Friday, January 09, 2015

BATTISTA LOCATELLI - TWILIGHT ZONE TO GROUCHO TO VEGAS

He stepped out of obscurity and...into "The Twilight Zone."

Meet one "Battista Locatelli," a cheerful, hardworking man from Italy. He toils at many jobs with little success. He dreams of a career in opera, and hopes to get a scholarship to study fine music. In a world where people are more concerned with stuffing their mouths rather than hearing him sing, he finds work as a waiter. His disposition: cheerful. His chance of an opera career: nil.

Witness the arrival of a brooding, chain-smoking writer. This is Rod Serling, a man hot-wired into observing every nuance and irony among what are called "human beings." As Battista Locatelli serves the food, singing gently to himself, Serling takes note. More than that, he takes it into his mind that he can magically change this waiter's life.

He sees Battista Locatelli in another dimension, and with Locatelli's sound in his mind, Serling does the most logical thing he can do. No, it isn't to star him in some episode of "The Twilight Zone," but rather, to bring him along for a guest spot on Groucho Marx's new TV series, "Tell It To Groucho." And so it is, that he tells Groucho about his discovery.

With many a wisecrack, Groucho listens to Battista's story. Groucho almost mocks the young vocalist by showing off his own vocal skills (Groucho did, after all, star in a TV production of "The Mikado). But finally, Groucho allows the young man to perform. Without a chance to rehearse (he's a contestant on a quiz show, after all), and with time at a premium, Battista is only allowed to sing a fragment from "Pagliacci." Following this, he and Serling team up to win $1500 in the quiz portion of the show.

Yes, Battista Locatelli found himself in "The Twilight Zone," and had a chance to sing for the great Groucho Marx. And the rest...is not history. Not what Serling or Locatelli expected. Despite the Marx show, and another similar variety appearance courtesy of Serling's influence, Battista Locatelli does not become an opera star.

In a plot twist that might've made for a middling episode of Serling's show, Battista Locatelli DOES release one record album. It's for a hole in the wall called..."Battista's Hole in the Wall." Mr. Locatelli, at least defying the odds that most waiters have, emerges to own his own restaurant in Las Vegas. He sings there, although an accordion player remains the main attraction. His lone album is a souvenir that patrons can buy.

For some thirty years, Battista enjoys his success in the restaurant business, and has a song in his heart. Unfortunately for him, he has something else in his heart. It's a problem that requires quadruple bypass surgery in 2002.

Did I say "unfortunately?" In another twist of fate, this near brush with death only makes Locatelli determined to live life to the fullest, and change the lifestyle that led to his condition. This is a stark contrast to the fate of Rod Serling, who died during heart surgery at the age of 51. Battista becomes an advocate of the Pritikin diet system. He starts a habit of walking six miles a day. At 71, he comes to New York for the November marathon race, and finishes in just five hours, less than a fourth of the time of the annual "Twilight Zone Marathon" that runs on TV stations over the Thanksgiving holiday. He also takes up mountain climbing.

The world of show biz has many hills and valleys, and most know when to live the dream and when to face reality. Battista Locatelli: a lucky man who rose from unemployed waiter to owner of a restaurant that still, though he retired from it in 2005, remains a tourist mecca. Perhaps he didn't become the opera star he thought he'd be, but his music has pleased thousands and thousands via his restaurant singing and souvenir. Into his 70's he changed his lifestyle so he could enjoy his 80's. The signpost up ahead: your download of Locatelli's moment of song on Groucho's show, preserved here, in the Ill Folks Zone.

Battista Locatelli Aria from PAGLIACCI

3 comments:

Timmy said...

Now THIS is how to tell a story.
I thank thee.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, I had a lot of fun channeling the great style of Mr. Serling.

D. Carter said...

My friend and I met Battista several years ago hiking to Angels Landing in Zion National Park. At the time he was close to his goal of hiking to the top 50 times(!). What a character. He told us some great stories, gave us a CD ("Battista Sings")and even serenaded us at the summit. It was great experience that I'll always remember.