“If I had one wish,” America’s own ‘Chairman of the Board,’ Frank Sinatra, once said, “It would be for Vic Damone’s tonsils. Vic has the best pipes in the business.” High praise from one of the masters indeed, and yet Vic Damone goes on earning those accolades week in and week out as he glides easily into his second 50 years as one of our prime entertainers.
In celebration this year of his 50th anniversary in show business, Damone has a new double compact disc set with OnQ Records entitled “Greatest Love Songs of the Century.” He is touring in concerts across the country with venues including The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and his annual engagement at Rainbow and Stars.
The Damone story began in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 68 years ago, where he was born, Vito Farinola. Later he changed his name to Vic (it sounded smoother) and to Damone, his mother’s maiden name, for show business purposes. There was music aplenty in Vic Damone’s own heritage, with a mother who taught piano and a guitar-playing father. Damone, in fact, sang “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” at the age of two, accompanied by his dad.
During his years at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, Damone also managed to hold a job as an usher at the legendary Paramount Theater in Times Square, New York, by that time widely known as the showcase for the memorable big bands of the era, like Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Harry James among many others riding the crest of popularity, almost hysterical in its proportions.
On one very special occasion, while operating as a fill-in for the regular Paramount elevator operator, Damone skippered Perry Como and sang briefly for the star while stopping the car momentarily between floors. Como encouraged him to make singing his career, and years later, after the two had built a lasting friendship, Como became a god parent for Damone’s only son, Peny.
When he was 18, Vic Damone scored an appearance on the famed Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts radio show, and won first prize. Then, he garnered a second victory with a chance backstage meeting with ‘Mr. Television,’ Milton Berle, who was impressed enough with Damone’s singing to help him land an engagement at New York’s fabled La Martinique.
Soon after this First night club appearance, Damone was signed to do his own radio program on WHN in New York. Within months, all these successes led him back to the Paramount Theater, this time as the singing star of the show backed by the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
His next success encompassed a recording contract with Mercury Records, resulting in the smash hit, “I Have but One Heart,” the first of what seemed an unending string of chart toppers. Soon, motion picture opportunities followed. His first appearance before the camera was in a starring role in “Rich, Young and Pretty,” followed by “Hell to Eternity,” “Athena” and “Deep in Your Heart.” Then, as more offers flowed in, he was obliged to take some time off the stage and into the barracks of the U.S. Army, where he served overseas for two years. Upon his discharge, he made several more films, including “Kismet,” “Crash Boat” and “Hit the Deck,” before turning again to music which he had grown to miss during his cinematic career.
His music and his singing carried Damone to many ports of call around the world, including London’s renowned Royal Albert Hall and at The Dome in Brighton, where he was presented by the BBC. He has toured extensively throughout the United States, Britain and Australia, once and for all time, a man of music, who brings that wonderful art form to fans everywhere, including those of many major symphony orchestras throughout the nation.
And to cap off the very productive first 50 years, Damone recently returned to Lafayette High School where he was finally accorded his long-delayed diploma, after leaving school early in 1947 to take his job at the Paramount.