Perry with RCA Victor circa 1957
Perry Como ~ An Early Biography
The Early Years
Perry Como was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1912. He's the seventh son, of a seventh son, legendary marks of good luck. Lady luck is a gal he often quotes, although his fans believe in a thing called talent.
Born to Italian immigrants, Pietro and Lucia Como, who settled in the small Pennsylvania mining town, he was the first of their thirteen children to be a citizen of the United States by birth.
It's a well known bit of show business fact that Perry's first ambition was to be the best barber in Canonsburg. At 14, he was apprenticed to Steve Fragapane who taught him the trade of the shears, and Perry soon opened his own shop as an after-school money maker. With two assistants and a guitar he turned it into a profitable enterprise which he took over on a full-time basis after high school graduation. The miners would come out of the pits on Saturday night, black with coal dust, eager for everything from a shave to a manicure and Perry built his little shop into a $125 a week net profit. It was a small town store where he knew all his customers by name, where it wasn't strange for a barber to sing while clipping hair or stop to strum a guitar because he was in the mood. Life was good, his business was good, he was the local talent in the community, and in 1933 Perry went to Cleveland on a well-earned vacation.
While in Cleveland his friends urged him to audition for Freddy Carlone's band a band known to the local spots throughout Ohio. Doing it more as a concession to his friends than a desire to get into show business, Perry auditioned for Carlone and returned to Canonsburg. A few weeks later he received a wire urgently requesting that he join the band as soon as possible. It was a hard decision for the young barber for the shop was bringing in a $125 a week. The depression years had just begun and security was a hopeless word. But his parents convinced him that he could always pick up where he left off should the singing business fold. And on this reservation Perry Como joined the ranks of young boys who sang with bands for $28 a week.
On July 31, 1933, he married his childhood sweetheart, Roselle Belline.
During the next two years Perry built up a following in the Cleveland area and became a small name among the guys and dolls who paused to listen in front of the bandstand. He had to learn poise, the intricacies of sheet music, and adjust to the strange nighttime life of a musician. They played such spots as the Crystal Slipper and Danceland Ballroom the kind of places that have their counterparts throughout the country. It was during these early days in Cleveland that the young novice met the great Russ Columbo who was then playing at the Golden Pheasant with his orchestra. Russ was the king of the crooners in those days and Perry and he became friends, never dreaming that one day his recording of Columbo's famous "Prisoner of Love" would become one of the biggest sellers in music history.
Ted Weems and his band were in their prime in the mid-thirties and when the young singer was brought to his attention, he offered Perry a job. His salary was an overwhelming $50 a week. Bands were hot. The Millers, the Dorseys, the Goodmans were the No. 1 box office attractions and the only chance a singer had was to draw a spot with a big band. The Weems tie-up marked Perry's first tentative steps toward the top. It was with Weems that Perry was introduced to the nerve-wracking grind of one-night stands throughout the country. He made his radio debut and the name "Perry Como" was now on record labels as "vocalist." There was usually a gal singer with the group, one of whom was Marvel Maxwell, later known to moviegoers as Marilyn Maxwell. With Weems, Perry reached Broadway and the great presentation houses. He recalls one momentous engagement at the New York Strand when the band shared the bill with Ann Sheridan who, in those days, was riding a crest as the nation's "oomph" girl. As far as Perry Como was concerned, this was the "big-time!"
In '42 the Weems band broke up and Perry was weary of traveling. His home life was a haphazard thing. Since the birth of their first child, Ronnie, in 1940, Roselle had been forced to remain in Canonsburg. He was concerned about his future and eager to live a normal quiet life and this meant a good location for another barber shop. The long distance phone calls and wires started pouring in from booking agents, managers and band leaders, but Perry turned down the offers and continued to negotiate with a local real estate agent for a store lease. General Artists Corporation called while Perry was dickering about the shop rental. Their deal was his own sustaining radio show at $100 a week and an RCA Victor recording contract. He would be a sole singer and not part of a band package. But it was Roselle who persuaded him with the old clincher, "You can always get another barber shop if it doesn't work out!"
It wasn't long before Perry hit New York as a personality. The singer craze was on and Frank Sinatra, who was then holding court at the Riobamba nightclub, had started a new surge of shrieks, sighs and swoons! Perry was booked into the Versailles and Copacabana nightclubs. He stopped the show each night. Word got around that the Copa would need rubber walls to hold the Perry Como stampede. Then came the Paramount Theatre engagement and the teenagers stood for hours in lines that circled the block three deep. Those who had known him as Ted Weems' vocalist woke up one morning to find that Perry Como was one of the hottest properties in show business.
Simultaneous with his nightclub and theatre success, Perry's recordings started hitting the market. His first RCA Victor record, "Goodbye Sue," was waxed in 1943. In 1945 he established a record by selling more than a million copies of "Till the End of Time." During a single week in 1946 four-million Como recordings were turned out, surpassing the output of any artist in the history of record-making to that time.
It has been estimated that on a yearly basis, Como sells more than four million records annually. A great many of his platters have sold more than a million copies each. A record sales-total rare in music annals ditto his long association with one company, RCA Victor.
In 1944 Perry went to Hollywood where he co-starred with Vivian Blaine, Phil Silvers and Carmen Miranda in his first movie for 20th Century Fox titled "Something for the Boys." In 1946 he followed with "Doll Face" and "If I'm Lucky." In 1948 he was chosen to appear with the all-star cast of MGM's musical "Words and Music."
Radio & TV
Chesterfield Cigarettes was Perry's first radio sponsor and remained with him through the years, a relationship unusual in a business of short-lived romances, until his switch to NBC in September of 1955. After a year of sustaining ( in 1943 ) Chesterfield signed Perry in 1944 to a fifteen minute show five nights a week on NBC. In 1945 it was changed to a thrice-weekly stanza and during the 1949-50 season Perry and Chesterfield did a half hour radio show and a half hour television show weekly. He switched to full time television in 1950 for CBS-TV, thrice weekly, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, at 7:45 to 8:00 p.m. His casual manner, sharp showmanship, and good looks took to television as if it were made for him. Surveys boasted that the fifteen minute Perry Como Show was viewed in approximately fifteen million homes.
On August 31, 1953, Perry returned to radio with a taped version of his fifteen minute television show. Sponsored again by Chesterfield, it was heard on the Mutual Broadcasting System, Monday-Wednesday-Friday, at 7:45 p.m. and then switched over to CBS on the same days at 9:00 p.m.
In May of 1955 Perry signed an unprecedented firm 12 year contract with NBC-TV. The deal called for a one-hour show to be seen on Saturdays at 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. The Perry Como Show had its premiere on September 17, 1955. Its success was nothing less than phenomenal and Perry's talents as an all round showman were confirmed.
Perry was consistently voted the most popular male vocalist in polls throughout the United States and with the advent of his new TV show, he quickly became the most popular television personality. His fan clubs covered the globe. Despite the fact that Perry didn't rely on cross-country tours, theatre engagements, nightclubs and movies, all of which he claimed might keep him away from his family, he joined the chosen few known as all-time greats in show business.
Perry received the 1953 Interfaith Award for his "unselfish devotion, his humanitarian endeavors . . . and wholehearted service in the advancement of the principles of Interfaith"
Perry Como at Home
Perry met Roselle Belline at a wiener roast on the banks of Chartiers Creek in Pennsylvania. She was a local girl. They were married July 31, 1933, when he was 21 years old. For many years they lived in a rambling house at Sands Point, Long Island, with three children: Ronnie, born in 1940, David, born in 1946, and Terri, born in 1947. Their home had a garden, an outdoor grill for steaks and a pool table. Their home life had the earmarks of any suburban family.
Both Perry and Roselle have received one of the highest honors of the Catholic Church. In a ceremony presided over by Cardinal Spellman, they were made Knight Commander and Lady Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Another great moment in Perry's life occurred in the summer of '58 when he, Roselle and the three children were privileged to have an audience with His Holiness, the late Pope Pius XII.
The trip to Rome was the first overseas for the Comos and Perry's first chance to appreciate his new international prominence. The television show was broadcast in at least a dozen foreign countries. The Como face and voice were fast becoming as familiar abroad as they were at home.
As a tribute in recognition of Perry, his hometown, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, changed the name of Third Street, where he used to have his barber shop, to Perry Como Avenue. The dedication was tremendous and the schools declared a holiday. Only inadvertently did Perry reveal this during a press interview years after the event. Even though it was a great honor for his family, he didn't think anyone else would be interested.
When Perry was named "Personality of the Year" by the Variety Club of Washington, D.C., the award was made at a formal dinner and he had to buy a new tuxedo. Perhaps because he had to wear one every night for almost ten years, during his band days, it was purchased under protest. During his visit to Washington he sang in a child's polio ward at a city hospital. He spoke at length with a four year old patient and later learned that the boy's parents were poor and unable to meet the medical expenses. At dinner that night he told the audience about the child and offered to auction off his new tuxedo with proceeds to the youngster. The tuxedo brought in $2500.
In 1957 Perry was again obliged to don a black tie on the occasion of the Friers Club testimonial dinner. As the Friars' 1957 "Man of the Year" he was the delighted honor guest and entertained by many of show business's top names, toasted by an overflow crowd in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.

| His Song Goes On | Roselle Belline ~ Mrs. Perry Como |

| Roselle Como ~ His "Girl" and Best Friend | In Profile |



Composer Index
A Perry Como Discography 
& Digital Companion

RCA Victor Memorial| Site Links | All AlbumsAll Songs | The Recording Sessions |

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Second Edition Christmas 1993
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Tuesday, December 13, 2022