenton in Nicolai's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at the Berkshire Festival in Tanglewood, and Lt. Pinkerton in Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" for the New Orleans Opera Association. He received rave reviews for both efforts, with Noel Straus of the New York Times hailing him as having "few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power." He sang over 150 concerts in his brief career, and at the time of his death had agreed to appear in the 1960-61 Rome Opera season as Canio in "Pagliacci".

As Enrico Caruso was a major influence on Lanza, Lanza has been a major influence on the generation of tenors who came after him. Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, and Jerry Hadley all credit Lanza as an inspiration to them in pursuing their chosen careers.

As one of the first students at Tanglewood in the early 1940s, he was certainly in distinguished company. His fellow students during that period included Leonard Bernstein, conductor/impresario Sarah Caldwell, composer/conductor Lukas Foss and teacher/composer/conductor Frederick Fennell, to name but a few.

Brother-in-law of actor Bert Hicks.

He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 1751 Vine Street and for Motion Pictures at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

He was supposed to play Prince Karl in the film The Student Prince (1954), but his weight problems and fiery temperament got him fired. Edmund Purdom starred in the role, lip-synching to Lanza.

His wife, Betty, was the sister of Lanza's army buddy. He was interested in her picture, and the buddy introduced them.

In 1951, his salary was $800,000.

Lanza had four children with his wife Betty: Colleen - a screenwriter, died of a road accident in 1997; Elisa - a housewife with two sons, Damon - had dabbled in restaurant and motorcycle business; Marc - died of a heart attack in 1993 at age 37

Legally changed his name from Alfredo Cocozza to Mario Lanza in 1948, just before he signed with MGM.

Much has been made of the influence Lanza has had on contemporary tenors such as Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, but an apocryphal story has followed Lanza through his career and beyond. The famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso died in 1921. Lanza was born in 1921. Superstition prompts fans to believe that the newborn Mario inherited the voice of the expired Enrico. To support this myth, most critics during Lanza's life espoused the belief that Lanza's vocal range and quality were on a par with no other singer but Caruso.

Soprano Maria Callas (who was not known for her praise of contemporary singers) is on record as calling Lanza "Caruso's successor," and in a 1973 interview said of him: "My biggest regret is not to have had the opportunity of singing with the greatest tenor voice I've ever heard."

Took as his professional name a variation on his mother's name. He substituted the masculine Mario for the feminine Maria and used her maiden name of Lanza as his surname.

Uncle of Dolores Hart.

Was portrayed by Stephen Reilly in Heavenly Creatures (1994).