- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

Marguerite Bonnett remembers Mama and how, as she reports her mother’s version of more than half a century as a celebrity. The lifespan of singer Marguerite Piazza included four husbands, six children and a bout with cancer as she climbed the ladder of operatic and television entertainment.

“Pagliacci has Nothing on Me!” leaves out no details of what she sang, when she sang it and whom she met, alternating glamorous press shots of Ms. Piazza in costume with her meetings with celebrities ranging from Richard Nixon to Bob Hope. It chronicles a career that began, at the age of two years and four months, in a New Orleans dancing school revue.

The infant Piazza, as she told her daughter, wore a peach-colored satin costume as she sang “We Are All Little Peaches in a Row.” She also recalled wearing a pair of “one shouldered silk rompers” and a wreath of silk flowers on her head when she did a number as Cupid.

Ms. Piazza viewed her contribution to music as “taking a work of art from the written page and bringing it to life.” That is portrayed as the Piazza philosophy, which took her from religious singing to operatic arias, including appearances with Sigmund Romberg and the NBC orchestra and a career in early television.

It also led to an assortment of marriages, beginning with Karl Kritz, described as “short, stocky and with no earthly goods to speak of” but who gave her enough musical knowledge to assuage “all the suffering he would cause me later.” Ms. Piazza’s mother, according to the author, minced no words about the marriage, describing it as “pinning an orchid on a pig.”

Ms. Piazza had her first child before she divorced Kritz and married her second husband Graves McDonald who not only “could not stand the thought of responsibility” but was an alcoholic who disappeared when he discovered his new wife was pregnant. Within two years he was dead, and Ms. Piazza again interrupted her singing career, this time to marry her third husband and have her third child.

While “playing the Plaza” in the Fifties, Ms. Piazza listed encounters with stars like Judy Garland, with whom she spent an afternoon discussing their children “like two matrons together.”

It was about that time that Ms. Piazza became blond. She still complains that her hair had to be “bleached every five days” to prevent a black halo appearing around her head. After an appearance at a benefit ball to launch Jean Kennedy Smith into society, Ms. Piazza recalled how John and Jacqueline Kennedy “walked all the way across the room” to meet the singer, who was wearing a black lace leotard and a feather muff. “I was also two months pregnant but it didn’t show,” she noted.

Explaining the title of the biography, Ms. Piazza relates in painstaking detail the “Pagliacci routine” she created in 1959. She turned herself into a clown in the course of an act that included playing “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” with a bass drum and a toy trumpet.

“This program just about caused a riot” according to Ms. Piazza, and it required “split second timing for it to work,” which necessitated assistance from her devoted Aunt Ann.

On the occasion it didn’t work and Ms. Piazza found herself bleeding from her nose, she declared, “With my automatic and ingrained ‘the show must go on’ mentality, I went to the mike to continue the aria.” However, the audience went on laughing because they thought it was part of the show.

Winding up more than 200 pages of her life and times in entertainment, Ms. Piazza acknowledges that experiencing cancer, divorce and the deaths of three husbands, her mother, her father and her son had been “more difficult than I could have imagined.” Yet she remains undiscouraged. As she puts it, like the clown Pagliacci, wearing a smile although his heart is breaking — “I have also taken solace on the stage.”

Muriel Dobbin a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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