Vic Damone (born Vito Rocco Farinola; June 12, 1928) is an American traditional pop and big band singer, songwriter, actor, radio and television presenter, and entertainer of Italian descent who is best known for songs such as "You're Breaking My Heart" (a number one hit), the number four hit "On the Street Where You Live" (from My Fair Lady), and "My Heart Cries for You" (also No. 4).
Life and work
Damone was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Rocco and Mamie (Damone) Farinola, Italian immigrants from Bari, Italy. His father was an electrician and his mother taught piano. His cousin was the actress and singer Doretta Morrow. Inspired by his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, Damone began taking voice lessons. He sang in the choir at St. Finbar's Church in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, for Sunday Mass under organist Anthony Amorello.
When his father was injured at work, Damone had to drop out of high school. He worked as an usher and elevator operator in the Paramount Theater in Manhattan. He met Perry Como, while at the Paramount Theater. Damone stopped the elevator between floors, sang for him, and asked his advice if he should continue voice lessons. Impressed, Como said, "Keep singing!" and referred him to a local bandleader. Vito Farinola decided to call himself Vic Damone, using his mother's maiden name.
Damone entered the talent search on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and won in April 1947. This led to his becoming a regular on Godfrey's show. He met Milton Berle at the studio and Berle got him work at two night clubs. By mid-1947, Damone had signed a contract with Mercury Records.
His first release, "I Have But One Heart", reached number seven on the Billboard chart. "You Do" (released November 1) reached the same peak. These were followed by a number of other hits. In 1948, he got his own weekly radio show, Saturday Night Serenade.
He was booked into the Mocambo nightclub on the Sunset Strip in 1949, residing briefly at the Strip's famed Garden of Allah Hotel.
In 1951, Damone appeared in two movies: The Strip and Rich, Young and Pretty. From 1951 to 1953, he served in the United States Army, but before going into the service, he recorded a number of songs which were released during that time. He served with future Northwest Indiana radio personality Al Evans, and country music star Johnny Cash. After leaving the service, he married the Italian actress Pier Angeli (Anna Maria Pierangeli), and in 1954, made two more movies: Deep in My Heart and Athena. He also made some guest appearances on Milton Berle's television show in 1954.
In 1955, Damone had one song on the charts, "Por Favor", which did not make it above number 73. However, he did have major roles in two movie musicals, Hit the Deck and Kismet. In early 1956, he moved from Mercury to Columbia Records, and had some success on that label with hits such as "On the Street Where You Live" (from My Fair Lady, his final pop top 10) and "An Affair to Remember" (from the movie of the same name). His six original, long-playing albums on Columbia between 1957 and 1961 were That Towering Feeling, Angela Mia, Closer Than a Kiss, This Game of Love, On the Swingin' Side, and Young and Lively.
In 1961, he was released by Columbia. Moving over to Capitol Records, he filled the gap left by Frank Sinatra's leaving to help found Reprise Records. He lasted at Capitol only until 1965; however, he recorded some of his most highly regarded albums there, including two which made the Billboard chart, Linger Awhile with Vic Damone and The Lively Ones, the latter with arrangements by Billy May, who also arranged another of Damone's Capitol albums, Strange Enchantment. Other original Capitol albums included My Baby Loves to Swing, The Liveliest, and On the Street Where You Live.
Damone did limited acting on television in the early 1960s. He played Stan Skylar in the 1960 episode "Piano Man" of CBS's The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He was cast as Jess Wilkerson in the 1961 episode "The Proxy" of the ABC Western series The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. He played the crooner Ric Vallone in the 1962 episode "Like a Sister" of the CBS sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show. In the summers of 1962 and 1963, Damone hosted a television variety series on NBC called The Lively Ones, which showcased current jazz, pop, and folk performers, as well as comedians. His distinguished group of musical guests over two seasons included Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, Chris Connor, Matt Dennis, Frances Faye, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Greco, Woody Herman, Jack Jones, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, Peggy Lee, Nellie Lutcher, Shelly Manne, Anita O'Day, Ruth Olay, Oscar Peterson, André Previn, Della Reese, Shorty Rogers, Cal Tjader, and Joe Williams.
Other notable television work during this time included three guest appearances from 1963 to 1964 on CBS's The Judy Garland Show. He also guested on UK television, inter alia, on Tommy Cooper's Christmas. In addition to his solo performances, Garland and he sang duet medleys of songs from Porgy and Bess, West Side Story and Kismet.
In 1964, he sang "Back Home Again in Indiana" before the Indianapolis 500 car race.
In 1965, Damone moved next to Warner Bros. Records with the albums You Were Only Fooling and Country Love Songs. On Warner Bros., he had one top 100 chart hit: "You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling In Love)". The next year, he switched record labels again, moving to RCA Victor and releasing the albums Stay with Me, Why Can't I Walk Away, On the South Side of Chicago, and The Damone Type of Thing. In 1967, Damone hosted The Dean Martin Summer Show, which was rerun in 1971. In 1969, he released his last US chart record, a cover of the 1966 song "To Make A Big Man Cry", which made the Billboard Easy Listening chart.
Also in 1965, he appeared on the Firestone album series, Your Favorite Christmas Music, Volume 4, singing "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".
In 1971, Damone started touring Las Vegas casinos as a performer, and although he had to declare bankruptcy in the early 1970s, he earned enough as a casino performer to clear up his financial difficulties. He extended his geographical range, touring through the United States and the United Kingdom, and as a result of his popularity, decided to record some albums again for RCA. In the UK, he appeared on Tommy Cooper's Christmas Special television show in 1974.
In 1972, he was offered the role of Johnny Fontane in The Godfather. The role ultimately went to Al Martino, as Damone turned down the role for a variety of reasons, reportedly including him not thinking the role had enough screen time or paid enough, but also due to a fear of provoking the mob and Frank Sinatra, whom Damone profoundly respected.
His final album was issued in 2002, with other albums being repackaged and rereleased. He has recorded over 2,000 songs over his entire career. He has garnered new fans following the launch of the Vic Damone website in 2002 www.vicdamone.com, managed by his son-in-law William "Bill" Karant.
One of his final public performances was on January 19, 2002, at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Damone suffered a stroke the same year and subsequently retired. Damone did, however, step out of retirement on January 22, 2011, when he once again performed at the Kravis Performing Arts Center in Palm Beach, to a sold-out crowd. Damone dedicated this performance to his six grandchildren, who had never seen him perform.
On June 12, 2009, Vic Damone released his autobiography titled Singing Was the Easy Part from St. Martin's Press.
In 2010, Damone called Canadian crooner Michael Bublé talented but "cocky" and criticized him for smoking and drinking "straight alcohol" after a show, believing that it would damage his vocal cords. Bublé responded by saying that he knew what he was doing, but promising that he from now on would always mix his alcohol with soda or orange juice.
In January 2011, at the age of 82, Damone returned to the stage for the first time in a decade, performing at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. Damone stated that "I don't need the money ... But, you know, my six grandkids have never seen me on stage. It will be the first time. I will introduce them. It's going to be exciting for me. Before I die, I want them to have heard me perform at least once".
In December 2, 2011, at the age of 83, Damone launched an official Facebook profile dedicated to his fans. In addition to posting recent photos, Damone writes that besides spending time with his family, he spends his retirement enjoying golf and football.
Damone suffered a stroke in 2002 and another health scare in 2008. He has since recovered from both. Damone has married five times and divorced four:
- Pier Angeli (1954-1958), actress, singer (one son - Perry Damone 1955-2014)
- Judith Rawlins (1963-1971) (three daughters - Victoria, Andrea, and Daniella)
- Becky Ann Jones (1974-1982), entertainer
- Diahann Carroll (1987-1996), actress, singer
- Rena Rowan-Damone (1998-2016) (her death), fashion designer, businessperson, philanthropist
Damone has six grandchildren from his daughters (Tate, Paige, Sloane, Rocco, Daniella, Grant).
Damone's first wife, Pier Angeli, was previously in a well-publicized relationship with James Dean, but left him to marry Damone, a move which garnered great media attention. Six years after divorcing Angeli, Damone was arrested on October 15, 1964 on Angeli's charge that he had kidnapped their 9‐year‐old son Perry (named for Perry Como) from New York to Los Angeles. He was released three hours later after having plead "not guilty" to being a fugitive from a kidnapping charge.At the same time, a Santa Monica, California judge awarded him custody of Perry. However, Angeli would ultimately gain custody of Perry and left Hollywood for her native Italy, taking Perry with her. Perry would however return to California after Angeli's death. Perry died of lymphoma aged 59, on December 9, 2014.
Vic Damone presently lives in Palm Beach County, Florida. In January 2015, Damone and his fifth wife, Rena, parted ways with La Casita, their landmarked residence at 200 Via Bellaria. The house sold for $5.75 million. Damone and his wife have since downsized to a townhouse in Sloan's Curve.
Damone was raised Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy, but claims to have never found deep meaning in his original faith. In the late 1950s, he was introduced to the Bahá'í Faith by a drummer in his band. Damone has said his rendition of "On the Street Where You Live" incorporates gestures meant to summon a sustaining vitality from `Abdu'l-Bahá. He officially joined the religion in the early 1960s.
Damone met his Polish-born wife Rena Rowan (born Irena Aurelia Jung on Jan. 4, 1928 in Lida, then part of Poland) in 1996, after she asked him to perform at an event to raise money for her Rowan House charity in Philadelphia, which provides housing for homeless single women with children. Rowan, a breast-cancer survivor, was a clothing distributor who started the Jones New York chain in the mid-1970s. She suffered a stroke in 2011. In 2013, Damone was involved in a tug-of-war in a Palm Beach County court with Rowan's two daughters, Nina and Lisa Rowan, for control over the destiny of Rowan and her fortune, which was reportedly worth more than $50 million. The court ultimately sided with Damone, ruling that Rena Rowan was capable of making her own decisions. Rowan died on November 6, 2016 at home in Palm Beach, Florida, from complications of pneumonia. She was 88.
Damone is a personal friend of Donald Trump. In May 2016, Trump offered to be a character witness on Damone's behalf in the event of any legal action his step-daughters may take to prevent him from receiving any of his then ill wife's estate, with an estimated worth of $900 million.
In his 2009 autobiography, Singing Was the Easy Part, Damone claimed he had been held dangling out of a window of a New York hotel by a "thug". Damone claimed he had been engaged to the thug's daughter, but ended the relationship when she insulted Damone's mother. He wrote that his life was spared when, during a Mafia meeting to determine the singer's fate, New York mob boss Frank Costello ruled in Damone's favor.
In a 2015 interview, his daughter Victoria recalled an incident in the late 1960s or early 1970s, in which a "bookie" showed up and tried to racketeer her father, saying he owed him a lot of money. Vic Damone phoned Frank Sinatra and asked him to intervene. Sinatra ultimately showed up, but the bookie showed Sinatra a "secret sign", which Sinatra recognized and rendered him unable to intervene. Damone consequently had to relent and pay the bookie.
In 1997, Damone received his high school diploma from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn when officials with the school granted credits for life experience and asked him to give the commencement address - advising students to "Have spiritual guidance. Don't lose God. There is a God. Trust me."
In 1997, Damone received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Frank Sinatra said that Damone had "the best set of pipes in the business".
For his contribution to the recording industry, Damone has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1731 Vine Street in Los Angeles, California.
In 2014, Damone received the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook's first Legend Award in recognition of those who have made a significant contribution to the genre.
|1947||"I Have But One Heart"||7|
|"My Fair Lady"||27|
|"Say Something Sweet to Your Sweetheart"||23|
|"You're Breaking My Heart"||1|
|"The Four Winds and the Seven Seas"||16|
|"Why Was I Born?"||20|
|1950||"Sitting by the Window"||29|
|"Tzena Tzena Tzena"||6|
|"Just Say I Love Her"||13|
|"Can Anyone Explain"||25|
|"Cincinnati Dancing Pig"||11|
|"My Heart Cries for You"||4|
|"Music by the Angels"||18|
|1951||"Tell Me You Love Me"||21|
|"My Truly Truly Fair"||4|
|"Longing for You"||12|
|1952||"Jump Through the Ring"||22|
|"Here in My Heart"||8|
|"Take My Heart"||30|
|"April in Portugal"||10|
|"A Village in Peru"||30|
|1954||"The Breeze and I"||21|
|"The Sparrow Sings"||27|
|1956||"On the Street Where You Live"||4||1|
|"War and Peace"||59|
|1957||"Do I Love You"||62|
|"An Affair to Remember"||16||29|
|"The Only Man on the Island"||24|
|1962||"What Kind of Fool Am I"||131|
|1965||"You Were Only Fooling"||30||8|
|"Why Don't You Believe Me"||127||25|
|"Tears (For Souvenirs)"||35|
|1967||"On the South Side of Chicago"||22|
|"It Makes No Difference"||12|
|"The Glory of Love"||15|
|1968||"Nothing to Lose"||40|
|"Why Can't I Walk Away"||21|
|1969||"To Make a Big Man Cry"||31|