As a palate-cleanser during these hard times, let's talk about Victor Mature
I recently mentioned to a colleague that one of my favorite things to do was curl up with a Victor Mature movie. I was surprised and delighted to learn that my colleague was friends with Victor's daughter, Victoria. He in turn was so pleased with how much I admired Victor Mature that he pulled out his phone and recorded a video message from me. He sent it to Victoria, and she responded with a kind message of thanks, along with a link to a cabaret show she was putting on in honor of her famous father.
Victor Mature was the original Hollywood hunk. After his first role, a short bit part in The Housekeeper's Daughter, more than 20,000 letters came to the studio pleading for more of him. He made more than 60 movies, ranging from musical comedies to sword-and-sandal epics to film noir. Composer William Alwyn likes to screen a clip from a western in which Victor Mature finds his family massacred by Indians. Nobody working on the movie liked his acting in that scene, but when audiences saw it, they broke down in tears.
At age 46, Mature retired to Rancho Santa Fe; married Loretta G. Sebena, an opera singer; and, with her, had his only child, Victoria. A beautiful girl with an incredible voice, Victoria put together a touching and creative show.
I sat right in the front row, enthralled, as Victoria presented songs from her father's movies. She also shared anecdotes. When Victor Mature was denied membership in a golf club because they didn't admit actors, his response was that he wasn't an actor, and he had the movies to prove it.
Victoria seems to have inherited her father's sense of humor. Her eyes sparkled as she told of the last time he saw her perform live. She spoke of preparing to sing, with the accompanist playing suitably dramatic music, then everything stopped and she almost giggled as she remembered her father sitting in the back, crying and blowing his nose. The audience was in stitches as Victoria explained that Mature, the original Hollywood hunk, was a big softy who cried at everything.
Image: Victor Mature and his dog (c. 1955). Public domain.
The mood changed as Victoria went on to say that her performance was so good that she finally felt she had done something truly great, something that made her a real professional who was now a colleague to her father. Somberly, she recalled that he was sick at that performance because the leukemia that claimed his life was taking hold, so she never got the chance to relate to him as one performer to another.
After composing herself, Victoria played a clip from one of her father's movies. In a captivating scene, Victoria "entered" in place of the actress playing opposite her father:
Victoria bears a genuinely startling resemblance to Mature. Seeing Victor Mature, in his prime, with his grown daughter, is like seeing a pair of fraternal twins. Even the facial expressions and mannerisms are similar.
Victoria is every bit as versatile as her father. She sang in English, French, Italian, and Czech.
Mature was a first-generation immigrant from the Italian Alps, and she spoke about visiting her grandfather's hometown, where he had worked as a knife-grinder. Victoria learned a traditional knife-grinder's song while in Italy and taught the audience the zinging sound the knife makes in the song, so we could zing along with her.
In addition, in her lovely voice, she sang "Addio Del Passato" from La Traviata, "The Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark, and "The Song of Delilah" from Samson and Delilah. She loves a good singalong, so she divided the audience for "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," smiling brighter and brighter as we went back and forth with "No, you can't!" and "Yes, I can!" We all sang along with Victoria when she sang "Somewhere over the Rainbow," and we were all profoundly silent when she sang the last song of the evening. It was "My Old Kentucky Home," which she had sung at her father's funeral.
It was truly an evening of great entertainment. What I will cherish the most isn't the anecdotes Victoria told or her amazingly beautiful singing, but simply the look on her face as she remembered her father, Victor Mature. He was a man who inspired so much love in his daughter that she has dedicated herself to keeping his memory alive. Victoria was a lucky girl, not because her father was a famous movie star and she got to rub elbows with other stars. Victoria was lucky because she had a dad who loved her very much and was very proud of her. Every girl should have a dad like Victor Mature.
Pandra Selivanov is the author of The Pardon, a story of forgiveness based on the thief on the cross in the Bible.