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July 7, 2023

Mario Lanza: One of the Greatest Tenors Ever

Born 1921 as Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, American tenor and actor Mario Lanza was a Hollywood film star popular in the late 1940s and the 1950s. He 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 sang only two performances of an opera. The following year (1948), however, he sang the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in New Orleans.

His film debut 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 11th top-grossing film that year.

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.

Lanza was known to be “rebellious, tough, and ambitious”. 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, occasionally, other cast members. He made three more films before dying of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 38.

At the time of his death in 1959, Lanza was still “the most famous tenor in the world”. Take a look at these vintage photos to see portraits of Mario Lanza during his career.


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