by Laura Deni
Roselle Como, married to Perry Como for 65 years, died on Wednesday, August 12, 1998. She was 84.
I first met her almost 30 years ago. I liked her from the first second I met her.
Perry and Roselle Belline had been high school sweethearts. She was the first girl he ever took to a dance. She waltzed into his heart and stayed.
The Como's have three children, 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. In an era when superstar’s children grow up slightly screwed up, the Como children weren’t ... thanks to Roselle.
”They respected Perry as their father,” Roselle told me. “They stood up when he walked into the room. They just couldn’t sit there staring at the television set. When they went to college we didn’t allow them to have their own cars,” she continued. “They could drive our cars at home, but only with our permission. I watched them closely ... very closely.” she stressed.
The Comos took an equally active interest in their grandchildren. They visited the grandchildren’s schools, met and conferred with teachers.
Roselle was also a firm believer in the power of prayer. When daughter Terri’s first baby, Terrance, was born premature, doctors didn’t give him a prayer of a chance to survive. Roselle told me how the doctors placed tiny tubes in his ears and waited for him to die. The medical community wasn’t counting on Roselle who emphatically told me, “I prayed that baby alive.”
Terrance not only survived, but as a kid was big for his age. When he was joined by baby sister Nicolle, Terrance couldn’t pronounce the name and dubbed her “Cole.” “I think that is so cute,” said Roselle. The name stuck.
After Ronnie was born the Comos weren’t able to have any more natural children. They adopted David when he was four years old and Teri, a year later, when she was six months old. Roselle had heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories about adoption and parenthood.
I always thought she should have written about her experiences. Her insight could have inspired others and helped those who already had adopted “older” children. Roselle declined, opting to keep her children out of the spotlight.
Roselle didn’t always hit the road with Perry. When she did travel, she never attended opening nights. “I enjoy rehearsals, but I never come to openings. I get too nervous,” she confessed. “I get the hives and my blood pressure goes way up. Then I throw up. No, I don’t do that just for Perry. I worry for everybody in the show. I wait upstairs until they call me and tell me that everything went well.”
When she did venture forth into Perry’s dressing room she’d worry about her husband’s diet. She’d frequently be caught placing bouillon cubes and a water heating pot in his dressing room, trying to encourage him to drink the broth. He never did.
Roselle was, in her own right, an accomplished artist. Her paintings have been exhibited in several galleries including Gallery One in Lake Park, Florida.
She also took an active and vocal interest in her husband’s career. When Perry, who has 27 gold records, recorded something that didn’t satisfy Roselle, the pressing stopped. “They over-mix so much now-a-days,” explained Roselle. “It just wasn’t him.” The album was remixed. When Roselle was satisfied the pressing continued.
”She’s my anchor,” Perry said of Roselle. “ I wasn’t always a success. In the early years there were some rough times when I thought I’d quit the business. Roselle always stood by me, never pressuring me either way."
”People ask me how I could be married so long to the same woman,” Perry continued.” You have to work at understanding each other. I don’t think there is a man alive who has had fewer arguments then my wife and I.”
Probably the biggest fight Perry and Roselle ever had was triggered by my big mouth.
Perry was performing in Las Vegas at the International ( now Hilton ) Hotel. Across the street was the Landmark Hotel where Patti Page was starring. Frankie Laine also appeared at the Landmark. He needed to discuss his contract. I was going to pick him up at airport and take him to the Landmark. When we got to the hotel the person Frankie needed to see was delayed. So, we ordered dinner. While waiting for the food to arrive Frankie put some nickels into a slot machine and hit a small jackpot.
Frankie inquired about Perry. He felt bad that he wasn’t in town long enough to see his old friend. Then he told me that it was Perry Como who had made it possible for him to succeed. When he was getting started in the business, the struggling Laine earned money as a marathon dancer. Informed that he had a singing gig, Laine had no funds to get there. Hearing about the problem, Como came to the rescue and “loaned” Laine train fare. Frankie confessed that he never paid back the $27.
Seated at a dinner table, Frankie looked over his contract, while I counted nickels in the plastic bucket. Suddenly, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. There was enough money in the plastic casino bucket to repay Como.
Laine, who is noted for being frugal, just looked at me.
I persisted. Instead of eating dinner, I suggested we race over to the Hilton. Perry’s first show was about to end. Frankie could surprise him and repay the loan with the bucket full of nickels, which he’d won at the hotel where he was about to star. This was a win-win publicity shot.
Hotels always have photographers roaming about. We could get a publicity shot of Frankie giving Perry the money. He’d still make his flight. Laine thought it would be a kick.
Because Perry always took a nap between shows they needed to know we were coming over. I just wouldn’t tell them why.
I paged Perry’s manager Mickey Glass. Then I paged him again, and again and again. No answer.
It was too late. I had to get Laine back to the airport. He flew off with both his contract and the nickels.
Then I headed to the hotel and waited for Perry to finish his second show. Barging into his dressing room I said, “Doesn’t anybody in here ever answer the phone? You guys really blew it. It took a lot of effort to get Frankie Laine to agree to pay back the loan, but I convinced him he should and we were coming over here with a bucket full of nickels.”
Roselle Como said, “What loan?”
I proceeded to give a blow by blow account of how her wonderful husband had loaned Frankie Laine money. Others in the dressing room began fidgeting and making all kinds of gestures - which I should have realized meant I needed to shut up. Instead, I chortled away.
Roselle Como’s eyes got bigger and bigger.
It seems when the “loan” took place Como wasn’t doing as well financially as some people might have thought. It was winter. Roselle and Perry even had to stay with her folks and her parents were footing the bills. They had needed money. Roselle wasn’t finding Perry’s generosity amusing.
By the time I realized I had let the cat out of the bag, it was too late.
”You did what!” Roselle said to Perry, as her voice took on a certain edge. Everyone in the dressing room decided it was time to leave. As the door closed we could hear Roselle’s stern voice say - “Perry...”
The marriage survived.
One time a married entertainer and his girlfriend visited Perry in his dressing room after a performance. After the couple left the conversation turned to infidelity.
”I’ve had a lot of opportunities to have affairs,” Perry told me. “I never took advantage of the position I’m in where a lot of women throw themselves at you. Not because I’m a saint, because I’m not. It was because I always knew what I had with Roselle was special. She’s special. Nobody could match the importance of what I felt for her."
”There was another reason why I never had affairs,” Perry added. “I would never have risked doing anything that might hurt Roselle. I would sooner have died. She is a wonderful woman. Her children and her husband come first. I never want for anything at home. She’s my “girl.” She’s my best friend.”
She will be missed