By Joseph Kottke, Staff Writer

Feb. 15, 1951:

Opera singer and movie star Mario Lanza performed for an over-capacity crowd of 6,000 at Scranton’s Catholic Youth Center gymnasium on a Friday night.
Lanza’s smooth, romantic singing was met with vigorous applause as he performed pieces in English, French, and Italian. The playlist included such songs as “Lamento di Federico” from Cilea’s “L’Arlesiana,” “Gia Il Sole Dal Gange” by Scarlatti, “The House on Top of the Hill” by Ernest Charles and “Bonjour Ma Belle” by Behrend.

man and woman

TIMES-SHAMROCK ARCHIVES Mario Lanza speaks with Jeannette Reese, The Scranton Times’ society page editor, at the Hotel Casey on Feb. 15, 1951.

In an interview with Jeannette Reese, Scranton Times society page editor, Lanza explained his start in showbiz came from moving pianos. As he delivered one of the instruments to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, he took the opportunity to play it and was overheard by Conductor Sergei Koussevitsky, who recognized his talent. Koussevitsky took Lanza to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to sing at the annual summer festival, starting Lanza’s career in music.

woman and two men

TIMES-SHAMROCK ARCHIVES Singer and actor Mario Lanza with his wife, Betty, receives the key to the City of Scranton from Mayor James T. Hanlon during a ceremony at City Hall on Feb. 15, 1951.

Lanza also told Reese about a “frightening” experience that occurred when he autographed records at the Globe Store in Scranton that day.
“Mothers with babies in their arms, young girls, older ones squeezing each other and elbowing me all over the place, knocking cash registers open and five women actually fainting,” Lanza recalled.
He added, thinking of Frank Sinatra, “I never dreamed that was coming to me. I was scared of what could happen if the crowd ever got beyond control. It was a sea of faces.”

Man with a group of women

TIMES-SHAMROCK ARCHIVES Mario Lanza poses with members of the Catholic Junior League, from left: Janet Butler, general chairwoman of the event; Mrs. Paul Coyne; Mary Murrin; Marie Wright; Mrs. Paul Johnston and Dorothy Keenan. The league sponsored Lanza’s Feb. 16, 1951, concert at the Scranton Catholic Youth Center before a crowd of 6,000.

Lanza also spoke of his familiarity with Scranton. Over the years, he had helped with the operation of Camp Echo Lark near Forest City and met many Northeast Pennsylvania natives through the entertainment industry, such as Allan Jones, Lizbeth Scott and the Dorsey Brothers.
Lanza followed his Scranton show with an engagement in Utica, New York. He died of a heart attack in October 1959.