Italian singer extraordinaire Enrico Caruso was born on 25 February 1873 in Naples, Italy. Caruso was a tenor celebrated for his strong, romantic voice. He was able to captivate audiences with his depth of feeling and musical range. He is recognized to have been the first person to understand the value of the phonograph as a means of recording voices and made a lot of money from his records.
He smoked two packets of strong Egyptian cigarettes a day but protected his voice by wearing fillets of anchovies around his neck. He once said, “I am a great singer because I have always remained a bachelor. No man can sing unless he smiles and I should never smile if I were married.” When he was 45, however, Caruso married Dorothy Benjamin, 20 years his junior, and they were devoted to each other for the rest of their lives.
On 16 November 1906 Caruso was arrested for indecent assault in the monkey house of the Central Park Zoo in New York. He was accused of pinching the backside of a strange woman described as “pretty and plump”. The newspapers labelled the singer an “Italian pervert” and he was shunned by polite society.
Monkey House, Central Park Zoo, New York City, USA
Friday 16 November 1906
At his trial a white-veiled mystery figure claimed that Caruso had fondled her at the Metropolitan Opera House. A deputy police commissioner claimed that he had a dossier of women who claimed that they had been groped by the singer. Caruso was found guilty and fined $10 despite the arresting policeman’s reputation for filing trumped-up charges. It did not go unnoticed that he had been the best man at the wedding of the Monkey House victim – 30-year-old Hannah Graham from the Bronx – who had refused to testify.
Caruso claimed that his rivals in the operatic world had framed him. Nonetheless, he would not perform for some time, fearful of being hounded further by the press. When he did return to the New York stage he was greeted with a standing ovation. He died on 2 August 1921.