Dropping Out with Vic Damone and Memories of a Candy Store
Dropping Out with Vic Damone
I went to high school with Vic Damone, whose name was actually Vito Farinola. He was three days younger than me. I was born on June 9th and he was born on June 12th. And the significance of the birthdays is that out of a very, very large graduating class in Lafayette High School, we were the only two dropouts. We dropped out of school on our birthdays and left.
I dropped out for a very good reason: I hated school, period. Vic Damone dropped out because he had a very young father who was permanently disabled and could not work again. And his mother was insisting that he keep taking the singing lessons that he was taking. His mother said that he had one of the most beautiful voices she’s ever heard. He said, “Mom, we can’t pay for this.” His mother said, “We’ll find a way.” So what he did was he took a job.
After high school he was going to Manhattan and ran an elevator to make some extra money. He left school and took a full-time job at the Paramount Building. He left school so he could sing and bring money into the house. But his mother’s struggle bothered him. The singing lessons weren’t as important in his life anymore with what was going on in his household.
Perry Como was appearing for a four-week, five-week stint there, whatever they did in those days. They usually had four-week appearances. Perry Como was appearing and they did four or five shows a day. These entertainers didn’t necessarily leave the building after every show because in a couple of hours, they had to do another one.
And it was one of these elevator trips where Vic Damone had Perry Como alone in the elevator. And he stopped the elevator and said, “Mr. Como, I have to ask you a question and you could really help me.” He said, “What is it, son?” And Vic briefly explained his situation and that he felt guilty taking the singing lessons. He said, “Would you be kind enough if I just sang a little bit for you and you could give me your opinion? It would mean a lot to me.” And Perry Como said, “That would be okay.” And he sang in Italian, “I Have but One Heart.”
Vic sang a couple of lines and Perry Como told him, “If there’s any way that you could continue,” he said, “Do it because,” he says “you’re good.” He says, “You’re really, really good.” We can end it there and say that the rest is history. As far as I know he had one child I think with Pier Angeli, the actress. That was his first wife, and the child was named Perry.
Memories of a Candy Store
A hang-out space I remember fondly is a candy store in a small neighborhood of Brooklyn that was open from 6:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night. There was a jukebox there and it cost a nickel to play all the songs of the day like Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and everything else. There were four to six booths in the shop and all the kids would come in and hang out. And in the late ‘30s to ‘40s, all the families in the neighborhood were into large liter bottles of soda—root beer, ginger ale…all kinds of flavors.
The owner of the store kept the empty bottles in the basement, and he had a heart condition so he physically couldn’t go down to the basement with the bottles. I was about 14 or 15 years old at the time, and I took care of all his soda needs for no monetary payment. He would direct me to take five cases of this and that, and when we were finished he would say, “What would you like?” Meaning some kind of drink or ice cream.
I always chose a sundae. A sundae has two scoops of ice cream, and on top of the ice cream there are toppings like pineapple, walnuts, and big mounds of whipped cream. This was a very, very tall dish, but I finished it. So I would tell him I want the usual sundae, but I want three scoops of ice cream, and he says you can’t fit three scoops of ice cream in the cup. I would say “You can’t…you have a heart condition…give it to me, I’ll fit it in.” And I used to squeeze in the three scoops myself.
I was 14 at the time and the sundae had to be in the order of how much I liked the flavors that I chose. So I would start off with the bottom and get rid of the vanilla immediately. That year there was a brand new flavor that was very hot: cherry vanilla. The cherries were huge, and they put them into the vanilla ice cream. That was my middle layer. And then they had the greatest ice cream this world has ever produced: chocolate marshmallow. I’d squeeze that in for the third scoop. I loaded it up with toppings and whipped cream. It’s such a warm and fond memory. Especially with the owner of the store watching me and shaking his head.
That’s my memory, a wonderful memory. I’d go crazy for that chocolate marshmallow ice cream. I had that sundae seven days a week, not just on Sunday. I worked for him a fair amount because that was how popular his shop was in those days.