Column: A couple of names from the past

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Remembering Vic Damone, Arthur Godfrey and others
By: 

Roger VanHaren

If you’re about my age, you may remember Vic Damone. Damone died a little earlier this month at age 89. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he became very popular as a pop and big band singer. My favorite song from “My Fair Lady” is “On the Street Where You Live,” and Damone had a terrific recording of it. He also had great renditions of “My Heart Cries for You” and “You’re Breaking My Heart.” I thought he was a terrific singer.

Damone got his big break when he entered the talent search on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Search in April 1947 and won the competition. This led to him 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 recording contract with Mercury Records.

In January 1950, he made his first of several guest appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show including a duet, the first of many, with vocalist and future TV hostess Dinah Shore. Over the next 30 years, he became a regular featured guest performer on every major variety series on network television. He was a favorite of Johnny Carson. Frank Sinatra said Damone had “the best pipes in the business.”

Damone once said singing made him happily famous, but golf made him famously happy. He confessed to an obsession with the game. He once was a member at Riviera Country Club and was a longtime member of Trump International Golf Club near his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He played golf with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, played in the Crosby and the Hope. He called Jimmy Demaret a friend. And former President George H.W. Bush invoked his name, for unknown reasons, emphatically saying, “Vic Damone!” whenever he won a match.

Damone did not play golf as well as they did, obviously, and they could not sing as well as he did. But golf restored him. “Golf was my therapy, physical and psychological,” he wrote. “The game absorbed my attention. Playing golf, my mind was a million miles from work.”

The story about Damone’s death also made reference to Arthur Godfrey and the part he played in Damone’s success. I remember listening to Arthur Godfrey’s program on the radio and then later on TV. He actually had three programs on the air for a while — “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends,” “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” and a program on how to play the ukulele. He was famous for his uke playing and actually had a couple of hit records. The biggest hit was the “Too Fat Polka.” Remember “I don’t want her, you can have her. She’s too fat for me!”?

Besides Vic Damone, Godfrey helped several other stars begin their careers. They included Rosemary Clooney, Carmel Quinn and Julius La Rosa. In his day, Godfrey significantly assisted the careers of Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Leslie Uggams, Lenny Bruce, Steve Lawrence, Roy Clark and Patsy Cline. Other regular guests on his show included Tony Marvin, Marion Marlowe, The McGuire Sisters, the Chordettes, LuAnn Simms, Pat Boone and Miyoshi Umeki.

Vic Damone and Arthur Godfrey — a couple of names from the past.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.