Patterico's Pontifications


Vic Damone, 1928 – 2018

Filed under: General — JVW @ 2:23 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Vic Damone, a smooth baritone in the golden era of Italian-American crooners, died yesterday of respiratory failure at a Miami hospital, his family announced. He was 89.

Born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn on June 12, 1928 to immigrant parents with a fondness for music — his electrician dad played guitar and sang while his mom taught piano lessons to neighborhood kids — Damone (the name he used professionally was his mother’s maiden name) recalls first being encouraged to pursue singing as a profession by hearing Frank Sinatra on the radio in the early years of the War. The moment is recounted in the liner notes to The Best of Vic Damone: the Mercury Years:

It was a Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn and I was about 13, maybe 14. We were having an early dinner. That’s how it is with Italian families, and early Sunday dinner. I was enjoying my pasta with the family. We were also listening to the radio and a very popular show at that time in the New York area was called The Battle of the Baritones. So we’re listening to this show and I suddenly hear this voice — it’s Frank Sinatra singing “(I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance with You.” I jumped up from the table and put my ear as close as I could to the radio speaker. That’s when I knew singing would be my life.

Young Vic soon landed a job as an usher at the famed Paramount Theater, where Perry Como would overhear him singing to himself in an elevator and provide words of encouragement (Damone would name a son after Como, and Como would serve as the boy’s godfather). At 19 Damone was invited to perform on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio program. Milton Berle happened to be backstage, and was so impressed that he helped Damone land an ongoing engagement at Manhattan’s swanky La Martinique nightclub, where he came to the attention of Mercury Records co-founder Berle Adams who signed Damone to his first recording contract.

Damone’s first session at Mercury was to record an Italian folk song that Sinatra had recently cut at Columbia, “I Have But One Heart.” The recording featured several prominent Italian-American musicians: Jerry Gray (nee Graziano) who was Glenn Miller’s arranger wrote the arrangement for the song and conducted the orchestra, Johnny Guarnieri played piano, Frank Ferritti played trumpet, and Carmen Mastrone played the Italian balalaika. The record would reach number seven on the pop charts in the summer of 1947, an auspicious beginning for a new singer.

“You’re Breaking My Heart” was released in May 1949 and quickly rose in the charts to become Vic’s first and only number one single. He was now working with the Glenn Osser Orchestra and Mercury A&R man Mitch Miller, and his recordings of the era tended towards the audio bombast that Miller tended to favor. Because of that, for my money “I Have But One Heart” is the far superior record, in which Damone’s subtle and smooth phrasing isn’t overwhelmed by the arrangement, but I confess I have never cared for Mitch Miller as a session producer. Damone would follow Miller to Columbia Records in 1955 where he would have moderate success working with Percy Faith, Paul Weston, and even a young John Williams. His biggest hit at Columbia was the Lerner/Lowe composition “On the Street Where You Live” which spent six months on the charts in 1956, peaking at number four in a recording year which was dominated by Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” along with Gogi Grant’s “The Wayward Wind.”

Oddly enough (and again, I think, a testament to being mishandled by Mitch Miller), Vic Damone’s album of Italian songs was not much of a hit, even though the genre proved to be very successful for Dean Martin and Jerry Vale. In a story common to the era, Damone turned out to not be a particularly good manager of his own wealth and was taken advantage of by people whom he trusted for financial advice, so as the 1950s closed out he found himself spending a great deal of time on the nightclub circuit paying off debts instead of in the studio building up a recording legacy. Another bankruptcy in the early 1970s would force him to spend numerous weeks each year playing in Las Vegas casino showrooms. He appeared in the MGM musical pictures Kismet and Hit the Deck, and hosted a variety show on NBC for a couple of seasons starting in 1962. He supposedly turned down the role of Johnny Fontaine in The Godfather (after Frank Sinatra had also reportedly turned it down) with the part ultimately being played by fellow crooner Al Martino. He married five times and divorced four times, including marriages to the beautiful but doomed actress Pier Angeli and later to actress/singer Diahann Carroll. He dated Ava Gardner before Frank did, and he was once allegedly dangled out the window of a high-rise apartment building for having broken off an engagement to the daughter of an important Mafioso, which necessitated the involvement of Luciano Family boss Frank Costello to broker a truce. He was a personal friend of both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. What a life.

In an era of Frank, Dino, Vale, Como, Martino, Tony Bennett, and other Italian crooners, Vic Damone held his own with his warm and rich baritone, even if his bad luck with record companies and financial difficulties sadly limit his recording legacy. His death leaves only Tony Bennett alive from that illustrious group, and with Bennett mostly retired now we can consider that chapter in our musical history closed. Rest in peace, Mr. Damone. We’ll send you off with your finest recording:


Trump Won’t Say What He Is Doing with Tens of Millions in Leftover Inaugural Fund Money

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:00 am

Donald Trump has a long history of making promises to donate money and not following through — at least until repeated public pressure is put on him to do so. At the Daily Beast, Lachlan Markay is continuing to pressure Trump about one of these many promises:

Representatives for President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee still won’t say what the committee did—or plans to do—with the tens of millions of dollars it pledged to charity last year. And it may be many more months until the public finally knows.

The committee smashed the record for inauguration fundraising, bringing in about $107 million, double the sum raised for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which held the previous record. But Trump’s inaugural committee only spent about half of that money. The rest, it said, would go to philanthropic ends.

More than a year later, no one knows what those ends will be.

A spokesperson for Tom Barrack, Trump’s personal friend and the chairman of the committee, told The Daily Beast on Dec. 8 that it would be filing an annual report detailing its charitable giving with the Internal Revenue Service “in the next several weeks.” It is now Feb. 12, and it still hasn’t done so and there is no indication of when it will.

This is not an isolated incident. It is part of a longstanding pattern. In March 2017, the Washington Post‘s David Fahrenthold published a long article about this pattern. One of the other major promises Trump made was to donate proceeds of foreign money going to the Trump Organization:

The Trump Organization — the president’s global real estate and branding business — pledged not to keep any profits that it made by renting hotel rooms and banquet halls to foreign governments. Those proceeds, Trump’s attorney said, would be given to the U.S. treasury.

. . . .

On Friday, for instance, the Trump Organization said it would not make its donations until the end of each calendar year. A spokeswoman provided few specifics about how the amount would be calculated.

Well, the 2017 calendar year is long since over, and as I told you on February 8, there are still no specifics — and there are unlikely to be anything like accurate specifics, ever:

Trump promised from the beginning that he would return foreign government payments to his hotel and other entities, but a year later there is no proof that he has — and it’s very unlikely he will provide said proof, since the Trump Organization is not even keeping track of that money.

Partisans got very upset at me for mentioning this fact in a post about Hillary and Uranium One. But it was central to the post’s theme about the potential for corruption when foreigners put cash in a politician’s pocket. And frankly, I no longer care what partisans say.

Trump’s pattern of promising donations is hardly new with his occupancy of the Oval Office. As detailed in the March 2017 WaPo piece linked above and previous pieces, Trump did this a lot in the past:

Washington Post reports last year highlighted past Trump promises of charity that months later had not come to fruition. In January 2016, for instance, Trump said he had donated $1 million of his own money — and raised an additional $5 million from others — for veterans’ charities. But Trump did not make good on his $1 million promise until four months later, under pressure from the media. Before he actually paid, Trump’s campaign manager made a false claim that the money had already been spent.

During last year’s presidential campaign, The Post also showed that Trump had spent years promising large donations to charity — building a public reputation as a man whose generosity was as impressive as his wealth.

But The Post found little evidence to show Trump’s actual generosity matched his boasting.

The Post called 450 charities that seemed close to the candidate — nonprofit groups that he had praised on Twitter or that had paid him to rent banquet space. It asked whether each had received a gift from Trump’s own pocket. That search turned up one donation from Trump himself between 2008 and 2015 — a gift of less than $10,000 to the Police Athletic League in New York City.

Remember how he promised to donate his “The Apprentice” salary to charity, and then took back the promise when it was revealed he wasn’t living up to it? That’s the guy we’re dealing with here.

Trump’s image as a guy who likes to donate money is as fraudulent as his pretense that he has a full head of hair. Yes, the guy who used to call up reporters and pretend to be his own spokesman, and who lied about it during the campaign, is a fraud and a pathological habitual liar.

But if we shrug our shoulders at his fraud and allow him to pocket tens of millions of dollars because nobody pushes him on it, then we normalize the fraud. So good for Lachlan Markay, for holding Trump’s feet to the fire.

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

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