Lanza, Mario (real name, Alfredo Arnold Cocozzaa)

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Lanza, Mario (real name, Alfredo Arnold Cocozzaa)

Lanza, Mario (real name, Alfredo Arnold Cocozzaa), popular American tenor and actor; b. Philadelphia, Jan. 31, 1921; d. Rome, Oct. 7, 1959. He studied voice in Philadelphia and then attended the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood (summer, 1942) on a scholarship. Subsequently he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army Air Force, during which time he sang in productions of Frank Loesser’s On the Beam and was a cast member in the Winged Victory show. After his discharge in 1945, he went to N.Y. and pursued further vocal training with Rosati. In 1946 he made an impressive appearance as a concert singer at Chicago’s Grant Park. In 1947 he scored a major success as a concert artist at the Hollywood Bowl, and that same year he toured the U.S. and Europe as a member of the Bel Canto Trio with Frances Yeend and George London. In 1948 he made his only professional appearances on the operatic stage when he appeared in Madama Butterfly at the New Orleans Opera. Lanza then went to Hollywood, where he won a starring role in the film That Midnight Kiss (1949). Its success led to his appearance in the film The Toast of New Orleans (1950), which included his version of the song Be My Love. His recording of the song sold a million copies and made Lanza a rising star. Then followed his starring role in The Great Caruso (1951), a film made memorable by his rendition of the song The Loveliest Night of the Year. His recording of the song also sold a million copies. Subsequently he starred in the film Because You ’re Mine (1952). His recording of the theme song of the same title likewise sold a million copies. By this time, Lanza’s tempermental outbursts, heavy drinking, and overeating had taken a heavy toll. During his filming of The Student Prince in 1953, he walked out on the project and only avoided damaging litigation for breach of contract by waiving his rights to the soundtrack. Ironically, the recording of the soundtrack preserved some of his finest singing. After starring in one more Hollywood film, Serenade (1956), Lanza settled in Rome. He appeared in the film The 7 Hills of Rome (1958), which was made in the Eternal City and made memorable by his performance of the song Arnvederci, Roma. In 1958 he appeared at London’s Royal Albert Hall and at the Royal Variety Show, and then toured throughout Europe. His last film appearance was in For the First Time (1959). While Lanza’s death at only 38 in a Rome hospital was initially attributed to a heart attack, rumors later cropped up that he was murdered on orders of the Mafia after refusing to appear at a mobster-organized concert sponsored by Lucky Luciano.


R. Strait and T. Robinson, L: His Tragic Life (N.Y., 1980); R. Bessette, M. L: Tenor in Exile (Portland, Maine, 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Lanza, Mario (real name, Alfredo Arnold Cocozzaa)

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