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Alfred Arnold Cocozza

Also Known As: "Mario Lanza", "Antonio Cocozza Jr.", "Freddie", "The new Caruso", "the greatest voice of the 20th Century"
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: October 07, 1959 (38)
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Lazio, Italy (Pulmonary embolism)
Place of Burial: Culver City, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Antonio Cocozza and Mary Lanza
Husband of Betty Lanza
Father of Colleen Lanza; Damon Lanza; Private and Marc Lanza

Occupation: Opera Tenor, film star, singer
Managed by: Gary Adels Loeb
Last Updated:

About Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza (born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza January 31, 1921 - October 7, 1959) was an American tenor of Italian ancestry, and an actor and Hollywood movie star of the late 1940s and the 1950s. Lanza began studying to be a professional singer at the age of 16. After appearing at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947, Lanza signed a seven-year film contract with Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who saw his performance and was impressed by his singing. Prior to that, the adult Lanza had sung only two performances of an opera. The following year (1948), however, he sang the role of Pinkerton in Puccini's Madame Butterfly in New Orleans.[1]

His film début for MGM was in That Midnight Kiss (1949) with Kathryn Grayson and Ethel Barrymore. A year later, in The Toast of New Orleans, his featured popular song "Be My Love" became his first million-selling hit. In 1951, he played the role of tenor Enrico Caruso, his idol, in the biopic The Great Caruso, which produced another million-seller with "The Loveliest Night of the Year" (a song which used the melody of Sobre las Olas). The Great Caruso was the top-grossing film that year.[2]

The title song of his next film, Because You're Mine, was his final million-selling hit song. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. After recording the soundtrack for his next film, The Student Prince, he embarked upon a protracted battle with studio head Dore Schary arising from artistic differences with director Curtis Bernhardt, and was eventually dismissed by MGM.[3]

Born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, he was exposed to classical singing at an early age by his Abruzzese-Molisan Italian parents. His mother Maria Lanza was from Tocco da Casauria, a town in the province of Pescara in the region of Abruzzo. His father Antonio Cocozza was from Filignano, a town in the province of Isernia in the region of Molise.

By age 16, his vocal talent had become apparent. Starting out in local operatic productions in Philadelphia for the YMCA Opera Company while still in his teens, he later came to the attention of longtime (1924–49) principal Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In 1942, Koussevitzky provided young Cocozza with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Reportedly, Koussevitzky later told him "Yours is a voice such as is heard once in a hundred years."[8]

He made his opera debut as Fenton in Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor (in English) at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood on August 7, 1942, after a period of study with conductors Boris Goldovsky and Leonard Bernstein. This was when Cocozza adopted the stage name Mario Lanza for its similarity to his mother’s maiden name, Maria Lanza.[9]

His performances at Tanglewood won him critical acclaim, with Noel Straus of The New York Times hailing the 21-year-old tenor as having "few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power". Herbert Graf subsequently wrote in Opera News (October 5, 1942), "A real find of the season was Mario Lanza [...] He would have no difficulty one day being asked to join the Metropolitan Opera." Lanza sang Nicolai's Fenton twice at Tanglewood, in addition to appearing there in a one-off presentation of Act III of Puccini's La bohème with the noted Mexican soprano Irma González, baritone James Pease and mezzo-soprano Laura Castellano. Music critic Jay C. Rosenfeld wrote in The New York Times of August 9, 1942, "Irma González as Mimì and Mario Lanza as Rodolfo were conspicuous by the beauty of their voices and the vividness of their characterizations." In an interview shortly before her own death in 2008, González recalled that Lanza was "very correct, likeable, with a powerful and beautiful voice".[10]

His budding operatic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was assigned to Special Services in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He appeared in the wartime shows On the Beam and Winged Victory. He also appeared in the film version of the latter (albeit as an unrecognizable member of the chorus). He resumed his singing career with a concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in September 1945 under Peter Herman Adler, subsequently his mentor. The following month, he replaced tenor Jan Peerce on the live CBS radio program Great Moments in Music on which he made six appearances in four months, singing extracts from various operas and other works.[11]

He studied with Enrico Rosati for 15 months, and then embarked on an 86-concert tour of the United States, Canada and Mexico between July 1947 and May 1948 with bass George London and soprano Frances Yeend. Reviewing his second appearance at Chicago's Grant Park in July 1947 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Claudia Cassidy praised Lanza's "superbly natural tenor" and observed that "though a multitude of fine points evade him, he possesses the things almost impossible to learn. He knows the accent that makes a lyric line reach its audience, and he knows why opera is music drama."[12]

In April 1948, Lanza sang two performances as Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly for the New Orleans Opera Association conducted by Walter Herbert with stage director Armando Agnini. Reviewing the opening-night performance in the St. Louis News (April 9, 1948), Laurence Oden wrote "Mario Lanza performed ... Lieutenant Pinkerton with considerable verve and dash. Rarely have we seen a more superbly romantic leading tenor. His exceptionally beautiful voice helps immeasurably." Following the success of these performances, he was invited to return to New Orleans in 1949 as Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata. But, as biographer Armando Cesari wrote, Lanza by 1949 "was already deeply engulfed in the Hollywood machinery and consequently never learned [that key mid-Verdi tenor] role."[13]

At the time of his death, Lanza was preparing to return to the operatic stage. Conductor Peter Herman Adler, with whom Lanza previously had worked both in concert and on the soundtrack of The Great Caruso, visited the tenor in Rome during the summer of 1959 and later recalled that "[Lanza] was working two hours a day with an operatic coach, and intended to go back to opera, his only true love." Adler promised the tenor "all possible help" in his "planning for his operatic future."[14] In the October 14, 1959, edition of Variety, it was reported that Lanza had planned to make his return to opera in the role of Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci during the Rome Opera's 1960–61 season. This was subsequently confirmed by Riccardo Vitale, artistic director of the Rome Opera.[15] Variety also noted that preparations had been underway at the time of Lanza's death for him to participate in recording a series of complete operas for RCA Italiana.[16]

A concert at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1947 had brought Lanza to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed Lanza to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The contract required him to commit to the studio for six months, and at first Lanza believed he would be able to combine his film career with his operatic and concert one. In May 1949, he made his first commercial recordings with RCA Victor. His rendition of the aria "Che gelida manina" (from La bohème) from that session was subsequently awarded the prize of Operatic Recording of the Year by the (United States) National Record Critics Association.[17]

The Toast of New Orleans Lanza's first two starring films, That Midnight Kiss and The Toast of New Orleans, both opposite top-billed Kathryn Grayson, were commercial successes, and in 1950 his recording of "Be My Love" from the latter became the first of three million-selling singles for the young singer, earning him enormous fame in the process.[citation needed] While at MGM, Lanza worked closely with the Academy Award-winning conductor, composer, and arranger Johnny Green.[citation needed]

In a 1977 interview with Lanza biographer Armando Cesari, Green recalled that the tenor was insecure about the manner in which he had become successful, and was keenly aware of the fact that he had become a Hollywood star before first having established himself on the operatic stage.

Had [Lanza] been already a leading tenor, if not the leading tenor at the Met[ropolitan Opera House], and come to Hollywood in between seasons to make a picture, he would have had [the security of having] the Met as his home," Green remarked. According to Green, Lanza possessed "the voice of the next Caruso. [Lanza] had an unusual, very unusual quality ... a tenor with a baritone color in the middle and lower registers, and a great feeling for the making of music. A great musicality. I found it fascinating, musically, to work with [him].[18]

The Great Caruso In 1951, Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso, which was MGM's biggest success of the year. At the same time, Lanza's increasing popularity exposed him to intense criticism by some music critics, including those who had praised his work years earlier.[citation needed] His performance earned him compliments from the subject's son, Enrico Caruso Jr., a tenor in his own right. Shortly before his own death in 1987, Enrico Jr. wrote in Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family (posthumously published in 1990) that:

I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography ... Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct.[This quote needs a citation]

In 1952, Lanza was dismissed by MGM after he had recorded the songs for The Student Prince. The reason most frequently cited in the tabloid press at the time was that his recurring weight problem had made it impossible for him to fit into the costumes of the Prince.[19] However, as his biographers Cesari and Mannering have established, Lanza was not overweight at the beginning of the production, and it was, in fact, a disagreement with director Curtis Bernhardt over Lanza's singing of one of the songs in the film that led to Lanza walking off the set. MGM refused to replace Bernhardt, and the film was subsequently made with English actor Edmund Purdom, who was dubbed to Lanza's recorded singing voice.[20]

Depressed by his dismissal, and with his self-confidence severely undermined, Lanza became a virtual recluse for more than a year, frequently seeking refuge in alcoholic binges. During this period, Lanza also came very close to bankruptcy as a result of poor investment decisions by his former manager, and his lavish spending habits left him owing about $250,000 in back taxes to the IRS.[21]

Serenade Lanza returned to an active film career in 1955 in Serenade, released by Warner Bros. However the film was not as successful as his previous films, despite its strong musical content, including arias from Der Rosenkavalier, Fedora, L'arlesiana, and Otello, as well as the Act I duet from Otello with soprano Licia Albanese. Mme. Albanese said of Lanza in 1980:

I had heard all sorts of stories about Mario [Lanza]. That his voice was too small for the stage, that he couldn't learn a score, that he couldn't sustain a full opera; in fact, that he couldn't even sing a full aria, that his recordings were made by splicing together various portions of an aria. None of it is true! He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. ... Vocally he was vsingiLecure. All he needed was coaching. Everything was so easy for him. He was fantastic![22]

Lanza moved to Rome, Italy in May 1957, where he worked on the film Seven Hills of Rome, and returned to performing live in November of that year, singing for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. From January to April 1958, Lanza gave a concert tour of the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany.[23] He gave a total of 22 concerts on this tour, receiving mostly positive reviews for his singing.[24] Despite a number of cancellations, which resulted from his poor health during this period, Lanza continued to receive offers for operatic appearances, concerts, and films.[25]

In September 1958, he made a number of operatic recordings at the Rome Opera House for the soundtrack of what would turn out to be his final film, For the First Time. It was then that he came to the attention of that opera house's artistic director, Riccardo Vitale, who promptly offered the tenor carte blanche in his choice of operatic roles. Lanza also received offers to sing in any opera of his choosing from the San Carlo in Naples.[15] At the same time, however, his health continued to decline, with the tenor suffering from a variety of ailments, including phlebitis and acute high blood pressure. His old habits of overeating and crash dieting, coupled with binge drinking, compounded his problems.[26]

Mario Lanza's life, sadly, has all the markings of an epic Shakespearean tragedy. The story is truly incredible: a wild, incendiary Philadelphia kid who can sing better than Enrico Caruso sets out to become the greatest dramatic opera singer who ever lived, is detoured by MGM honcho Louis B. Mayer and vixen Hollywood, is remade into a fiercely handsome box-office champ with a 50-inch chest, his own national radio show, 1951 TIME Magazine cover idol, and king of the pop record world. He was besieged on cross-country concert tours and appearances years before Elvis Presley and The Beatles, was a true "superstar" before the word was invented and the first singer to ever earn gold records, with million sellers in both classical and popular categories.

His MGM masterpiece, The Great Caruso (1951), was the top-grossing film in the world in 1951. The Lanza voice was so incredible, so powerful, so golden, so dazzling that an awestruck Arturo Toscanini called it, simply and correctly, the "voice of the century". Among the multitudes of stunned admirers worldwide included the likes of Serge Koussevitzky, Frank Sinatra, Presley, Tito Schipa, Renata Tebaldi, Sophie Tucker, Kirsten, Albanese and countless others. Lanza's voice has been called the "Northern Lights in a Throat' and passed through a heart of peerless sensitivity and passion . . . and vulnerability.

Fired by MGM during production of The Student Prince (1954) in 1952 after director Curtis Bernhardt assailed him over the "excess" passion of one song in his stunning recording of the soundtrack, his career began a downturn that would never be reversed. Lanza never fully recovered from the emotional catastrophe of "The Student Prince" fiasco and losing his MGM contract, and declined slowly in a pattern of near-alcoholism, food-binging, huge weight gains and losses and professional tempestuousness. Fed up with not being able to get film roles--other than Serenade (1956) for Warners in 1956--and a savage press, Lanza quit Hollywood and moved his family to his ancestral Italy to rebuild his life and career. He made two mediocre European-produced films, enjoyed generally successful concert performances and died, apparently of a heart attack, on October 7, 1959, only seven years after "The Student Prince" nightmare at the terribly young age of 38, leaving behind four children and his shattered wife, who died five months later of a drug overdose after returning to Hollywood.

Lanza's seven films and scores of astonishing recordings continue to stun and inspire singers and the public 40 years after his death. He is celebrated and honored with film festivals, a steady flow of new CDs, and constant worldwide musical tributes--most notably by Domingo-Carreras-Pavarotti and a multitude of lesser vocal lights. People Magazine, in 1998, summed up the Lanza voice as "magnificent". Simply put, there will never be another Mario Lanza.

His wife, Betty, was the sister of Lanza's army buddy. He was interested in her picture, and the buddy introduced them. 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. He began filming The Student Prince (1954) playing Prince Karl, but his weight problems and fiery temperament got him fired. Edmund Purdom starred in the role, lip-synching to Lanza. A minor uproar once resulted when Lanza went on an early 1950s television show and lip-synched to one of his hit songs rather than singing live (This was not done in the early days of television). A rarity in that he was a best-selling classical artist, 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 consistent sales, more than four decades after his premature death. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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 1960-1961 Rome Opera season as Canio in "Pagliacci". 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.". Legally changed his name from Alfredo Cocozza to Mario Lanza in 1948, just before he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1951, his salary was $800,000. 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. 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. According to Boris Goldovsky in his autobiography "My Road to Opera: The Recollections of Boris Goldovsky" (1979), Mario's opera career was limited by his inability to read music.

I sing from the heart... I sing the words of a song and really feel them, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes... I sing as though my life depends on it, and if I ever stop doing that then I'll stop living All my life I liked fun. I'm young and alive. I like people with heart. Even today when people get gloomy around me, I swear in high C and say, 'Let's get going ... you're fracturing me with this misery!' I sing each word as though it were my last on earth.

The son of Italian immigrants, he began studying to be a professional singer at the age of 15. Orchestral conductor Arturo Toscanini would allegedly later call him "the greatest voice of the twentieth century." Others referred to him extravagantly as the "new Caruso", after his "instant success" in Hollywood films, while MGM hoped that he would become the movie studio's "singing Clark Gable" due to his good looks and powerful voice.

After appearing at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947, Lanza signed a seven-year contract with MGM's head, Louis B. Mayer, who saw his performance and was impressed by his singing. Prior to this, Lanza had made only two appearances on an operatic stage, when in 1948 he sang the role of Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly in New Orleans.

His movie debut was in That Midnight Kiss, which produced an unlikely hit song in the form of Giuseppe Verdi's operatic aria "Celeste Aida." The following year, in The Toast of New Orleans, his featured popular song "Be My Love" became his first million-selling hit. In 1951, he starred in the role of his tenor idol, Enrico Caruso (1873–1921), in the biopic, The Great Caruso, which produced another million-seller with "The Loveliest Night of the Year." It was the top-grossing film that year. The title song of his next film, Because You're Mine, featured his final million-selling hit song. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. After recording the soundtrack for his next film, The Student Prince he walked out on the project after an argument with producer Dore Schary over his behavior on the set.

Lanza was known to be "rebellious, tough, and ambitious", and during most of his film career, he suffered from addictions to overeating and alcohol which had a serious effect on his health and his relationships with directors, producers and sometimes other cast members. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper writes that "his smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak." She adds that he was the "last of the great romantic performers". He made three more films before dying of a heart attack at the age of 38. At the time of his death in 1959 he was still "the most famous tenor in the world". Author Eleonora Kimmel concludes that Lanza "blazed like a meteor whose light lasts a brief moment in time."

The Lanza "myth" was created by familiar Hollywood marketing formulae, which took his social class and Italian-American identity and combined them with his good looks and exceptional talent as a singer to create the "poor boy makes good", who is "transformed into a star". He genuinely appealed to audiences worldwide, however, owing to his ability to cater to a wide variety of musical tastes. He could sing operatic arias, popular songs, Neapolitan favorites, operetta tunes, sacred melodies and Great American Songbook standards, making him what some call the "crossover artist supreme".

Today, the "magnitude of his contribution to popular music is still hotly debated", and because he appeared on the opera stage only twice, many critics feel that he needed to have had more "operatic quality time" in major theatres before he could be considered a star of that art form. Nonetheless, his groundbreaking films, especially The Great Caruso, influenced numerous future opera stars, including José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti. According to opera historian Clyde McCants, "Of all the Hollywood singers who performed operatic music . . . the one who made the greatest impact was Mario Lanza,"while Hedda Hopper stated, ". . . there had never been anyone like Mario, and I doubt whether we shall ever see his like again."

In April 1959, Lanza reportedly fell ill, mainly with heart problems as well as pneumonia. On September 25, 1959, he entered Rome's Valle Giulia clinic for the purpose of losing weight for an upcoming film. While in the clinic, he underwent a controversial weight loss program colloquially known as "the twilight sleep treatment", which required its patients to be kept immobile and sedated for prolonged periods. On October 7, Lanza died of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 38. No autopsy was performed. He was survived by his wife and four children. Betty Lanza returned to Hollywood completely devastated. She died five months later of a drug overdose.[27][28] Maria Caniglia, Franco Fabrizi and Enzo Fiermonte attended the funeral. Frank Sinatra sent his condolences by telegram.[29]

In 1991, his son Marc Lanza died of a heart attack. He was 37, a year younger than Mario was when he died. In 1998, daughter Colleen Lanza was killed by a car as she crossed a street. She spent two weeks in the hospital in a coma from which she never recovered. Son Damon Anthony Lanza died on August 16, 2008 in California at the age of 55.

Lanza was the first RCA Victor Red Seal artist to win a gold disc and the first artist to sell 2 1/2 million albums[30]

Lanza was referred to by some sources as the "new Caruso" after his "instant success" in Hollywood films,[31] while MGM hoped he would become the movie studio's "singing Clark Gable" for his good looks and powerful voice.[4]

Lanza was a big inspiration to fellow RCA Victor recording star Elvis Presley. A year after Lanza's death, Elvis recorded an English translation of O Sole Mio, which was popularized by Lanza. This song, It's Now or Never, went on to be one of Elvis' all time best selling songs.[32]

In 1994, outstanding tenor José Carreras paid tribute to Lanza during a worldwide concert tour, saying of him, "If I'm an opera singer, it's thanks to Mario Lanza."[33] His equally outstanding colleague Plácido Domingo echoed these comments in a 2009 CBS interview with, "Lanza's passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera. I actually owe my love for opera ... to a kid from Philadelphia."[34]

Even today "the magnitude of his contribution to popular music is still hotly debated," and because he appeared on the operatic stage only twice, many critics feel that he needed to have had more "operatic quality time" in major theaters before he could be considered a star of that art form.[6] His films, especially The Great Caruso, influenced numerous future opera stars, including Joseph Calleja,[35] José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Vyacheslav Polozov.[6] According to opera historian Clyde McCants, "Of all the Hollywood singers who performed operatic music ... the one who made the greatest impact was Mario Lanza."[36] Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper concluded that "there had never been anyone like Mario, and I doubt whether we shall ever see his like again".[5]

First singer to earn Gold Records (over 1 million copies sold) in both classical and pop categories. Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he left high school early to work in his uncle's grocery store, until he auditioned for a music scholarship in 1942. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army, and served until the end of the war. His wife, Betty Hicks Lanza, was the younger sister of his Army buddy, Bert Hicks, and they married shortly after Mario's release from the Army; together they had four children: Colleen, Elisa, Damon, and Marc. In 1948, he signed with MGM, and his singing voice quickly brought him critical acclaim from both reviewers and fans alike. He adopted his stage name by masculinizing his mother's maiden name, Maria Lanza. His first two films, "That Midnight Kiss" (1949) and "The Toast of New Orleans" (1950), teamed him with actress Kathryn Grayson, and was an overnight success. His next film, "The Great Caruso" (1951) was a perfect fit for his talent. His stardom was short-lived, however, as he reportedly had an overbearing sense of self-importance, and had trouble with alcohol and barbiturates, as well as a ballooning weight problem. In 1954, he was to star in the lead role of Prince Karl in "The Student Prince" but the role went to Edmund Purdom instead, although it is Lanza's voice that does all of the singing. As his weight continued to cost him roles, he decided to move to Italy for a fresh start and to find new film roles. While filming "The Seven Hills of Rome" (1958) and "For the First Time" (1959) in Rome, Italy, he undertook a rigorous diet, using barbiturates to help him lose weight, which contributed to his heart attack and death at age 38. His wife, shattered by his death, died five months later. (bio by: [fg.cgi?page=mr&MRid=46483611" target="_blank Kit and Morgan Benson)] Maintained by: Find A Grave

In October 2007, Charles Messina directed the big budget musical Be My Love: The Mario Lanza Story, written by Richard Vetere, about Lanza's life, which was produced by Sonny Grosso and Phil Ramone, and which premiered at The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Greenvale, New York.[37]

Mario Lanza Boulevard is a roadway in the Eastwick section of Lanza's native Philadelphia, close to Philadelphia International Airport and ending on the grounds of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

The Mario Lanza Institute and Museum, which honors Lanza's legacy and also provides scholarships to young singers, is located at 712 Montrose Street in South Philadelphia.[38] Philadelphia's Queen Street Park was renamed for Lanza in 1967.[39]

Lanza was born at 636 Christian Street in South Philadelphia. The building was demolished on June 29, 2018; a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker marks the site.[40]

In 1983, a 90-minute PBS documentary, Mario Lanza: The American Caruso, hosted by Plácido Domingo and featuring Lanza's family and professional associates; was nominated for a Primetime Emmy as "Outstanding Informational Special."

In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[41]

Mario Lanza has been awarded two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a Star for Recording at 1751 Vine Street, and a Star at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard for Motion Pictures.

Winged Victory (1944, Twentieth Century-Fox) as a chorus member (uncredited)

That Midnight Kiss (1949, MGM) as Johnny Donnetti

The Toast of New Orleans (1950, MGM) as Pepe Abellard Duvalle

The Great Caruso (1951, MGM) as Enrico Caruso

Because You're Mine (1952, MGM) as Renaldo Rossano

The Student Prince (1954, MGM) as Prince Karl (singing voice)

Serenade (1956, Warner Bros.) as Damon Vincenti

Seven Hills of Rome (1957, MGM) (also known as Arrivederci Roma) as Marc Revere

For the First Time (1959, MGM) as Tonio Costa (final film role)

Mario Lanza: The Best of Everything (2017) as himself

Box office ranking

At the height of his career, Lanza was voted by exhibitors as being among the most popular stars in the country:

1951 – 13th most popular (US), 10th (UK)

1952 – 23rd (US), 6th (UK)

The Great Caruso And Other Caruso Favorites (1989)

Mario Lanza Sings Songs from The Student Prince and The Desert Song (1989)

Mario! (Lanza At His Best) (1995)

Mario Lanza: Opera Arias and Duets, (1999)

Mario Lanza Live at Hollywood Bowl: Historical Recordings (1947 & 1951) (2000)

Serenade/A Cavalcade of Show Tunes (2004)

view all

Mario Lanza's Timeline

January 31, 1921
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
December 9, 1948
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
December 12, 1952
Los Angeles County, California, United States
May 19, 1954
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
October 7, 1959
Age 38
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Lazio, Italy
Holy Cross Cemetery (Plot Mausoleum Block 46 Crypt D2 GPS (lat/lon) 33.99384 -118.38397), Culver City, Los Angeles County, California, United States