Coincidences and Swan Songs
Talk about coincidences. The other day I was talking with a friend who lives in Leesburg and somehow the subject of Arthur Godfrey came up. Mr. Godfrey, for those who can't remember, or pretend they aren't old enough to remember, was a radio and television personality, in fact a television pioneer.
Mr. Godfrey also once owned a huge amount of property in the Leesburg and Middleburg areas, which has been or is being developed. Housing development was the topic of discussion that led to Mr. Godfrey's name.
So I dug through the dusty file drawers in the back of my brain and came up with the story of how Mr. Godfrey once fired his singer live, on the television program Arthur Godfrey and Friends. But darn if I could yank that file drawer open far enough for me to see the singer's name.
So, I go home, the same day, and staring at me on top of the pile of mail sitting on the stove is a flyer for the new Boscov's. Guess who is coming as a guest celebrity for the opening? Julius La Rosa. The file drawer flew open.
Yep. The very same Julius La Rosa that Arthur Godfrey fired on the air in 1953.
Mr. La Rosa was a rising star in the 1950's. According to Mr. La Rosa's website (www.juliuslarosa.com) Mr. Godfrey's orchestra leader, Archie Bleyer, formed Cadence Records in late 1952, primarily to record Mr. La Rosa, and Mr. Bleyer's orchestra backed him on records and on television. Mr. La Rosa's first recording, and Cadence Records first single release, was "Anywhere I Wander." It shot to the top 30 on the pop charts. Mr. La Rosa followed this by recording with "My Lady Loves To Dance." His third single went to the top. "Eh, Cumpari" was a big hit, reaching number two. Mr. La Rosa won an award for best new male vocalist for 1953. He had done well for Cadence, being their only male singer. Cadence's 45-rpm label even had a drawing of Mr. La Rosa on it.
And then in October 1953, after Julius LaRosa finished singing, "Manhattan," Mr. Godfrey fired him.
"Thank God for the press's awareness and the public's awareness!" Mr. La Rosa says. "They knew that the big guy should never hurt the little guy. And Arthur Godfrey was the big guy, trying to hurt this kid, and that's why they turned on him. And the public turned on him really bad." Arthur Godfrey's shows, and his career, as Mr. La Rosa claims, "went into a decline and never recovered."
Mr. La Rosa isn't the only one who feels his on-the air firing was a bad move for Mr. Godfrey. Another website (www.museum.tv) reports the same thing as Mr. La Rosa. Mr. Godfrey's "fall from grace began in October 1953 when he fired the then popular La Rosa--on the air. Because of the negative fallout, Mr. Godfrey thereafter regularly feuded with a host of powerful newspaper columnists." But Mr. La Rosa has good things to say about Mr. Godfrey, too. "The man literally is the father of my career and I'll always be grateful to him. But it turned out he wasn't a very nice man." Mr. La Rosa thanked Mr. Godfrey for giving him his break and left the show.
Mr. La Rosa had made a few mistakes that Mr. Godfrey could not overlook. Mr. La Rosa hired a manager, which was against Mr. Godfrey's policy for his "friends," meaning his employees. Mr. La Rosa also had refused to go to dance classes ordered by Mr. Godfrey. And maybe it had to do with the possibility Mr. Godfrey may have had a soft spot for Dorothy McGuire, who was involved with Mr. La Rosa. The reason for the firing, according to Mr. Godfrey, was "a lack of humility."
Unfortunately for Mr. Godfrey, the firing happened just before "Eh Cumpari" went on to become a big hit. "Eh Cumpari" was followed by "Domani," another hit for Mr. La Rosa. In his day Mr. Godfrey helped promote the careers of Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, Eddie Fisher, Connie Francis, Leslie Uggams, Lenny Bruce, Steve Lawrence, Connie Francis, Roy Clark, and Patsy Cline. On the other hand, Julius La Rosa is appearing as a guest celebrity at department store openings. You can decide whose career was the most successful.
So go see Julius La Rosa at the Boscov's Community Auditorium sometime between now and Sunday, November 2nd. Might not be a good idea to ask him to sing "Manhattan," though.