(left to right) Tony Mammarella and Dick Clark
46th and Market Streets, Philadelphia
Tony Mammarella was born on September 2, 1924, delivered by his own father in the family’s house in Atlantic City, New Jersey where they had gone for the Labor Day weekend.
He grew up with his parents, Settembre Francesco Mammarella, M.D. and Kathryn (nee di Palma changed to Palmer) Mammarella in a three-story house at 812 South 9th Street, across the street from Palumbo’s and the CR Club, in the heart of Philadelphia’s 9th Street Market, also known as the Italian Market.
Tony’s father, Settembre Francesco, was a first generation American and the only surviving child of Antonio and Palmina Mammarella who emigrated from Casoli, Italy in 1888 and 1892 respectively. After their deaths in 1921, Settembre, by then a physician fresh from his internship in Pottstown, Pennsylvnia, turned their first floor grocery store into waiting and consulting rooms. He began a practice in family medicine, which continued until a few days before his death in 1952.
He loved music and had a large collection of 78’s and sheet music of the popular music of the time. His wife, Kathryn, often worked as his nurse in addition to her child raising and housekeeping responsibilities. “Doc Mammy” as he was called, was a beloved figure in the community who often treated his patients in their own homes: he delivered their children and treated their illnesses and injuries, spoke in Italian to those who had not mastered English.
He kept their secrets to himself and never turned anyone away. His standard fee during the Great Depression was 25 cents. At his wake, attended by over 4,000 people, mourners filled his casket with quarters.
Tony’s mother’s family prospered in the candy business. His grandfather Carmine, called Thomas, started selling candy from a pushcart in Willow Grove Park and eventually opened five Palmer’s Candy Stores in Philadelphia. Tony had eight aunts and uncles on his mother’s side that lived nearby on Clymer Street. His charismatic grandmother, Maddalena, was famous for her sharp wit, a strong will, and her formidable bargaining skills in the nearby markets (she learned enough Yiddish to negotiate with the merchants on 4th Street).
Tony’s Uncle John Palmer and his Aunt Lucy Micari were both singers and opera lovers, and his Uncle John maintained a part time career as a voice teacher in his center city studio until his death in 1994. Until he married in 1955, Tony lived among this large extended family in a dynamic neighborhood where pride of place and loyalty to family, friends and neighbors were bedrock values.
Tony and his older brother Thomas, and their older sister Palmina attended St. Paul’s Church, Stevens Elementary School and Bartlett Jr. High School. At South Philadelphia High School, Tony was a student government Senator, worked on the school newspaper, and belonged to the Drama Club. During High School, Tony got a job as an Usher at the Erle Theater on Market Street where he watched back stage as the Three Stooges tried to overcome their stage fright, or delivered mail to the awesome Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1942, Tony entered St. Joseph’s College as a pre-med student. In 1944 he volunteered in the Navy and attended Officer’s Training School at Villanova College. He was commissioned an Ensign and served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Antietem as Gunnery and Medical Officer in the China/Burma/India Theater of War.
In 1946 he spent four months in Shanghai and Hong Kong before returning to the United States. He spoke rarely of his military experience but had a recurring nightmare in which he counted planes returning to the aircraft carrier—sometimes fewer returned than had ventured out. While in the Navy he got drunk for the first time in his life and did not enjoy the experience.
He recalled the ship being followed for several days by a great white shark; and he gave away all the money he had on his first day in Shanghai because he was so shocked by the poverty and misery of the people he met.
Upon Ensign Mammarella’s return to civilian life in 1946, he returned to St. Joseph’s College, intending to finish his studies there and then go on to medical school, as his parents had hoped and planned (their older son, Thomas, had been intended for medicine as well but died of leukemia in 1940.) But Tony’s heart was not in medicine.
He changed his major to sociology but set his sights on becoming an actor. He was a member of the Cap and Bells Club at St. Joseph’s and while an undergraduate gave a memorable performance as Othello and won the Best Actor Award in the Jesuit One Act Play Festival in 1948. Tony graduated from St. Joseph’s in June, 1950 and spent that summer performing with Pernell Roberts and others at the Summer Theater Program at Bryn Mawr College where the ensemble performed “Summer and Smoke,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Our Town” and “Night Must Fall.”
By the end of that summer he did not know what he wanted to do except to somehow stay in show business. With the help of a family friend and neighbor, Frank Palumbo, Tony got interviews at WFIL with Roger Clipp, Jack Steck and Don Kellitt. He began his days as a “Pioneer Broadcaster” as a weekend telephone operator at the station working 8 am to 8 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Eventually his position at the station included film editor, stage manager, cameraman, staff writer, and program coordinator. Beginning in 1952 he became a producer, commercial writer and TV host and produced over thirty hours of live TV programs per week including Bob Horn’s Bandstand.
By 1958, he was producer of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, of the Dick Clark Saturday Night Show, and advisor to the Dick Clark Talent Scout Show Sunday Night, all for ABC TV Network. During this time he was also script consultant for Columbia Pictures “Because They’re Young” starring Dick Clark. While Tony was producer of American Bandstand, it was the number one daytime TV show in the nation.
In December 1959, the management of the station, (reacting to pressure from the US Senate’s investigation into “payola” in the music and television industries) asked Tony to give an on-the-air apology for having accepted consulting fees from record companies. Tony regarded his work as legitimate, denied any wrongdoing, and thought that he was being made a scapegoat. He refused to give the on air apology, or any apology at all, and resigned from the station. His friendship with Dick Clark, though strained, survived until the end of Tony’s life. He also remained life-long friends with Jack and Florence Steck.
Tony met Agnes Becker at WFIL TV Studios at 46th & Market Streets sometime shortly after he joined the staff. He was shy around women and handsome, she was beautiful and outgoing. A coworker pointed Tony out to her as “a good looking one” but she was initially indifferent to him. Her indifference was short-lived, and they quickly fell in love. They courted for five years and were married in New York in March, 1955 whereupon they moved to Merchantville, NJ, and settled in an apartment until their new home in Cherry Hill, NJ was built. They raised eight children at 103 Springhouse Court: Edward Becker, born 1942, Agnes’ son by her first marriage to Edward “Buzz” Becker; Mary Catherine, born in 1955; Leonora Rebecca, born in 1956; Joseph September, born in 1957; Palmina Agnes, born 1958; Frances Ann, born 1960, Susan Virginia, born 1962, and Angela Rose, born 1965. Tony’s sister Palmina, her husband Marvin Klinghoffer, and their mother Kathryn moved into the house across the street.
From 1960 to 1968, Tony was President and General Manager of the Swan Record Corporation. Swan had annual average sales of $1,000,000 with a peak sales year of $3,000,000. Swan introduced the Beatles first successful record in the United States, “She Loves You.” At a meeting in New York in 1965, Tony presented the Beatles with their first gold record. Other artists included Freddy Cannon, Al Alberts, Link Wray, Billie & Lillie, Ray Buchannan, the Dovells, and the Three Degrees.
Throughout these years, Tony was also part of the campaign management team and was a speechwriter for his great friend, Thomas Foglietta in his campaigns for City Council and Mayor of Philadelphia.
After the close of Swan Records Tony moved his family to 435 Kismet Terrace in northeast Philadelphia. He became Director of Public Relations for the Pennsylvania Turnpike and served from 1968 to 1975. While he was Director, he designed and promoted the first public safety campaign there to persuade drivers and riders to wear seatbelts and was appointed Chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the IBTTA (International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association).
He also published a newsletter that allowed employees who had worked on the turnpike for many years to finally “meet” in print and developed and introduced a successful Accident Photography program for turnpike State Police. His last job was as the Director of Public Relations for the Girls Scouts of Southern New Jersey.
Tony had the chance to play with his first two grandchildren James and Jennifer Becker (there would eventually be eight) and to walk his daughter Leanora down the aisle at her wedding to Mark Jacoby on June 10, 1977. At the time of his death, he had completed the third draft of a book about his years producing Bandstand and American Bandstand and was considering enrolling in graduate school at Temple University in secondary education to prepare for a new career in teaching.
While in the ICU in the last weeks of his life, Tony and Agnes were granted a long-time wish and were married in the Catholic Church (Agnes’ divorce had disallowed this earlier.) With their son, Edward Becker and their daughter, Mary as Best Man and Maid of Honor, and surrounded by family, friends and hospital staff, Agnes and Tony renewed their wedding vows.
Tony died at the age of fifty-three on November 27, 1977 at the Mt. Sinai Division of Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia, of lung cancer caused by smoking.
On Friday, November 20, 2009, Tony Mammarella was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written by Tony Mammarella's daughter, Mary
Photo originally donated by Mary Mammarella
© 2009, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
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