In an era when crooners are waning rather than waxing (Bing Crosby’s last four LPs have not even been released in the States) and the sanctimonious standards of TV’s “family viewing hour” are supposedly threatening the solvency of the TV networks, Perry Como thrives against the tide. Two of his latest singles, And I Love You So and It’s Impossible bulleted their way up the rock-dominated charts. And as for TV, his specials rate so reliably that CBS is earmarking an adult hour this week (9 p.m. EDT, Oct. 28) for his Perry Como’s Lake Tahoe Holiday.
But Como has no intention of taking advantage of his R-rated TV time slot. “I’ll just sing a few songs and tell a couple of stale jokes,” he says. “The audience knows I’m not going to do anything to upset them. After all these years, we’re comfortable with each other.” He refuses even to dye his suddenly silvering hair. “I don’t mind being 63,” says Como, whose permanent Florida tan, nurtured in golf carts and fishing boats, is his only makeup. “I just don’t want to feel or act it.”
Life for Como, who was never renowned for public or private turbulence, has become still mellower since his three children have grown, married and produced eight grandchildren. Perry and his wife of 42 years, Roselle, are moving into a new home on the water (“an eight-iron shot to my dock”) in Jupiter, Fla., 80 miles north of Miami. Passionately private about their children and their home since a kidnapping threat 25 years ago, the Comos have now even banished their live-in servants, “so we can walk around naked in the morning,” says Perry, “or sleep until noon if we want to. I don’t need anyone to make me a cup of coffee.”
“We made the kind of trip we hadn’t been able to make in years,” notes Roselle. “We drove, just the two of us, from Florida to New York, and spent our 42nd anniversary in a tiny motel in a small town in North Carolina. They gave us a bottle of champagne.” “At home,” says Perry, “I just let go on salami, pasta, cheeses and fine wines, then I train like a fighter or a dancer.” His golf handicap is still 6, but now he makes nine holes a day when in more frantic days he used to slog 54.
Como, for all his public restraint; is, at home, a demonstrative father—and grandfather—always touching, hugging, kissing. “My oldest is 36,” he boasts, “but when either of us enters or leaves a house, we hug and kiss. We all do. I insist on it. I think husbands and wives, parents and children should always show their love for each other.”
That boisterous sort of intimacy must have made for some heavy bottlenecks in Como’s home as a child. The seventh of 13 kids, Perry grew up outside Pittsburgh, the son of a mill hand. At age 10 young Perry was apprenticed to a local barber and by 14 had his own shop. So soothing was his crooning to customers that they urged him to cut records instead of hair. His only failure came in pictures (“It wasn’t for me,” he now says. “Movies bore me anyhow”), which drove him into his natural habitat—the Nevada nightclub scene and TV. It wasn’t until last year that he essayed his first foreign tour—in England and Scotland—and to an outpouring of affection that blissed Como out: “I felt like Donny Osmond,” he says.
But why work at all, since he’s reaped millions and lived in relative modesty? (Likely, he hasn’t read Walker Percy’s apocalyptic 1984-style novel, Love in the Ruins, in which Como’s TV specials are the one continuum.) “The voice is still there,” says Perry, who was never schooled in music. “And it’s still fun. My daughter, who actually listens to my records for pleasure sometimes, said to me the other day, ‘Dad, I never hear you sing except on stage,’ and I never do. I think that is the reason there’s something left to the voice. I’ll be bored before the audience will,” Perry adds thoughtfully, “and I’ll know when to quit.”