Born Vito Farinola in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1928, Vic worked as an usher at the fabled Paramount Theatre before realizing a dream by shooting to the top of the Billboard Chart in 1947 with his first hit “I Have But One Heart.” He was mentored by everyone from Perry Como to Tommy Dorsey. Frank Sinatra praised his voice and became a friend for life, giving him advice on singing and women. Damone had one of the most successful careers ever had by an American pop singer and one of the most glamorous and exciting lives of any guy who lived while the Ratpack reigned.
· He was almost thrown out of the window of a New York City hotel by a mobster.
· He dated Ava Gardner, who got him drunk for the first time.
· He married glamorous Italian actress Ana Maria Pierangeli and later, Diahann Carroll.
· He appeared at the Sands Hotel during the glory days of Vegas and once took a nude chorus girl into the steam room where the Ratpack was relaxing.
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VIC DAMONE was one of the greatest crooners in the American songbook for over sixty years.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneStardust on His Shoulders I’ve had a couple of angels in my life. One was Frank Sinatra, who was my idol when I was a teenager just learning how to sing and was my friend from the moment he forgave me in Madison Square Garden for the disrespect I showed him not once but twice in an embarrassing case of mistaken identity. Frank saved my life once, but I’ll tell you about that later. First I want to tell you how we met. That’s probably as good a place as any to begin my story, since it happened in Brooklyn, where I’m from. Brooklyn, as in Bensonhurst, 288 Bay Fourteenth Street. A neighborhood full of Italians when I was born there in 1928, and still full of Italians seventeen years later when WHN asked me to sing for The Gloom Dodgers. WHN was the Brooklyn Dodgers’ radio network—they broadcast all the games. And every morning at nine a.m. during the baseball season the Gloom Dodgers show would come on. The Gloom Dodgers was pure entertainment, jokes and music meant to chase away the gloom after the Dodgers lost another one, as they regularly did in those pre–Jackie Robinson days. Morey Amsterdam was a funny, talented guy, and when I won the audition to sing on the show he said, "You know, the name Vito Farinola just isn’t going to work. I think you have to change it." I could see that, even if I was only seventeen. "Yeah," I said, "I agree. We’ve got to change it. But since it’s my name, I’ll tell you what the new name will be. Vito . . . Vito . . . How about Vic?" "Yeah," he said. "Vic. I like it." "No," I said, "I like it." I was a pugnacious little street kid, and anyway, it was my name we were changing. "Now, how about the second name, something American, like . . . Drake? Vic Drake." "No," he said, "I don’t like it." "Good," I said. "Neither do I. Let’s see, Farinola. Maybe Farin. No, that doesn’t sound right. Hey, my mom’s maiden name was Damone. How about Damone? Vic Damone?" "Terrific," Morey Amsterdam said. "Vic Damone! I like it." "Me too," I said. "My father won’t he happy, but my mom will love it." And from that moment on, as far as performing went, I stopped being Vito Farinola and became Vic Damone. After I had been singing on Gloom Dodgers for a while the program director said he’d like to try something different. Sometimes during the Dodgers’ games there would be rain delays. Whenever that happened Red Barber, the famous Dodgers announcer, would have to fill in with patter. But WHN had an orchestra, and the program director thought that if I were to sing with the orchestra during rain delays it might help keep the audience tuned in. "Let’s give it a try," he said. "We’ll put together maybe fifteen minutes of music. Then, when there’s a rain delay, we’ll put you on live. But we won’t tell them you’re live. All we’ll say is "And now here’s Vic Damone to entertain you." That sounded okay with me. I sang with the orchestra on Gloom Dodgers, so I knew them well. "What I’d like to do," I said, "is get hold of some of Frank Sinatra’s arrangements. I love Frank Sinatra. We can learn his arrangements, and I’ll try to sing them exactly the way he does. It’ll be like a tribute to him." I’d been listening to Sinatra on the radio every chance I got since I was about thirteen and I had tried hard to imitate his sound. I knew I had the timbre of my voice just about right, that I had his phrasing down, that I could really make myself sound like him. As far as I was concerned, Frank Sinatra was it, the model for how I wanted to be able to sound. We did manage to get hold of five or six copies of the original Alex Stordahl arrangements of Sinatra’s songs, but the first night I went to the studio there was no rain. So we rehearsed. We rehearsed the second and third nights, too. We had those arrangements down pat. Then the fourth night it did rain, and the game was delayed. "Five minutes," said the producer. "You’re on in five minutes." We were ready, the orchestra, the conductor, and me, all of us cramped into WHN’s little studio. We were going to do the numbers one after another, no pauses, no announcements, no applause, since there was no audience; it would sound just like a record, one cut followed by the next followed by the next. Five minutes later Red Barber announced, "Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, during the rain delay we’re going to have some entertainment. Here, for your listening pleasure, is Vic Damone." At that the producer signaled us from the control booth, and we launched into "Somewhere in the Night There Must Be Someone for Me." I thought I was sounding just like Frank. At exactly that moment in an apartment at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan a bunch of guys were sitting around playing poker. In the background the radio was on. They had been listening to the Dodgers game, but now that there was a rain delay, they had turned it down and were concentrating on their hands and their kibbitzing. The guys sitting around the table were Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, and Jimmy Van Heusen, all famous songwriters. Also Bullets Durgom, a talent manager, and Frank Sinatra. It was Frank’s apartment. The guys hadn’t heard Red Barber say that Vic Damone was singing, but they recognized the music, even if it was soft in the background. Sammy Cahn cocked his ear and said, "Frank, listen. Those are your records?" And Frank said, "Yeah, there’s a rain delay, so they’re playing my songs." They listened for a bit, to one song, then another. I was singing my heart out, mimicking Frank Sinatra for all I was worth. And finally Red Barber came back on. "Ladies and gentlemen, the rain has let up and it looks like we’re going to resume play. That was Vic Damone singing for your enjoyment." And Frank said, "What? Who?" He threw his arms up in the air. "Who did he say? That was me singing! Vic who?" Back in the studio we were off the air and congratulating each other. "Hey, great band. Good work. Great, yes, thank you." Just then the phone rang in the control booth and the engineer pushed the button to talk into the studio. "Hey, Vic, there’s a guy on the phone says he wants to talk to you. It’s Frank Sinatra." "Yeah, right," I said. "Frank Sinatra’s calling me. Right." I knew who it was, and for sure it wasn’t Frank Sinatra. It was the guys in Brooklyn, my buddies. They all knew I loved Frank, that I practiced singing like Frank, that I was trying to be Frank. And of course they were listening to the game. Who in Brooklyn wasn’t? So I took my time getting to the control booth, and while I was going there I was doing in my head what Danny Thomas used to call the "Jack story." The Jack story is about the guy who buys a beautiful new car that conks out on a deserted road. He’s frustrated, angry. He just bought the car. As soon as he gets out to walk to the nearest service station, it starts to rain. Now he’s really angry. The whole way to the service station he’s talking to himself. They’re going to charge him a fortune to fix the car, they’re going to charge him even more, the bastards, for having to go get the car. Then, when they see it’s a new car, they’re going to jack up the price even more than that! The bastards are going to leave him penniless. By the time he gets to the service station, he hates the mechanic heart and soul. "Don’t you tell me how much you’re going to charge!" he yells at the startled mechanic, who hasn’t the vaguest idea what he’s talking about. That’s the Jack story; you build something up in your mind that’s completely disconnected from reality. On my way to the control booth I was doing the Jack story. The Bay Fourteenth Street guys are calling me, pretending to be Frank Sinatra. Just to break my balls. Bastards don’t like that I can sing like Frank, huh? Think it’s funny, huh? Have to call me here at work where I’m trying to make a few bucks, lazy bastards! Frank Sinatra on the phone. Right! By the time I picked up the phone I was fuming. "Hello?" "Yeah," comes this voice, "I wanna talk to Vic Damone. Is he there?" "Yeah, who is this?" "Frank Sinatra!" "Yeah, right. And I’m the pope!" Slam! I hang up. "Hey," said the engineer, "you just hung up on Frank Sinatra." "That wasn’t Frank Sinatra," I said. "That was my buddies from Brooklyn. Frank Sinatra’s not gonna call me. What’re you, crazy?" Just then the phone rang again. I was still standing next to it, so I picked it up. "Hello." "Listen, I want to talk to Vic Damone. This is Frank Sinatra and—" "Yeah, and I’m still the pope." Slam! Eight months later I had recorded a song, "I Have But One Heart," that had gone straight up the pop charts. At that point I was a one-hit wonder; no one knew if I could do it again, including me. But at least people recognized my name. So much so that Ed Sullivan invited me to sing at a Madison Square Garden charity fund-raiser as part of a star-studded lineup that included some of the biggest names in the business. I was going to sing in front of thousands of people, at Madison Square Garden. I was in awe. On the day of the concert I was standing backstage with my manager, Lou Capone, and Jack Kelly, my piano player, watching the stars ...
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