Perry Como Born: May 18,1912-Died: May 12,2001 Part Four
Perry Como credited Bing Crosby for influencing his voice and style. Perry Como’s voice is widely known for its good-natured vocal acrobatics as portrayed in his highly popular novelty songs such as “Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)”, but there was another side to Perry Como. Music critic Gene Lees describes it in his sleeve note to Como’s 1968 album Look To Your Heart:
Despite his immense popularity, Como is rarely given credit for what, once you stop and think of it, he so clearly is: one of the great singers and one of the great artists of our time.
Perhaps the reason people rarely talk about his formidable attributes as a singer is that he makes so little fuss about them. That celebrated ease of his has been too little understood. Ease in any art is the result of mastery over the details of the craft. You get them together to the point where you can forget about how you do things and concentrate on what you are doing. Como got them together so completely that the muscles don’t even show. It seems effortless, but a good deal of effort has gone into making it seem so. Como is known to be meticulous about rehearsal of the material for an album. He tries things out in different keys, gives the song thought, makes suggestions, tries it again, and again, until he is satisfied. The hidden work makes him look like Mr. Casual, and too many people are taken in by it — but happily so.
–Gene Lees-sleeve note, Look To Your Heart
From 1989 until his death in 2001, Como co-hosted a weekly syndicated radio show with John Knox, called Weekend With Perry.
Fox publicity photo of Perry Como
Como’s Hollywood type good looks earned him a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox in 1943. He made four films for Fox, Something for the Boys (1944), March of Time (1945), Doll Face (1945), and If I’m Lucky (1946), plus Words and Music for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1948). He never appeared to be truly comfortable in films, feeling the roles assigned him did not match his personality.
Some misguided Hollywood press agent sought to alter Como’s life story by changing his previous occupation from barber to coal miner, claiming it would make for better press. Fred Othman, a Hollywood columnist, publicly stated he believed Como the barber was just a publicity gimmick. Perry gave him a shave and haircut at the Fox Studios barber shop to prove him wrong. In 1985, Como related the story of his first film role experience in Something for the Boys. He sat ready to work in his dressing room for two weeks without being called. Perry spent the next two weeks playing golf, still not missed by the studio. It was five weeks before he was actually called to the set, despite the studio’s initial urgent report for work notice. When Como finally appeared, the director had no idea who he was.
At the time Como was signed, movie musicals were on the wane and he became a studio contract player, where the actors or actresses worked only when the studio needed to fill out a schedule. Though his last movie, Words and Music, was made for prestigious Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Como fared no better. Less than two weeks before the film’s release, Walter Winchell wrote in his syndicated column, “Someone at MGM must have been dozing when they wrote the script for Words and Music. In most of the film Perry Como is called Eddie Anders and toward the end (for no reason) they start calling him Perry Como.” Como asked for and received a release from the remainder of his movie contract in the same year.Quoting Como, “I was wasting their time and they were wasting mine.”
Como’s comments during a 1949 interview were prophetic, as far as his success was concerned. At the time he was doing the Chesterfield Supper Club on both radio and television, “Television is going to do me a lot more personal good than the movies ever have … The reason should be obvious. On television, I’m allowed to be myself; in pictures, I was always some other guy. I come over like just another bum in a tuxedo.” Como was offered some movie roles that interested him after he began appearing on the weekly TV shows, but there was just never enough time to pursue any film work.
Perry Como for Chesterfield, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Mutual Broadcasting System–1954
Perry Como made the move to television when NBC initially televised the Chesterfield Supper Club radio program on December 24, 1948. A very special guest on that first television show was Como’s eight-year-old son, Ronnie, as part of a boys’ choir singing “Silent Night” with his father. The show was the usual Friday night Chesterfield Supper Club with an important exception—it was also being broadcast on television. The experimental simulcast was to continue for three Friday “Supper Club” shows, but had gone so well, NBC decided to extend the televised version through August 1949. Years later, Como admitted to being scared and feeling awkward initially, but somehow managed to just be himself. Said Como, “You can’t act on TV. With me, what you see is what you get.” While still in its experimental phase, Como and the television show survived an on location broadcast in Durham, North Carolina, on April 15, 1949.
On September 8, 1949, it became a weekly half-hour offering on Sunday nights, directly opposite Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town. In 1950, Perry moved to CBS and the show’s title was changed to The Perry Como Chesterfield Show, again sponsored by Liggett & Myers’ Chesterfield cigarettes. Como hosted this informal 15 minute musical variety series on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, immediately following the CBS Television News. The Faye Emerson Show was initially broadcast in the same time slot on Tuesday and Thursday. By 1952, it was evident that television would replace radio as the major entertainment medium. Gary Giddins, the biographer of Bing Crosby, said in 2001, “He (Como) came from this whole generation of crooners–Crosby and Sinatra, but he was the only one of them who figured out TV.” Como’s 15-minute television show was also simulcast on radio via the Mutual Broadcasting System beginning on August 24, 1953; while the Chesterfield Supper Club broadcasts were simulcast on radio and television, this was the first instance of a simulcast between two networks.
Como’s CBS contract was to expire on July 1, 1955. The year before, he had been asked to be the master of ceremonies and narrator of the NBC Radio 35th anniversary special. That April, Perry Como signed a 12-year “unbreakable” contract with NBC. On his last CBS show, June 24, 1955, Como was in high spirits, bringing all those who worked off camera on the air for introductions. Perry tried his hand at camera work, getting a picture on the air but one that was upside-down. In appreciation for the 11-year association, his sponsor, Chesterfield, presented him with all the musical arrangements used during this time as a parting gift.