Hollyweird: Mario Lanza

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The Independent Culture

Everything about Mario Lanza was enormous: his talent, his prowess on stage, his ego, his lifestyle, and, often, his weight.

Born in 1921, a stone's throw from the pasta and cheese wholesalers of the Italian market in Philadelphia, Lanza struggled at school before being expelled.

Despite this, an audition at the Philadelphia Academy of Music kick-started his meteoric 10-year Hollywood career, taking in successful films such as The Great Caruso (1951) and sell-out stadium tours as a tenor.

By the time of The Great Caruso however, Lanza was becoming increasingly volatile. He was noted for his violently prima-donna-ish behaviour, cancelled performances, and epic binge-eating and drinking. A somewhat improbable account describes one meal as "40 pieces of chicken washed down with a quart of eggnog". Even an ahead-of-its-time Hollywood fad diet of grapefruit and booze failed to reduce his weight and improve his mood.

So despite being described as "the greatest popular tenor since Caruso", Lanza only went on to make eight feature films and musicals before his death, in 1959.

By then had become acquainted exiled gangster kingpin Lucky Luciano, who sent his heavies around after Lanza welched on a performance at a charity gala. Lanza was later found dead with an empty intravenous drip in his arm. Let that be a lesson to all Hollywood stars considering performing for a Mafia don.