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Life On The Road Brings Como This Way Again

July 31, 1985|JACK HAWN

You could almost envision the scene: Perry Como stretched out on a long sofa, belt loosened, shoes off, eyes closed, the phone propped up on a pillow next to his ear.

Speaking from Portland, second stop on a two-month, 18-city, cross-country concert tour that began July 18 in Seattle, Como sounded about as rushed as a Sunday stroll through the park.

Finally, he's meandering this way again.

Back in 1938, when he was with Ted Weems' band, he appeared in Catalina and 40 years later showed up for an encore at the Greek Theatre.

Now, after another seven summers, he's booked at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa Friday and at the Greek the following two nights.

He has nothing against performing on the West Coast, he said, but "I live back East (Jupiter, Fla.), and after six, seven or eight weeks of concerts there, I'm ready to quit. So this year, I said, let's go the other way."

At 73, he seems to be cruising along smoothly as ever, throttle at half-speed, feeling fine and enjoying life.

Described over the years as a home-loving family man who thrives on golf and fishing and loathes travel, Como painted a happier picture of life on the road.

"I don't mind traveling," he said, despite having been quoted to the contrary more than once. "Audiences are fun for me. It's kind of fun for me to go anywhere. I get into a routine. I don't eat much. I don't drink much. I get a lot of rest."

Born Pierino Roland Como, one of 13 children produced by Italian immigrant parents, the entertainer admitted that his pasta-eating habits must be curtailed to stay trim at 5-feet-10. His weight at the moment, he said, is 165, "where I can at least button my pants."

He recalled a time when he had difficulty accomplishing that--in 1971, when he fell from a stage while taping a Christmas show in Los Angeles, broke his knee and was laid up with a cast on his leg for six months.

"I got up to 210 pounds," he remembered, laughing. "My cocktail hour was 7 o'clock in the morning. I had all the kids around (now three children, 13 grandchildren), ate pizza, waffles, pancakes. I had a helluva time--looked like a sumo wrestler."

Como's wife of 52 years, Roselle, plans to join him on the tour "here and there," but she is, in the singer's words, "one of those white-knuckle fliers. It seems that every time she gets on a plane, it's a lousy flight. I don't mind flying; I've become a fatalist."

And yet, he has canceled plans for filming his annual Christmas TV special in Rome this year because of the recent hijacking incident and other terrorist activity in Europe.

"You have 40 or 50 people out of the country hanging over your head," he said. "If something happened, it would be terrible. After the last hijacking incident, I decided against going to Rome. What am I trying to prove?"

Instead, he said the Christmas show probably will originate in Hawaii, as it did a decade or so ago.

Clearly, Como enjoys working--an "ego thing," he admitted. "It gives me a chance to see how well I've done for 52 years."

Rather well indeed, one must say, for a former barber who launched his career as a big band singer with Freddy Carlone's orchestra in 1933--at $28 a week.

Half a century later, he's still crooning some of the same tunes that helped make him a star--such romantic nonsense as being a prisoner of love, catching falling stars, not letting them get in your eyes and other dreamy notions.

His concerts, he said, include many of his classic ballads recorded by RCA, "but we do some new things, too, like 'I Just Called to Say I Love You' by Stevie Wonder" and "The Best of Times," his latest single from "La Cage aux Folles."

And, perhaps surprisingly, he "dresses" for the occasion, claiming he never really liked those itchy cashmeres he wore all those years on TV while perched on a stool in front of a microphone. Now he performs in a tuxedo, as a gesture of "respect" for his audience.

At home, he said, "I look like a slob. My wife says I go from a tux to the world's worst dresser."

Como, who initially signed with RCA Records in 1943--"Goodbye, Sue" was his first single--has had an exclusive RCA contract from the start. After agreeing to a 10-year extension in 1979, he was quoted as saying, "You must be crazy. I'll be in a wheelchair 10 years from now. I'll soon be 68."

Reminded of his words, he laughed and replied, "Now I'm working on 50 (years with RCA), but I'm recording less and less. It's a waste of time to record now; I don't think kids are buying it, and I don't think the elderly people go into the stores.

"There's no way of plugging one, unless you do a video, and I can't see myself doing one of those--crabs falling out of trees, people getting stabbed. . . . "

"I guess," he added with a sigh, "they (the younger generation) have their little say now."

Meanwhile, Como has an optimistic outlook.

"I feel like George Burns," he said. "What is it he says? When I get up in the morning, I look in the paper and if my name isn't in the obituary column, I shave.

"I once asked George why he didn't chase after women his own age, and he said, 'Hell, there aren't any my age.' "

Como laughed again.

"That," he added, "is the attitude I want to have when I'm 89."

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