The Times We Lived In: an offer you couldn’t refuse at the Theatre Royal

Published: November 27th, 1954

Remember that scene in The Godfather where the horse's head is put in the bed of a film producer who won't hire the famous crooner and one-time movie star Johnny Fontane? Well, this is the real-life Johnny Fontane.

Actually, real life nothing: this entire story could easily come from the pages of a Mario Puzo novel. So let’s begin at the beginning.

Our photo of the singer Al Martino was taken in November 1954, when he was the most recent big thing in the crooning business. Two years earlier, his song Here In My Heart hit the first ever number one spot in the newly- launched UK singles chart. (His greatest hit, in 1966, would be Spanish Eyes, later recorded by everybody from Elvis to Homer Simpson).

We don’t know where this photo was taken, or by whom. But a little detective work has turned up an advertisement in this newspaper for Dublin’s Theatre Royal, which declares the arrival to the venue of “America’s Most Exciting Voice” (At Popular Prices), for the week of November 14th-21st that year.


It’s likely, then, that the photograph was taken somewhere backstage. It wasn’t published. Despite Martino’s high-welly poperatic delivery, developed on the advice of a family friend back in his native Philadelphia – one Mario Lanza – our entertainment pages didn’t entirely approve of what they sniffily referred to as the Theatre Royal’s “vaudeville bill”.

Luckily the print survived, and documents an intriguing period in Martino’s career. America’s most exciting voice had come to Dublin, not from the US but from the UK – where the singer had fled in 1953 after a huge kerfuffle Stateside when the Mafia, ahem, “bought out” his recording contract.

What, exactly, was involved remains suitably mysterious. However, the amiable Martino tirelessly worked the performance circuit on this side of the Atlantic, endearing himself to fans – including these two Irish admirers, who are clearly chuffed about whatever he’s putting on their page. And look at those eyelashes! Spanish eyes, how are you.