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 – and still is – synonymous with the sounds of the season. That said he may have been the most misunderstood as well.
Como was a one of the “good guys” whose relaxed and controlled 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 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 going back to 1937 when he was the opening act to a nationally unknown singer, but local favorite, named Willie Howard. For his grand return, Como was paid a whopping $125-thousand a week, admittedly a large sum even for Vegas and as Perry remarked “more money than his father ever made in a lifetime.” But since it was Vegas, Como’s reputation as a straight-laced performer was in question.
Vegas just wasn’t that straight of a town.
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. Advisors 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 trait that many had to ask if he was human after all. 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 46 consecutive years ending in 1994, seven years before his death from symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2001 at the age of 88.
(Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal Nov 21 1970)