Julius La Rosa (born January 2, 1930) is an American traditional popular music singer who has worked in both radio and television since the nineteen fifties.
Early years and big break
La Rosa was born in Brooklyn, New York. He joined the United States Navy in 1947 after finishing high school becoming a radioman who sang informally. The young sailor's Navy buddies managed to promote him to 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. Arthur Godfrey, a personality in the early years of network television, heard LaRosa in Pensacola, Florida, where LaRosa was stationed, and offered him a job. Godfrey, for his part, was impressed by La Rosa's singing and had him 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."
Arthur Godfrey and Controversy
Discharged from the Navy on a Friday, La Rosa went to Godfrey on the following Monday, and a week later he appeared on Godfrey's variety show. He was a regular on both the morning Arthur Godfrey Time 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. But Arthur Godfrey was caught between the enmity of CBS owner Bill Paley and the admiration of CBS management for running a successful show. Godfrey was subject to aesthetic criticism by Paley, as noted by Time magazine in 1950. "earing that William Paley thought the Godfrey TV show 'lacked movement,' Arthur brought on a line of hula dancers and leered into the TV camera: 'Is that enough movement for you, Bill?'" Time magazine from the same article also found Godfrey to be vulgar and "scatological". However CBS management realized the show was extremely successful and cost little to produce, in turn earning their admiration.
Julius La Rosa's tenure on Godfrey's shows lasted from , 1951 to , 1953. When Archie Bleyer, Arthur 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, but La Rosa would hit gold with his third recording, "Eh, Cumpari" in 1953. It 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. Like the other "Little Godfreys," as the cast members were known, Godfrey discouraged La Rosa from hiring a manager or booking agent, preferring to have his staff coordinate and negotiate on La Rosa's behalf. He then hired his own agent and manager: Tommy Rockwell.
With hit recordings and his appearances on Arthur 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 after La Rosa had finished singing "Manhattan" on Arthur Godfrey Time, Godfrey actually fired him 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, whom Godfrey considered a competitor despite McNeill's limited appeal.
The firing did not hurt La Rosa's career in the short run. Immediately afterwards, "Eh, Cumpari" became a major hit, followed by "Domani." 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.
La Rosa had a three times a week television series, The Julius La Rosa Show, during the summer of 1955, featuring Russ Case and his Orchestra. The short-lived series lasted only 13 weeks. La Rosa has tired of revisiting the Godfrey affair, in part because it's been rehashed so many times, but he's been 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 has appeared on television shows ranging from The Honeymooners in 1953 to What's My Line? to The Merv Griffin Show to Laverne and Shirley in 1980. In the 1980s, Julius La Rosa received a non-contract, recurring role in the NBC soap opera Another World. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Daytime Emmy award for this role. 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. 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, Julius LaRosa was a disc jockey on WNJR hosting "Make Believe Ballroom Time". La Rosa, profiled by jazz critic and composer Gene Lees some years ago, has continued to work clubs and release records and compact discs. New York Times music 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."
Julius LaRosa said in 2008, "Music is 'a very egotistical thing.''It makes me feel good 'and fortunately, I have the capacity to make people feel good who hear me feeling good.'" La Rosa was inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2008. Julius LaRosa currently lives in Westchester County, New York.