Perry Como is a man of great faith who once told an audience, "I have the things money can buy now, but the things money can't buy I've always had."
Relaxing more yesterday in a straight back chair than anyone could, he wore a plain yellow shirt with the cuffs turned up, open at the neck showing a gold medalion haging from a chin, beige shorts, sweat socks and untied sneakers. His appearance matched his attitude toward life.
At 65 he looks a very handsome 40 and was planning to jog five or six miles in the afternoon. His weight is 160 pounds and his health is perfect. "I started jogging about 10 years ago, just to get the heart started. Some days I go up to 7 or 8 miles. It all depends how I feel."
He thought about the question, "How long have you been in show business?" He closed his eyes as a lot of people do to think, and said, "I married Roselle, let's see, we celebrated out 44th anniversary in July, so it's 44 years because I started singing the same year."
Roselle Belline was a childhood sweetheart Como met when he was an apprentice barber in Steve Fragapane's shop in Cannonsburg, Penn.
He was the seventh child in a family of 13 born to Pietro and Lucia Como, who came to the U.S. from Abruzzi, Italy, and the first of their children to be born in America.
Roselle and Perry have three children and nine grandchildren and he is amused when he says, "I think the kids are going the way of my parents."
His first singing job was in 1933 when he made $28 a week with Freddie Carlone's band.
In 1936 he went with Ted Weems for $50 a week and was unhappy with the lifestyle.
"After years of one-night stands and the disruption of family life I quit, went back home and tried to find a good location for a barber shop."
In 1942 the demand for him to return to show business was heavy, so he signed with CBS to do his own radio show.
"I know the direction I wanted to go then. The big bands were in, Sinatra had the kids screaming in the aisles. Helen O'Connell, Bob Eberly were all starting up."
Como had some screamers and it embarrassed him, so he told his audience, "Scream if you want, but there is really nothing to scream about." Then I sold them on the idea that screaming was disrespectful."
Along with his nightclub and theater success, Como's recordings started to hit the market. In 1945 he set a record by selling over a million copies of "Till the End of Time." In one week in 1946, 4 million Como recordings were turned out.
He had long planned to cut down his weekly schedule, and after 20 years of TV and radio made good his "threat" of wanting to spend more time with his family. "After all," Perry said, "things don't go on forever. They've got to come to a halt sometime."
That is exactly how he felt sitting out at Shady Gove, where he is appearing for three nights. He tours infrequently now.
"It's tough to do shows. You have to get guests and they are hard to come by, and then you have to reciprocate and go on their shows.
"I could have Bob Hope, but he might call me and say, 'We're going to Tanganyika Tuesday and I want you along.'"
The pace he has set is just right for Como now.
Florida in the winter and Long Island in the summer. Some time with the grandchildren, a little golf, fishing now and then.
About his sons he said, "One is a stock broker who hasn't made a dime for me. They work hard, I send them golf clubs and they send them back."
He still likes to get up once in awhile and sing before an audience and remembered a night at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey.
"It's beautiful out there and the people sit on the grass. I had an opening throwaway line. I was going to come out to this nice middle-aged audience and say, 'I see you're all on grass.'
"I was sitting in my dressing room and the young warmup comedian is on stage throwing out the same line."
Like a lot of Italians, Perry likes a plate of spaghetti and bragged about his wife's excellent cooking.
"She can make any dish there is. Once in awhile we have spaghetti, we call it 'a spaghetti fix'. I eat a huge bowl and have to stay away from it for a couple of weeks."
He talked about his songs and said he sees a good many younger people in his audiences so he sings a few contemporary songs along with the oldies.
"How could I leave out 'Prisoner of Love'? Can Helen O'Connell leave out 'Green Eyes'?".