Now That Diahann Carroll's Come into His Life, Things Are Looking Up for Crooner Vic Damone
Vic Damone strolls onstage in a burst of hot, white light. A sleek tuxedo hugs his lean frame; a corona of graying brown hair frames his face. “That old black magic has me in its spell,” he croons to the cheering crowd at the Reno Hilton. Sitting at a banquette and sipping Dom Pérignon champagne is the lady in Damone’s life, Dynasty’s Diahann Carroll. “He’s got a new interpretation of that song now,” she says with a laugh.
Carroll should know. At 50, she’s something of an expert on interracial romance. Her first two husbands and one fiancé—David Frost—were white. But for Damone, 57, it’s a new experience. “I’ve had people come up to me in restaurants and say, ‘How can you go out with her? She’s black,’ ” reports Vic. Typically, he replies, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Are you sure?” Nor does he seem worried about the effect his relationship with Carroll will have on his career. “If my fans don’t like it,” he says matter-of-factly, “screw them.”
The romance comes at a time when the careers of both Damone and Carroll are thriving. After a period of relative obscurity and financial difficulties, Damone now earns an estimated $1 million a year from his nightclub act. Meanwhile Diahann is thriving as Dynasty’s Dominique Deveraux. Her $35,000 per episode was recently raised to roughly $40,000 per. When she’s not on the set, she takes her act to Atlantic City or Las Vegas, where she slinks onstage in silk and sequins, singing such standards as Give My Regards to Broadway. Their professional commitments keep them apart much of the time, so every rendezvous is an intense experience. Says Vic: “Whenever we see each other, it gets more exciting.”
Damone and Carroll fell for each other on Apr. 18, 1984—a date they refer to as their anniversary. They were performing on the same bill (Vic was headlining) in Palm Beach. Damone, who had known Carroll casually for 20 years, made the mistake of addressing her as “Diana.” She responded with a cold little wave but invited him anyhow to a party in her suite after the show. He showed up late, and when he walked through the door, says Diahann, “I knew I’d been waiting for him.” Carroll’s guests left at 4 a.m., but she and Damone stayed up talking until morning. “When I kissed her good night,” recalls Vic, “the sparks flew.”
Damone and Carroll still behave as if they are in the first flush of romance. “I call Diahann 10 times a day sometimes,” says Damone. “It’s like it’s the very first time. It’s a wonderful thing to know that I still have the heart or the innocence or whatever it is—it’s beautiful!” But with six marriages between them, Damone and Carroll aren’t rushing to the altar. “Because of my history, I’m reluctant to get married,” says Diahann. “I owe myself the chance to get to know Damone as thoroughly as I can, without the need to have another name attached to mine.” (She never calls him Vic because it reminds her of someone she dislikes.) Damone lobbied for marriage at first; he proposed a few months after they started dating. But now, he says, “I’m not pushing it.” In lieu of a ring, he recently gave Carroll a gold, diamond-studded slave bracelet from Cartier, a gift that might seem in poor taste to some but simply indicates that these two are oblivious to any racial overtones. The bracelet can be opened only with a tiny screwdriver that Damone wears around his neck on a gold chain.
A meeting with a potential mother-in-law is usually fraught with anxiety, and the one between Carroll and Damone’s 80-year-old mother, Mamie Farinola, was no exception. Mamie attended one of Diahann’s shows in Key Biscayne, Fla. “I was, of course, very nervous,” reports Carroll. “You know that I’m in love with your son,” Diahann told Mamie, who’d already gotten the lowdown from Vic. “But,” came Mamie’s all-important question, “can you make a sauce?” Replied Carroll, displaying her long, bright red nails: “No. I can’t ruin these. They cost $50 a week.”
Over the years many black fans rejected Carroll because of her liaisons with white men. When she married producer Monte Kay in 1956, even her family and friends, she says, “reacted violently.” Her father boycotted the wedding ceremony, performed by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. They had one daughter, and the marriage ended in 1962. Nine years later she became engaged to David Frost, and 12 days after that broke up, she married Nevada clothier Freddé Glusman. They split after three months. In the wake of these relationships, the popular black weekly Jet reported that Carroll was perceived as “a white folks’ nigger.” Ironically, in 1975, Jet’s black managing editor, Robert DeLeon, became Diahann’s third husband. But that marriage did not end the criticism of Diahann’s romantic judgment, since DeLeon was 15 years her junior. The union ended in 1977 when Robert was killed in a car crash. Says Damone: “You can see why Diahann panics when I mention marriage.”
Damone, too, has a history of matrimonial failures. In 1954 he married Italian actress Pier Angeli, with whom he had a son. He blames their 1958 breakup on his mother-in-law. “I wanted a wife, and she wanted her daughter to act and make money. She got 10 percent of Pier’s salary,” says Vic. After her divorce from Damone, Angeli remarried and later slipped into a troubled world of drugs and depression. She killed herself in 1971.
In 1963 Damone married actress Judy Rawlins, who bore him three daughters. But the marriage turned sour along with Vic’s finances. Two of the singer’s business partners fled to Beirut with $250,000 from a bank loan that Damone had co-signed. When he told Rawlins that he had to file for bankruptcy, says Vic, she left him. Like Angeli, Rawlins became addicted to drugs. In 1974—three years after her divorce from Damone—she, too, killed herself.
That year Damone married Rebecca Ann Jones, 26. Some years later Vic’s children moved in with the couple. Damone says that Rebecca wouldn’t cope with being a stepmother. “I’ve been hurt a few times by people I had faith in,” says Damone, “but you can’t ever give up.” In Diahann, Vic has finally found someone who shares his values as well as his sense of responsibility. Says Damone: “I’ve never known a woman so mature.”
Or so independent. Carroll started her career at 15, modeling for Essence magazine. She was born Carol Diahann Johnson—the daughter of a subway motorman and a nurse—and grew up in Harlem. After graduating from New York’s High School of Music and Art, she briefly attended New York University. Her plans to become a child psychologist changed in 1956 when she won $3,000 on a TV talent show called Chance of a Lifetime. Roles in several Broadway shows followed, including House of Flowers and No Strings (for which she won a Tony). Then came a series of films, including Hurry Sundown and Porgy and Bess. In 1968 she became the first black star to play a role other than that of a domestic on her own TV series, Julia. In 1983 she was the first black actress to replace a white in a dramatic role on Broadway, Agnes of God. And when she joined Dynasty in March of 1984, Carroll became the first black to star in a prime-time soap.
Like Carroll, Damone showed early promise. Born Vito Farinola, the son of a Brooklyn electrician and a piano teacher, he started singing lessons at 14. After his father was disabled in an accident, 16-year-old Vic quit school to support the family, working as an usher at New York’s Paramount theater. One day in the theater elevator, Perry Como heard the skinny teenager sing and urged him to turn pro. Soon afterward Damone tied for first place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Not yet 20, Damone was making a name for himself. After a stint in the Army, he played romantic leads in movies like Hit the Deck, Deep in My Heart, Kismet and Hell to Eternity. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, Damone had a flurry of hit songs, including You’re Breaking My Heart, My Bolera and Longing For You. Still, he suffered from a lack of confidence. “I almost had to be pushed onstage,” he once said.
Although Damone and Carroll have been together only 19 months, they have the easy, cozy relationship of a couple of much longer standing. “It’s nice being with someone in the business,” says Vic. “If I have a problem with the sound system, or my suit doesn’t fit right, or the audience was lousy, or I was lousy, now I have someone who understands.” Carroll worries about Damone’s health. She got him to broaden his diet beyond pasta and red meat to include broiled fish and chicken. In return, Damone is talking about teaching Carroll to play golf. Not that she needs the exercise. In Hollywood, Diahann’s devotion to fitness is legendary. Every other night she works out with a trainer and then has a massage. “The camera is so explicit,” she says. “It doesn’t delete anything. If I go out to dinner, it shows on TV.” Carroll’s long career and shrewd investments have brought her a three-bedroom house in Beverly Hills, a nine-room Manhattan apartment, 10 fur coats and a staff of four, including one woman who does nothing but tend to Diahann’s clothes.
Damone, too, has divided loyalties when it comes to residences. He splits his time between a condo overlooking a golf course in Palm Desert, Calif. and a four-bedroom house in Houston, where he parks his Rolls and a collection of Chryslers. Recently, Vic has more or less moved into Diahann’s Beverly Hills home, where she converted a bedroom into a closet for the two of them.
Meanwhile, Damone and Carroll struggle with the dual pressures of major show business careers and an interracial romance. The tensions of such a life are, of course, eased by wealth and fame. Yet the two are aware, says Diahann, that their success “isn’t going to last forever.” What will happen if their glittering careers tarnish? Says Carroll: “I know damn well our relationship will survive.”