Reputations are fragile creations that people devote a lifetime to crafting. Time has a marvelous way of sifting through and prioritizing the truth from fiction and revealing what is important and what is not about people and the memories and the image they leave behind.
Decades pass, and, in the process, the passage of years takes over from the vision man has produced to expose reality. The stormy weather of time erodes fiction and reveals truth. Such is the case with Mario Lanza.
The annals of success are filled with legend and myths about “rags to riches” sagas. The examples are endless of those who rise from obscurity and destitution to fortune and fame. Some shake the globe via their talent or contribution, most for only a fleeting moment and very few for the ages. These exceptional individuals who break the chains of poverty and the despair of living in an arid and fruitless environment usually have several common traits.
They have a special talent in a field where there is an appreciation for these qualities and they match this talent with ambition and an innate desire to achieve a lasting legacy.
Such individuals live in every society on earth yet few places furnish the fertile ground to allow such seedlings to emerge. The place that has provided the most examples of the “rag to riches” story is America.
Rarely does one celebrity make such a deep impression that his legend grows and advances with time.
In fact, the myth of meteoric fortune and fame is part of American folklore and would be considered fiction if there were not countless instances to show it was a fact. No field in America has more exciting tales of ordinary people becoming extraordinary in a phenomenally short period of time than that of sports and entertainment. The stars and celebrities who strut across the pages of tabloids and emerge on the silver screen seem larger than life. Endless time is devoted to their every movement and pursuit to satisfy an insatiably curious public fascinated by these tiny giants. The vast majority of these famous and infamous flowers dry up in the desert of time. Their only legacy is that of being a footnote in the history of their field.
Rarely does one celebrity make such a deep impression on the public and artistic mind that his legend grows and advances with time and becomes more important with each succeeding generation. Mario Lanza was such a star. No artist today or since has given more to bringing opera to the people and to crossing over from classical opera to popular singing to create a new genre in the world of entertainment.
Mario Lanza was a truly American phenomenon.
People are often remembered for the problems they create and the ones they leave behind.
Who Was Mario Lanza?
Who was Mario Lanza? What kind of man was he? What kind of an artist was he? What kind of a star was he? Objective answers to these questions are useful to put into context the greatness of Lanza and to answer the critics who, to this day, brush aside his contributions without even listening to the gems of music that we have inherited. Some still refuse to recognize them as being priceless contributions to classical opera and popular music.
What kind of a man was Mario? He grew up in an Italian American family with all its problems and wonderful opportunities. I did as well, and understand the atmosphere of warmth, familial love and tradition that surrounded him. His upbringing naturally made him expansive, generous and trusting and wanting to be around people. Yet it did not give him the foundation to deal with protecting himself from those who would prey upon a star whose talent would attract millions to hear his voice and see his films.
His trust of others was based on a sense of honesty and loyalty which he gave with an open heart, only to receive in return, at times, betrayal. Mario always felt a debt of gratitude to those who had helped him, even in the slightest way. This sprang from his Latin character which was mixed with concepts of extended family, spiritual beliefs of giving vs. receiving and a basic love and belief in human nature.
His generosity and innate affection for others was his strength and weakness at the same time. His business affairs were based on one-sided faith in people he believed were sincere and concerned about his interests and those of his family. When he came to realize that this was not true he became bitter, disappointed and hurt. Who would not be? Who would not be personally and emotionally affected by the financial failures and the extreme pressures of stardom and success?
It was said that Mario lived “lavishly” and wanted the best in life for him and those close to him. I saw the neighborhood he grew up in. I saw the small apartment where he was born and the place he was raised. I saw myself in his shoes because I grew up in similar surroundings in “Little Italy in New York.” I understood him as he tasted the exotic sweets of the good life as his fame and fortune grew. I have lived both lavishly and simply. Lavish living is better. Mario Lanza did not need to live that way; he deserved it.