The careers of Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll were joined when they were married Jan. 3, 1987, in Las Vegas. It was the fourth marriage for both; they were each twice divorced and once widowed.
"It's such a comfortable relationship," said the amiable, elegant Carroll. "We are both from a New York background; both very family oriented. I guess I'm a little more driven than Damone, but working together is a great experience."
"It's true," said the man Carroll usually refers to by his last name. "She is very disciplined and organized; I'm a bit more inclined to just let things happen."
How things happen will be on display tonight and Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. Billed as "An Evening of Love and Romance," the program will be devoted largely to the great classic-pop standard songs.
Personally and professionally, the Carroll-Damone union has been a smooth one, except for a tragedy on the day after their second wedding anniversary: Sandra Boucher, Damone's sister, to whom he was very close, was fatally shot in what police said was a murder-suicide in Miami. Boucher, police said, was killed outside a bingo parlor by her ex-husband, Avrum Cohen, who then turned the gun on himself. Boucher was engaged to another man at the time, and they were to have been married at the end of this month.
The grieving Damone and Carroll hastened to Florida.
Back in town last week, they began preparing for the new act, which precedes their own Broadway review, due to start rehearsals in New York on Feb. 6.
One of their most gratifying recent appearances took place before a star-laden crowd, including the Reagans, at the last Kennedy Center Awards in Washington. Their segment was in honor of Perry Como. "When I was an usher and elevator operator at the Paramount in New York," said Damone, "I sang for Perry in the elevator, and he encouraged me to go ahead with a singing career." Not too long after, Damone himself was the Paramount headliner; after he married actress Pier Angeli, they had a son 33 years ago and named him Perry.
The first glory days for Damone were the late 1940s and the '50s; as a movie star he appeared in a series of true-to-the-period MGM musicals, singing "Stranger in Paradise" and "This Is My Beloved" and "Kismet."
Carroll became aware of him early. "I remember, as a little girl, seeing his picture with Pier in the paper. I thought to myself, 'Oh, what a pretty couple!' " (The little girl was just seven years younger than her future husband.)
Several ironies were involved as their paths crossed. They got to know one another when Damone married his second wife, Judy, at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where Carroll was working.
"After the wedding," he recalled, "I said to Judy, 'We've got to see Diahann Carroll.' So we caught the show and then went to see her backstage."
"I'd always admired Damone," Carroll said, "for his phrasing, his breathing and technique. Often, without his knowing it, I'd sneak into clubs to study his work. When he came backstage that night I said to him, 'What are you doing here? Why aren't you off on your honeymoon?'
"There was another strange irony. Damone looked at a house in Benedict Canyon that he loved and wanted to buy. But the agent called him and said, 'Sorry, that house has been purchased by Miss Diahann Carroll.' "
Damone and his second wife had three daughters before she died; he was married and divorced again. Meanwhile Carroll's domestic life had been turbulent. Her teen-age marriage to agent Monte Kay, later known as manager of the Modern Jazz Quartet and of Flip Wilson, broke up, but they were good friends until his death last year. "Monte and I both had a lot of growing up to do. But I thank God for that marriage, because I produced this incredible creature, my daughter."
Suzanne, 29, Carroll's only child, appears on the Movie Time cable TV channel.
Carroll now says that marriage didn't work for her when she was "too young, married to my work, and quite selfish about it." She was married briefly to a Las Vegas businessman, but dismisses that episode as "a silly marriage and a silly divorce." Her third husband, much younger than she, was "a complex, brilliant young man," who died in an auto accident.
The marriage to Damone got off to a rocky start. "Steve Wynn, the owner of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, gave us our wedding, and we performed there that weekend--but then we went off to this beautiful house of Steve's in Atlantic City, where Damone promptly doubled over with kidney stones."
"She had to take me to the hospital," says Damone. "Quite a honeymoon."
Among the good times was a 60th birthday party for Damone last June, when his sister came to Beverly Hills for what would be her final visit.
Although Damone's acting years seem to be behind him, his wife's screen activities continue intermittently. She was the first black actress to star in her own TV series ("Julia," in 1968); she won a Tony award for her stage role in Richard Rodgers' "No Strings" and was an Academy Award nominee for her title role portrayal as "Claudine" in 1975. She'll be seen in an NBC miniseries, "From the Dead of Night," due to air in late February.
While Carroll is reluctant to make records, Damone has continued as a recording artist, with five albums on his own Vianda label. "I can't understand why Diahann doesn't want to record," he says. "She's a fine singer who deals with lyrics intelligently."
But Carroll demurs: "I've always considered myself primarily a visual artist. I just don't like to listen to my records."
"She won't play them for me," says Damone with a grin, "so when I want to play records for her, I play Andy Williams."
The Damones hardly need record royalties to bolster their incomes, which enable them to maintain homes at a country club in Indian Wells, Calif., in Beverly Hills and in New York.
Asked to explain how their partnership came about, both Damones had roughly the same answer: They just fell in love. But Carroll had a wry final comment: "We're just having a wonderful time, off stage and on. Come to think of it, this is probably the only time I should have gotten married."