Throughout Perry Como’s life as an A-lister, very few people had anything negative to say about him. He was well-loved, endearingly charismatic, and exceptionally personable. His lighthearted and uplifting music was just as pleasant as his cheery disposition.
Singer Steve Lawrence told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Como didn’t have an enemy in the world be it on a personal or professional level. He always did his best to stay out of trouble. He wasn’t the kind of star that was constantly involved in either one controversy or another.
Como had a wonderful private life with his wife and kids and nothing meant more to him than his family. He would have trekked to the ends of the earth to ensure that they were taken care of and happy.
Unlike some of his contemporaries from that post World War II era like Bing Crosby for example, Como lived his life with few regrets. While Crosby’s private life was filled with conflict and turmoil, Como’s was as comfortable as those cardigans he famous for always wearing.
Como grew up in a large Italian-American family in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. After finishing up high school, he married his childhood sweetheart and got busy starting a family. He promised himself that no matter where life took him he would always put his family first.
He once told the Saturday Evening Post that he’s a bad interview because besides creating records and making television and radio appearances, not much happened in his life worth talking about. He enjoyed a low-key existence and didn’t like to rock the boat unless it was absolutely necessary.
While it’s easy to label Como as a pretty laid-back guy, that doesn’t mean that his entire life was simple and problem-free. Despite his mild-mannered personality, positive outlook, and happy family life, Perry Como also had quite a bit of tragedy to deal with throughout his time on this earth.
Como Started Working At A Very Young Age
Como was born in 1912, just two years before World War I broke out and changed the entire world. He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. He was the seventh child of Pietro and Lucia Como who had 13 children in total.
Como’s parents had immigrated to the United States from Italy. Como entered the workforce when he was just 10 years old. He found employment as a floor sweep at a local barbershop. He would show up there every morning to perform his duties before heading off to school.
When he wrapped up classes for the day, he would return to the shop to shine shoes, heat towels, and sharpen razors. Just three years after he started working there, he worked his way up to the position of barber, manning his own chair at the age of 13.
Of the 13 kids in his family, Como says that not one of them was a black sheep. Everyone in his brood worked hard to provide for each other. His parents taught him and his siblings the value of a hard day’s work so it sort of just came naturally for him once it was his turn to find employment. Taking on such responsibilities at such a young age instilled in Como a hard work ethic that no doubt propelled him to greatness later on when he began his career as an entertainer.
While Perry was working at the barbershop, he would pass the time in between hair cuts singing and playing the guitar. And when it came to his music, he tapped into the joy that came from having a happy family life to enrich his sound.
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Como’s Family’s Financial Woes Were Placed On His Shoulders When He Was Just 14
Working from such a young age actually came to Como’s advantage. He started off doing all the basic grunt work; sweeping hair and polishing mirrors and whatnot, but the owner of that shop took a liking to his young, ambitious worker, and eventually let him cut hair for 50 cents a week.
Since Canonsburg was just a tiny little mining and mill town in southwestern Pennsylvania, there wasn’t much else work-wise that residents could do for a living.
Como’s father, Pietra, worked as a millhand, although for the last 15 years of his life he was practically an invalid. While Perry had fond memories of his dad living a healthy, active lifestyle when he was younger, unfortunately, health problems eventually got the better of him and he was forced to quit his job at the mill.
So at the tender of 14, Como suddenly found himself essentially the man of the household with a huge financial burden of responsibility placed upon his shoulders. With his father out of work, it was now his turn to start providing for his large family.
Once Pietro was no longer capable of working, he got Perry his own barbershop, and while he barely managed to make $175 a month while working at the mill, Perry was able to pull in $125 a week in profit running his shop. By the time he was 20, he was making $40 a week just for himself.
While financially Perry was doing quite well for himself given the time period, his parents always reminded him of the value of remaining humble. In his eyes, the true definition of the word prosperity was having enough to remind him to be thankful.
Como’s Singing Career Got Off To A Rocky Start
While running his barbershop in Canonsburg, Como met his wife-to-be, Roselle Belline. They immediately clicked and started dating. She stood beside him in the 1930s when he started performing in stage productions near his hometown.
On a trip to Cleveland, Como got the chance to audition for The Freddy Carlone Band. They were impressed by his talent and offered him $28 a week to join. Even though he was making five times that at the barbershop every week, he still made the difficult decision to quit his job to pursue his dream of singing for a living.
So in 1933, Como finally committed to a life in music. That was also the year that he finally married his sweetheart Roselle.
For the next decade, both Como and his wife lived on the road, hopping from apartment to apartment while Perry worked with Freddy Carlone. Road life wasn’t always that easy either. Money was often tight but Como and Roselle made it work by living frugally.
Perry Como Almost Gave Up Early On In His Singing Career
Just three years after scoring his first big break with Freddy Carlone, Perry joined the Ted Weems Orchestra – a popular dance band – in 1936. With that new opportunity came a significant pay boost for Como as well. Suddenly he was making $50 a week.
Como was fairly satisfied with The Weems Orchestra, but constantly touring eventually started taking a toll on his well-being. For one thing, Como and his wife had just started building their little family unit.
Perry and Roselle welcomed their first son, Ronnie into the world in 1940. Not long after, they adopted two more children, Terry and David.
The young couple always put family first no matter what. This policy actually almost cost Como a job once when he abruptly left a gig right in the middle of his performance so that he could be with Roselle when she was giving birth to Ronnie at the hospital.
Como enlisted in the army in 1942, but when the band broke up, Como used that as an excuse to head home. He was fully ready to leave his musical life behind to instead devote his time and energy to domestic life but Roselle refused to let her husband give up on his dreams and encouraged him to keep pushing onward.
Perry Wasn’t Cut Out For The Movie Screen
While Perry Como’s singing style fit right in with some of his contemporaries like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, his attempt at making a name for himself as an actor wasn’t quite as successful.
Como only has four film credits to his name. Compare that to the long list of film credits that Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, amassed in his lifetime.
Como himself even couldn’t stand watching the movies that he appeared in. That’s why he asked to be released from his film contract in 1947.
It wasn’t that Como hated being in front of the camera, it was more so that he preferred to be on the television screen instead. He found a lot more success hosting his own variety show than he ever did starring in a film.
The Perry Como Show remained a popular program for critics and audiences alike for the better part of a decade. Como even took home multiple Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on that show.
Como Was Devastated When His Wife Died
Perry broke the odds and remained married to the same woman throughout his entire life. In 1990, Como gave an interview with Good Housekeeping Magazine where he stated that even after 58 years of marriage, Roselle was still his best friend. He also mentioned that she has always been supportive and honest throughout their time together. He considered her to be his anchor.
In 1998, Roselle gave an interview The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where she echoed her husband’s sentiments by referring to him as the most ‘gentle and humble man’ that she had ever met. When she was asked what the secret was to maintaining a healthy, happy marriage, she replied by saying that when you make your wedding vows as a commitment to each other and god, that’s when you’ll actually keep them.
Sadly just two weeks after their 65th anniversary, Roselle died of a heart attack.
Como, himself had a brief bout with bladder cancer in 1993 but he ended up going into remission. He was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before he too passed away in 2001.
Well, that’s about all the time we’ve got left for this video. Honestly, it’s refreshing to see a star that had such respectable values and a healthy family life. How often do you come across that kind of thing? Most stars are miserable and constantly dealing with one scandal after another.
While Perry Como’s life might not have been a walk in the park, per se, it’s pretty clear that his principles and values are what led to his success. And even after he reached the top, he never let it go to his head. He always kept his priorities straight and remained committed to his goals.
Anyway, now’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments section below let us know who your favorite crooner was, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, or Perry Como.
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