The Lanza Legend
Mario Lanza Lives On Through Son Damon Lanza And Bob Dolfi
From L'Italo Americano
(Damon Lanza, the only living son of Mario Lanza, shares this intimate look at his father with readers of L'Italo Americano. Mr. Lanza also co-publishes with writer Bob Dolfi, "The Lanza Legend," a quarterly newsletter devoted to Mario Lanza. You can subscribe to "The Lanza Legend" for $20 per year in the U.S. ($25 international) by writing to: Lanza Legend, PO Box 6742, San Pedro, CA 90732)
I was only two months shy of my seventh birthday when my father died. That was in Rome, Italy, on October 7, 1959. He was only 38 years old. Since that day, my life has been a mixture of sorts. I returned to America speaking only Italian and had to readjust to the language, as well as to the schooling.
As I grew older and really began to understand who my father was, I could not believe it. I had always known my father was somebody important because of the many, many people who would call him and come to our home. I also knew my father was a singer because he was always singing, rehearsing, and at the end of the day would sing us a goodnight song.
After my mother passed away, my two sisters, my brother and I returned home to Beverly Hills to start a new life. We stayed with our "aunt", actress Kathryn Grayson, before getting our own home near that of my grandparents who lived in Pacific Palisades.
Even at only seven years old, I realized then that things were not right because my mother was always crying and never seemed to sleep. Only five months after my father passed away, my mother died, some say from a broken heart. She was only 37 years old.
The four of us were ordered by the court to live with our grandparents on March 14, 1960. We moved into their house on Toyopa Drive - the home my father had bought for them - with a rude awakening: no more doing whatever we wanted, no more telling others what to do, no more expecting someone else to pick up after us. This was called discipline, and boy, did we get it.
The home we lived in with our grandparents was where my father used to come when he became depressed or maybe just to sing, but certainly to come home for his mother's home-cooked meals. I remember so many people coming to our house to 'audition' for my grandparents, hoping that they could help their careers. My grandfather was a wealth of information about my father, as was may grandmother. Thank God they were both there for us children; we really needed them.
Three years later I met someone who would become my best friend: Bob Dolfi. Bob, who was about ten years older than me, would sit for hours with my grandparents asking questions about my father. As he listened, I listened too and I began to realize even more how great my father was.
Bob did a sculpture of my father that he presented to my grandmother in Philadelphia and the Mario Lanza Ball held there every year. In 1970, when I was 18 years old, I lost my grandmother, and five years after that, my grandfather. My brother and sisters and I were on our own.
My brother Marc and my friend Bob were also best of friends and would sit for hours talking. Bob was always trying to get us to either write a book on my father or do a newsletter. We had a wealth of information about my father sitting in boxes which had been shipped here after he died and were put in the garage. They remained unopened for years because both my grandparents were too hurt to even look through them.
Yet Bob had already started writing to over 100 Mario Lanza fans throughout the world, many of whom belong to Mario's 11 different fan clubs. In 1979, Bob convinced me to start visiting the fan clubs to help promote my father's memory, and at the same time, learn more about him myself. There are now Mario Lanza fan clubs in Germany, Italy, Ireland, two in England, Holland, three in America, Australia, and in Russia. Since 1979, we have only missed four years of going to visit my father's fan clubs.
Then the idea of the newsletter began to take shape. Even though there were others out there, Bob reminded me that we had all those boxes of valuable information sitting in storage.
But before we could do it, tragedy struck our family. In June, 1991, my brother Marc, who had been born with a hole in his heart, died. Marc was only 37 years old.
Our fan clubs stayed loyal, and in May, 1997, we began to publish out first newsletter. We opened the first of my father's boxes on January 31 - his birthday.
The opening of these archives is an unbelievable task that is continuing today. We have found rare photos, his coin collection, cuff links, a ring, gold chain, and much more. Through opening these boxes and sorting everything out, touching what he had touched, and reading what he had sung, made me feel closer to him than ever.
Our family was hit with tragedy again in August 1997 when my sister Colleen was struck by a car and killed. She was only 48 years old. That leaves me with my older sister who is 47 years old. Through it all, Bob Dolfi and I became stronger and closer than any friendship could hope for. He promotes Mario Lanza today more than anyone, and has done it for over 35 years without asking for rewards or acknowledgement - he does it out of love for my father. The huge resurgence of interest in Mario Lanza, nearly 40 years after his death, is due in large part to Bob Dolfi's efforts.
Tributes to Mario Lanza are many. A five-day tribute in Filigrano, Italy, the birthplace of my grandfather, takes place every year. At the Mario Lanza festival there, scholarships are given to deserving students. A second town in Italy, where my grandmother was born, will also hold a tribute to my father this year.
Concerts are given by Jose Carreras honoring my father; there is a museum in my father's home town of Philadelphia; and a movie about his life is now being considered. Leo Nucci will do a concert in tribute to Mario Lanza, and so will the Three Tenors. A star was recently installed on the Walk Of Fame in Palm Springs on his birthday, January 31. A hit musical show about my father, starring Charles GaVoian, called "The Mario Lanza Story," has received tremendous acclaim from all the critics.
Our newsletter, "The Lanza Legend", now has subscribers worldwide, and our honorary president is Al Martino who knew may father well and was one of the guest speakers at the recent dedication of his star in Palm Springs. Al tells a beautiful story about how my father encouraged him to become a singer.
Mario Lanza continues to bring good people together around the world.