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Remembering Perry Como on his 100th
AS ONE OF SEVEN kids growing up
To see why Mom liked "Mr. C" so much, you must understand both him and her. As we exited a movie--at age 85, it would be the last she attended at a theater--about a maintenance man who finds a water nymph in an apartment swimming pool, I asked her what she thought. She said, "Well, he was a good moral man not to take advantage of her."
Perry Como, born 100 years ago today, was a good moral man, and it showed. Although a huge and durable star--a 1958 poll of teenagers found him the most popular male singer, above Elvis--he never "went" show business. He refused interviews to protect his personal life. He was married to his hometown sweetheart for 65 years. In 1942, he left his career-launching singing job with a traveling band to return to barbering in Canonsburg, Pa., to be with her and their baby boy. Later when filming a weekly TV show, he would head for confession on Saturday afternoons. ("Oh," Mom said with pained incredulity, "you don't really think he's Catholic, do you?")
Composer Ervin Drake summed it up: "Occasionally someone like Perry comes along and won't 'go with the flow' and still prevails in spite of all the bankrupt others that surround him and importune him to yield to their values."
Perry Como first came to my attention on TV. His soft but manly voice, combined with his trademark cardigan sweater, nice-guy looks, and easy, unaffected manner, erased the boundary between living room and TV studio. It was not so much that he came into your home; it was that you went into his. Perry's Christmas specials added to what was then the sweet languor of the season. Watch his "Ave Maria" and "O, Holy Night" on YouTube to hold again a little of an innocence lost.
So happy birthday, Mr. C. The Heavenly Choir must be some backup for those tunes, which, it pleases me to think, Mom is hearing now without static.