Following possibly one of the highest accolades this town can lavish on an honoree, Pride in Port's Renaming of Main Street during PIP week in October in this town, Perry Como continues to receive well-earned tributes in the place where he resided from l945 through l970. His latest fond remembrance, he died in 2001 just before his 89th birthday, is an exciting and nostalgic exhibit at Port's world class library, in its Media Center, on the lower level. Memorabilia celebrating his career includes 78s, LPs and CDs, magazine covers, production photographs from Como's television show, reminiscences of friends, pictures of his Flower Hill home and other souvenirs. The committee was even able to wrest his 1955 Emmy, temporarily, for the exciting exhibit. Perry's soft tones and soothing songs are played in the exhibit section of the library.
The culmination of this almost yearlong loving tribute to a favorite son of Port will be the April 22 program at the library. It will include videos consisting of the Chesterfield show circa 1952 with Perry introducing a little girl as a new neighbor in Flower Hill, with special guest Patti Page. Also included will be the Best of Perry Como, including clips from the Christmas shows and from regular shows. Music critic, author and historian Will Friedwald will be the guest speaker. Will is the author of the critically acclaimed Jazz Singing and Sinatra! The Song Is you, the definitive biography of Frank Sinatra's musical career. Will's new book Stardust Memories will be published the day following the event.
However, the quality of the exhibit and its energy and warmth would not have been possible without the help of committee members, consisting of local citizens, and the library staff who helped bring it to fruition. (These are probably the kind of people that made Como decide to raise his family in Port.) The committee not only appreciated Como's talents and achievements, but also celebrated the way this quiet, secure and talented man ran his life.
Bob Waldman, a television producer and writer---and kid who loved the Como show, reports that after Joann and Larry Hertz flew a trial balloon in this paper asking whether people in town might like to pay tribute to Perry, the exhibit took form.
Library Director Nancy Curtin jumped in first: "Nancy was very enthusiastic and scheduled an exhibit," said Mr. Waldman.
Then real estate agent Patty Shroyer, who was on the organizing committee, arranged for the committee to go to Perry's former house in Flower Hill. The house had just been sold and the owners graciously allowed them to visit and take pictures before they moved. Amazingly, Bob Waldman advises, all the clippings, posters and sheet music covers Perry's wife Roselle had pasted up in the '40s and early '50s on the stairway were still there a half-century later.
After an article in this paper in December about the past and future Como tributes, people as far as Florida and California responded. In Bevery Hills, Ray Charles, Perry's choral director for 35 years, read the piece, called and offered to send one of Perry's Emmy Awards for the exhibit.
Paul Dumpson, a former classmate of Ronnie Como's called from San Diego with great stories, as did Perry's family physician, Dr. Joseph Teta. Additionally, June Bereton of the Community Chest loaned articles and ads from 1949 for a free concert at the high school headlined by Perry.
Mr.Waldman comments, "It was a real labor of love to help put the exhibit together." He said it was the type of show he had always wanted to work on as a youngster.. "But by the time I got into TV, the variety show had all but vanished. Fortunately, the people who worked on them didn't."
Bob adds, "Recently, I had the honor of working with Bill Klages, one of the legends of television lighting. It turned out Bill had been the lighting director on Perry's Kraft Music Hall and had taken scores of behind the scenes pictures. He went through his slides and had a half-dozen printed up for the exhibit."
Many thanks to exhibition organizers JoAnn and Larry Hertz, Barbara and Mike Laurence, and Bob Waldman, and library staff Jonathon Gilroy and Nancy Curtin. Don't miss the special program on Monday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at the library.