July 31, 1998
Years of Happiness & Love!
Wife Sings His Praises
She knew him when he was a barber and she was there when he became a world famous crooner.
Celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary yesterday, Roselle and Perry Como remain every bit as close as when they grew up together in Canonsburg.
"He was and still is the most gentle and humble man I ever met," said Roselle in a recent phone interview from their home in Jupiter, Florida.
Perry, or Pierino as he was known, had lots in common with the girl he knew as Roselle Belline. Both were children of immigrant parents who settled in the small industrial town in Washington County. Perry's family was from Italy and Roselle's, France.
Both grew up in households where the homeland language was spoken constantly. Perry first learned English when he began attending public school. Both came from large families who were devoted to the Roman Catholic faith.
When Perry and Roselle began dating, Perry was running a barbershop, an occupation he had held since age 14. He loved music and sang to his customers in the shop. He played guitar and piano, led his own barbershop quartet and played valve trombone in a brass marching band. By 1931, he was performing on stages around Canonsburg.
When Perry traveled to Meadeville to join the Freddie Carlone Orchestra, Roselle went with him. They were married there July 31, 1933. Roselle was 19 and Perry 21. For the next seven years, they lived in apartments as he traveled with his band.
"We had some tough times," she recalled. "Money was tight but we were frugal and we lived on what he made."
Perry was working in Chicago with the Ted Weems Orchestra in 1940 when their son Ronnie was born. Despite threats that he would be fired, Perry left the stage in mid-performance to join Roselle at the hospital.
"We always put family first," said Roselle.
The couple adopted two more children, daughter Terry and son David. As their family grew, life on the road became increasingly difficult.
Perry's big break came in 1942, when Weems' band broke up and he was discovered by agent Tom Rockwell of O'Keefe and Rockwell and later GAC, one of the largest booking agencies in the country. Rockwell placed Perry in several New York nightclubs, including the Copacabana, and landed him a CBS afternoon radio show.
But Perry hated the big city and was ready to give up. He talked of heading back to Canonsburg. Roselle wouldn't hear of it.
"No, we're staying," she told him. They bought their first home on Long Island and for the first time enjoyed a traditional family life.
Perry was thrust into the celebrity spotlight with a weekly television show, which aired under various names on NBC and CBS from 1948 to 1963. Throughout a career that also included TV specials, 22 albums and 147 singles, Perry and Roselle strived to keep their family life from public view. The couple now has twelve grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
They occasionally slip into south-western Pennsylvania to visit family members. Both still have siblings living in the region. On May 15, they plan to attend the dedication of a statue of Perry in their hometown, as he approaches his 87th birthday.
In 1993, Perry successfully underwent treatment for bladder cancer and has recovered well.
"He's still as handsome as ever," his wife said.
She said there is no secret to the marriage that is one of the longest in Hollywood. "It's simply a gift from God," she said. "When you make your wedding vows as a commitment to each other and to God, you will keep them."
Antoinette Fitch is a free-lance writer
Mrs. Como passed away suddenly of a heart attack in early August, 1998, just two weeks following the Como's 65th Wedding Anniversary and the publication of this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Telephone: (902) 542-5226