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Vic Damone

Remembering 9 Italian Individuals Who Passed and Made a Legacy

Vic Damone, the postwar crooner whose intimate, rhapsodic voice captivated bobby soxers, middle-aged dreamers and silver-haired romantics in a five-decade medley of America’s love songs and popular standards, died on February 11th in Miami Beach, Florida. He was 89. The velvet baritone of Vic Damone was an unforgettable groove in a soundtrack that also included Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Tony Bennett, singers who arose in the Big Band Era and reached peaks of popularity in the 1950s. Many critics and colleagues alike said he had the best natural gifts in the business; a voice and style that made emotional connections with an audience, especially in nightclubs, with sensitive renditions of songs like “In the Still of the Night,” “You’d Be So Easy to Love,” “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

Bruno Sammartino fled to the mountains of Italy with his family during World War II and came to the U.S. at the age of 14, weighing just 80 pounds. Within ten years, he built himself into a 275-pound mound of muscle, with remarkable strength and a relentless style that made him one of the most popular professional wrestlers of the 1960s and 1970s. He began his career when wrestling was still a quasi-legitimate sport and held the championship belt for a longer than any other wrestler – a total of 12 years. Bruno, once among the highest-paid athletes in the country, died April 18 at a hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 82.

Joseph Campanella, was a versatile actor whose television career began in the 1950s and continued for decades on shows like “Mannix,” “The Bold Ones” and “One Day at a Time.” Tall and lean, with wavy hair, he played doctors, lawyers, criminals, cops and judges, including one named Judge Joseph Camp on the TV show “The Practice” from 1998 to 2001, ultimately appearing in more than 200 television and film roles. He was born in Manhattan in 1924 to Sicilian immigrant parents. He graduated from Manhattan College in the Bronx and studied drama at Columbia University and served in the Philippines as second in command of a Landing Craft Infantry ship. He died at his home in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles on May 16th. He was 93.

Gerald Marenghi. His name might not be familiar, but you watched him give a lollipop to Judy Garland in a classic 1939 movie. Using the stage name Jerry Maren, he was the last surviving Munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. Mr. Marenghi played one of the members of The Lollipop Guild. Marenghi had the most prolific post-Wizard of Oz career of any munchkin. He died on May 24th of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 98.

Dominic Joseph (D.J.) Fontana was born in 1931 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He began playing drums as a teen in his high school marching band. He was the original drummer backing Elvis Presley during his string of hits in the 1950s and worked with him until 1968. Influenced by such big-band drummers as Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer was admired by later drummers for his power, speed and steadiness and helped to pioneer the backbeat swing of rock. Fontana, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, was the last surviving member of Elvis’ original core of musicians. He died on June 13th at the age of 87 in Nashville.

Carlo Benetton, July 10th and Gilberto Benetton, October 22nd. The two brothers, alongside siblings Luciano and Giuliana, founded their clothing brand in Ponzano Veneto, near their hometown in 1965. The colorful woolen sweaters quickly became popular among local customers and the siblings soon branched out internationally. Best known for its fashion brands, United Colors of Benetton and Sisley, the Benetton Group became one of the biggest retail giants in the world. It was Gilberto Benetton who masterminded the family empire’s diversification into construction, transport and catering. Carlo, a father of four, was the youngest of the four. He died in his home in Treviso at the age of 74. Gilberto Benetton, also passed away in Treviso, a mere three months after his younger brother. He left behind a wife and two daughters. He was 77.

Nancy Sinatra Sr., the first of Frank Sinatra’s four wives and the mother of the legendary singer’s three children, died on July 13th. She was 101. Nancy Sinatra Sr. was a 17-year-old Nancy Rose Barbato, the dark-haired daughter of a Jersey City plastering contractor, when she met the 18-year-old fledgling singer from Hoboken in the summer of 1934, while they were both vacationing at the Jersey shore. Frank and Nancy were married February 4, 1939, in Jersey City. Nancy was working as a $25-a-week secretary and Frank as a $25-a-week singing waiter and master of ceremonies at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs. Nancy gave birth to their children, Nancy in 1940, Frank Jr. in 1944 and Christina in 1948. The Sinatras were divorced in 1951. Their son, Frank Sinatra Jr., died in 2016. Nancy Sinatra Sr. is survived by her sister, her daughters and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Dominick “Randy” Safuto, original lead singer of Randy & the Rainbows, who had a smash hit with “Denise” in 1963. Dominick had been performing with his brother Frank, also an original member of the group, until late spring of this year, when he suffered a heart attack. He passed away on October 18th at the age of 71. The group was from Maspeth, New York and he was still living nearby in Queens at the time of his passing.

Actress and director Penny Marshall died on December 17th at the age of 75. Carole Penny Marscharelli was born in the Bronx on October 15, 1943. She got her first taste of show business at 14 as a member of her mother’s tap-dancing troupe. She attended the University of New Mexico in the early 1960s and married Michael Henry. She had a daughter before the couple divorced in 1967. Besides, daughter Tracy Reiner, survivors include a sister and three grandchildren. Her brother, Garry Marshall died in 2016.

During a career spanning four decades, Ms. Marshall rose up the ranks with featured parts in her brother’s sitcoms, including “Happy Days,” in which Ms. Marshall’s deadpan comic style and nasally Bronx accent made her an instantly recognizable television performer. Her recurring role on “Happy Days” as Laverne DeFazio led to the spinoff, “Laverne & Shirley,” which aired from 1976 to 1983 and was one of the most popular shows of the era. Even with her later success as a director, she had been much happier as a television actress, saying “No matter how many movies I direct, I’ll always be Laverne.”