JULIUS LA ROSA
Julius La Rosa (born January 2, 1930) is an American traditional popular music singer who worked in both radio and television beginning in the 1950s.
Julius La Rosa was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1947, at age 17, he joined the United States Navy after finishing high school, becoming a radioman. He sang in a Navy choir, at the officers club, and at bars to pay for his drinks.
The young sailor’s Navy buddies managed to promote him to Arthur Godfrey – at the time one of America’s leading radio and television personalities, and himself a Naval Reserve officer, whom the Navy often accommodated as a nod to the good publicity he gave the service. The Navy buddy most instrumental in this was George “Bud” Andrews, from Omaha, Nebraska, the seaman mechanic on Godfrey’s airplane. While working on Godfrey’s plane, Andrews stuck up a conversation with Godfrey and told him that he really should hear his buddy sing. They arranged a time for LaRosa to audition in Pensacola, Florida, where LaRosa was stationed. Godfrey was impressed, offering La Rosa a job. Godfrey had LaRosa flown to New York to appear on his television show, with Godfrey ending the spot by saying, “When Julie gets out of the Navy he’ll come back to see us.”
Discharged from the Navy on a Friday, La Rosa went to Godfrey on the following Monday, and a week later, in November 1951, he appeared on Godfrey’s variety show. He was a regular on both the morning Arthur Godfrey Time (broadcast on both the CBS radio and television networks) and the Wednesday night variety show Arthur Godfrey and His Friends.
LaRosa was joining a show that was extremely profitable for the new CBS television network. CBS owner William S. Paley disliked much of the show, in which Time magazine article found Godfrey to be vulgar and “scatological”. Hearing that William Paley thought the Godfrey TV show ‘lacked movement,’ Godfrey brought on a line of hula dancers and leered into the TV camera: ‘Is that enough movement for you, Bill?'” But CBS management supported the show, which was extremely successful and inexpensive to produce.
Julius La Rosa was on Godfrey’s shows from November 19, 1951 to October 19, 1953. When Archie Bleyer, Godfrey’s bandleader, formed Cadence Records in 1952, the first performer signed was La Rosa. Cadence’s first single, which was also La Rosa’s first recording, was “Anywhere I Wander.” It reached the top 30 on the charts, and his next recording, “My Lady Loves To Dance”, was a moderate success. As with the other “Little Godfreys”, as the cast members were known, Godfrey had discouraged La Rosa from hiring a manager or booking agent, preferring to have his staff coordinate and negotiate on La Rosa’s behalf. After La Rosa’s third recording, La Rosa hired his own agent and manager: Tommy Rockwell.
With hit recordings and his appearances on Godfrey’s shows, La Rosa’s popularity grew exponentially. At one point, La Rosa’s fan mail eclipsed Godfrey’s. A year after La Rosa was hired, he was receiving 7,000 fan letters a week. On the morning of October 19, 1953 (in a segment of the show broadcast on radio only), after La Rosa had finished singing “Manhattan” on Arthur Godfrey Time, Godfrey fired La Rosa on the air, announcing, “that was Julie’s swan song with us.” La Rosa tearfully met with Godfrey after the broadcast and thanked him for giving him his “break”. La Rosa was then met at Godfrey’s offices by his lawyer, manager and some reporters. Tommy Rockwell was highly critical of Godfrey’s behavior, angrily citing La Rosa’s public humiliation.
Comedians began working the phrase “no humility” into their routines. Singer Ruth Wallis, known for her raunchy double entendre novelties, recorded “Dear Mr. Godfrey,” a biting satire on the matter, which made it to #25 on the Billboard charts in November 1953. Days after firing La Rosa, Godfrey also fired bandleader Archie Bleyer, owner of La Rosa’s label Cadence Records, for producing spoken word records for Cadence featuring Chicago-based talk host Don McNeill, whose Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club on ABC Radio opposite Godfrey’s morning show was considered a direct competitor.
The firing did not hurt La Rosa’s career in the short run. Ed Sullivan immediately signed La Rosa for appearances on his CBS Toast of the Town TV variety show, which sparked a feud between him and Godfrey. La Rosa’s first appearance on Toast of the Town following the firing got a 47.9 Trendex rating, and La Rosa would appear 12 more times on Sullivan’s show that year.
Shortly after he left Godfrey, La Rosa’s third recording, “Eh, Cumpari”, hit #1 on the Cash Box chart and #2 on the Billboard chart, and La Rosa got an award as the best new male vocalist of 1953. “Eh, Cumpari” was followed by another major hit, “Domani.” During the summer of 1955, La Rosa had a three-times-a-week television series, The Julius La Rosa Show, featuring Russ Case and his Orchestra. The series lasted only 13 weeks.
Julius La Rosa tired of revisiting the Godfrey affair, in part because it had been rehashed so many times, but he was also known to declare publicly that Godfrey was, indeed, the individual who made his career, but always adding, “He wasn’t a very nice man.”
Julius La Rosa appeared on a range of television shows including The Honeymooners in 1953, What’s My Line?, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, The Polly Bergen Show (two episodes, including the 1957 premiere), The Merv Griffin Show and Laverne and Shirley in 1980. He starred in the 1958 film Let’s Rock. In 1977 he hosted an unsold game show pilot for NBC called “Noot’s Game”.
In the 1980s, La Rosa received a non-contract, recurring role in the NBC soap opera Another World, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Daytime Emmy award.
Julius La Rosa eventually moved on to a long-time disk jockey position at New York’s WNEW and continued to sing and occasionally record. As late as 1999, LaRosa was a disc jockey on WNSW hosting “Make Believe Ballroom Time”. La Rosa, profiled by jazz critic and composer Gene Lees, has continued to work clubs and release records and compact discs. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden says: “His singing is very direct and unpretentious — he can wrap his voice tenaciously around a melody line and bring out the best in it.” He has also been a frequent contributor to comedian Jerry Lewis’s marathon annual Labor Day telethon programs for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, often hosting the New York outpost of the shows.
LaRosa currently lives in Westchester County, New York.