By Ken Zurski
Perry Como may be the most popular Christmas performer of all time. Thanks to his long-standing annual holiday television specials and beloved Christmas album released in 1968, Como’s face and voice became synonymous with the sounds of the season.
Today, however, in a more crowded market for Christmas music and numerous more versions of favorite holiday classics (and new ones too) from more contemporary artists in all genres, Como’s versions might get lost in the mix.
But it’s still in there.
That said, as a performer, he may have been misunderstood as well.
Como was considered one of the “good guys” whose relaxed and laid-back demeanor came across as “lazy” to some, a misguided assessment, since Como was known to be a consummate professional who practiced and rehearsed incessantly.
“No performer in our memory rehearses his music with more careful dedication than Como.” a music critic once enthused.
Como also made sure each concert met his own personal and strict moral standards.
In November 1970, Como hosted a concert in Las Vegas, a comeback of sorts for the Christmas crooner, who hadn’t played a Vegas night club for over three decades. For his grand return, Como was paid a whopping $125-thousand a week, admittedly a large sum for a Vegas act at the time. Even Perry was surprised. “It’s more money than my father ever made in a lifetime,” he remarked.
But since it was Vegas and befitting the desert town’s reputation of gambling and prostituition, Como’s reputation as a straight-laced performer was questioned.
Como quelled any concerns, however, when he chose a safe, clean and relatively unknown English comic named Billy Baxter to warm up the audience before the show. Advisers suggested he pick an act more familiar to Vegas audiences, but Como said no.
A typical “Vegas comedian,” as he put it, was simply too dirty.
Keeping up the family friendly atmosphere accentuated in his TV specials, Como would lovingly introduced his wife Roselle during the “live” shows. Roselle, who was usually backstage and acknowledged the appreciative crowds, was just as adamant as her husband that his clean-cut image went untarnished. After one performance, Roselle received a fan’s note that pleased her immensely. “Not one smutty part, not even a hint,” the note read describing Como’s act in Vegas. “You should be very proud.”
Como’s cool temperament and sleepy manner was such a recognizable and enduring characteristic that many had to ask if it was real or just an act. Does he ever get upset? was one curious inquiry. “Perry has a temper,” his orchestra leader Mitchell Ayers answered. “He loses his temper at normal things. When were’ driving, for instance, and somebody cuts him off he really lets the offender have it.” However, Ayers added, “Como is the most charming gentleman I’ve ever met.”
Como’s popular Christmas television specials ran for three decades ending in 1994, seven years before his death from symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2001. He was 88.
(Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal Nov 21 1970)