Armand "Curly" Wright was born Armand Vincent Mancuso on June 5, 1886 in Palermo,
Italy. He was the eldest of four sons born to Vincent Joseph Mancuso and Rosa Rao
Vincent Joseph Mancuso was a chief civil engineer to the city and county of New York.
Armand's grandfather shared Garibaldi's exile in New York where they lived in a
basement apartment making candles to finance the revolution.
Rosa Rao Mancuso was widowed when she was still very young. She was left with
three young boys to raise. The oldest, Armand was approximately 10 years old. Rosa
was a very fine dress designer and went to work for Nat Goldstone, a then unknown
costumer to the theatrical trade. He had a very small shop in a loft with only two or three
machines. It was through her designs that the firm prospered so, that when she retired,
the firm occupied a 16 story building. Rosa was devoted to her church, which from then
on took the place of the beloved husband she had lost.
From a very early age Armand was addicted to the theater and constantly pestered his
mother to help him get his "working papers." Finally when he was about 12 years old,
she gave in to him, even though she had to skirt the truth as to his age, since children
under 14 were not allowed to work at that time.
Armand went to work as a card boy at the Keith-Albee offices, who booked the
Orpheum Circuit. He came in contact with every vaudeville act of any importance in the
business. This led to further whetting of his appetite for the glamour this business
offered, and in a few short years he struck out on his own with an act that he called "A
Miniature Musical Comedy" consisting of songs, dancing, and comedy. Armand was
also a very talented writer. He not only wrote his own acts, but wrote many acts for other
performers which he "rented" out for a percentage. One of the first to request a specially
written act was Walter Winchell who, while under contract to Gus Edwards the producer
of "The Little Red Schoolhouse" (an act featuring young teenagers, including Eddie
Cantor, Lila Lee, George Jessel, Georgie Price, and Walter
Winchell). Winchell had fallen in love with a young aspiring actress, Dorthy Green, and
he wanted Armand to write him a special act for the young pair. Armand, knowing that
Winchell was under contract, requested that Winchell bring him a release from his
contract with Gus Edwards before he would touch pen to paper. Winchell lost no time
and ran to Guss Edwards, who was more than glad to give him his release, as Winchell
was anything but an actor. So with his new act in hand, Winchell and his young love
started out with the act that Armand wrote for him titled "Puppy Love."
Over the years, Armand changed many of his acts. In some acts, he worked with a
female partner and in others a male partner. Some of his songs were "Song & Patter",
some were acrobat dancing, and some were very graceful ballroom routines which were
considered very "high class" and elegant with him dressed in formal "tails" and his
partner in fabulous ball gowns. He was constantly besieged to "introduce" the new songs
when they first came out since there was no television or radio at that time. This was the
only way a new song was popularized especially when it could be introduced by a well
As Armand perfected his craft, he attained the acme of any vaudevillian ambition - he
played the Palace! - not once but many times. This was always looked forward to,
because it afforded him the opportunity of visiting his family in New York, which,
because of the fact that he was always on the road, he seldom was able to see, since the
family was very large and he was away so much, he was almost a stranger, especially to
the younger members. He used to rent a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, and was always
happy to entertain any of the family who came to visit him.
All through the years, as he became more and more prominent, he was finally accorded
the title of "Headliner" (top-star in vaudeville) playing the best theater houses over the
country, usually on the Orpheum Circuit. He also became the first American star to
present an act in London at the Palladium, and in the "Fobes Bergere" in Paris, France.
In one of the earlier circuits, Walter Winchell was booked on the same card as Armand.
Winchell was no actor, but he did have a nose for news, especially for the spicier tid-bits
concerning the other members of the cast. He got many a punch in the nose for divulging
many a little spicy item as he was always poking his nose in other people's business.
Often Armand would tell him to get out of show business and to confine his "talents" to
the more appropriate "gossip magazines." This later became his forte, at which he made
a huge reporting on all the inside stories of whatever went on whether in show business,
government, or in high society.
At this particular time, Christmas found the cast playing a "split week" in a little town in
Nebraska. (Christmas week in show business is considered the worst time of the year
both for the performers and for the theater owner, because the audiences stay at home,
while the performers find themselves usually far away from home, possibly stranded in
some little known town in the midst of strangers.) The manager of the theater where they
were performing, took pity on the troupe, and on Christmas Eve, he gave them a party of
doughnuts and coffee, and then thoughtfully gave each performer a "gag" gift particularly
apt for that person. Because Armand had a tremendous head of tightly curled hair,
(which might be likened to today's "afro") his gift was an almost circular comb which
was popular at the time, to hold his hair back.
Because this act on the part of the theater owner was so appreciated by all the cast,
Armand and Winchell decided to send a report of it to "The Billboard" (a theatrical
publication), and signed it "W & W" for Wright and Winchell. The little item was so
cleverly written, that the Billboard wrote back asking for more of the same material from
W & W. Since Walter Winchell was the only one with the initials W. W., the manager
took it for granted that the request should go to Winchell. And that is how Winchell got
his start as the roving reporter for all of "America and all the ships at sea - let's go to
press" which became his very famous by-line.
Armand reached the peak of his career around 1915. One success followed another
until the latter part of the decade when vaudeville was beginning to wane, as the new
entertaining medium the "movies" was beginning to take the people's favor. Christmas
week of 1921 found Armand in Los Angeles, even then it was the Mecca for all the
movie hopefuls who flocked to Los Angeles in the hopes of being "discovered." In Los
Angeles, Armand went to visit Joseph Schenck, at that time he was the head of the
Goldwyn Studios, and also the husband of Norma Talmadge. Armand, having seen the
handwriting on the wall regarding vaudeville, was so impressed with the great potential
in this new medium, that right then and there he asked for Joseph Schenck to give him a
job. Joe looked at him and laughed, saying "Are you crazy? How can I pay you anything
like the salary you are now getting?" (Armand was getting top salary for the times, about
$1700 a week, free and clear - no income tax etc.) Joe continued "This is a new industry,
and we are hampered by insufficient financing, having to employ people that don't know
any more about this business than the man on the street - and we know very little more--
we are all learning together." Then Armand said, (pointing to a man crossing one of the
stages) "How much do you pay that man?" "Oh he's just a plain laborer to whom we pay
$2.50 or $3.00 a day." Joe said. Armand quickly replied "Give me a job like that - it
may be just labor, but I guarantee that I won't stay long at that level." Joe asked "Do you
really mean it? -- You really would work for $3.00 a day?" "Try me." Armand said.
Right then and there they shook hands, and Joeseph Schenck called the foreman of the
labor crew, saying "I'm sending you a new man tomorrow, he is to get $3.00 a day, and
make sure he earns his money." Armand was then told to report at 7 a.m. (the middle of
the night to show people!), and sure enough, the next morning found Armand right on the
dot in his new "costume" - - a pair of overalls! He was given a broom, as his new "tools
of the trade", and assigned to clean a certain stage. A few days later, Joseph Schenck,
still dubious, thought he would "look in" on his new employee, and found Armand hard
at work carrying two buckets of plaster to one of the stages where a new set was being
erected. Joe asked "How goes the job - - getting used to working?" Armand looked at
him, and laughingly showed him his hands, (which previously had always been well kept
and beautifully manicured) which were now callused and blistered. "How do you get
used to this?" Armand asked Joe. "Put down those buckets and come into my office for a
drink and I'll tell you about your new job." Joe told him.
After downing their drink, Joe, sitting at his desk, while Armand in his dirty overalls,
sitting in a very "plush" chair, heard Joe say, "Tomorrow you'd better come into my
office, but not before ten o'clock a.m., and I'll tell you about your new assignment, mean
while you can get rid of the overalls." The next morning Armand showed up at Joseph
Schenck's office to be assigned to the job of "Assistant Director." This went well also,
and soon he was made director of the lesser known or "second features." He also made
the very first "Our Gang" talkie (talkies were the new thing then). This was made in New
York in 1928. As a publicity stunt, he ran a number of contests in New York for this
picture, and that is where "Farina" was discovered. Actually "Farina" were two twin
brothers, who were used alternately in the film as one person. This was very profitable
for the company, as they could use each one of the brothers the allowed number of hours,
yet come out as one person.
Later Armand was to try his hand at producing and directing his own stories. It was at
Universal Studios that he produced and directed the "Harold Teen" comedy series with
Arthur Lake who later was to become famous as "Dagwood Bumstead" in the Blondie
comedies. It was here that he also directed Slim Summerville in a number of films.
From here he went on to the RKO Studios as a writer under contract. He wrote a
number of stories that were subsequently made into films. He wrote the "pilot" for a
comedy series to feature himself and Henry Armetta, a bumbling Italian type whom he
had befriended in New York where Henry worked as a barber in the exclusive Lambs
Club. When the story for this pilot was finished, Henry showed it to his agent who
strongly insisted that Henry have nothing to do with it, saying "Armand is experienced in
show business, and if you ever get on a stage with him, it will kill you professionally."
So the series died before it was ever born.
It was in 1927 that Armand's mother passed away in New York and since he was in the
middle of a picture, it was impossible for him to get away, so he sent instructions that she
was to be placed temporarily in a vault until he finished the picture, when he would be
able to come to New York. (This is when he made the "Our Gang" talkie) Armand's
mother's estate probate was quite lengthy and as he was only on a 30 day leave of
absence from the studio, he had to wire and ask for another 30 day extension. The studio
acceded to his request and granted him the extra 30 days. Then because he was
obviously enjoying the renewal of relations with his relatives, he again asked the studio
for another 30 day extension. This was denied and the studio informed him that if he did
not return to the studio, his contract would be canceled. For some reason Armand
continued on in New York and when he did return to Hollywood, his contract had indeed
This led to Armands decision to become an actor while continuing to do his writing on
the side. One of his early pictures was "Lawyer Man" with William Powell of "Thin
Man" fame. Another was "East of the River" with John Garfield and Marjorie Rambeau.
Then followed a number of pictures, one of which was "Love & Hisses" with Walter
Winchell who by now had become a very famous personage. It was while going for the
interview for this picture that he met the girl whom he was to marry - - in 6 weeks! Her
name was Marie Suzon Rodriguez. He swept her off her feet, even though he was much
older than her, she didn't care. They married in 1936. They lived an average life after
that with the exception that God had given them two beautiful children. The oldest, a
daughter, Marie Suzon Wright (little Marie) and the younger a son, Armand Vincent
Wright II, who they called "Vinnie" to differentiate from his father. Their life was very
uneventful with the exception of the birth of the children and the trip we made to New
York in the spring of 1946, this was the one shining memory which remained with them
the rest of their lives.
They traveled to New York so that they could meet the family and the family could get
to know Armands new family. It was a very leisurely trip. They had planned to be in
New York at Easter time to stay with Uncle Tom, as he always made a big celebration of
Easter. They started their trip driving by the southern route, taking in all the historical
and famous landmarks such as the "Fountain of Youth" in Florida, the first schoolhouse
in America, in St Augustine, and the "French Market" in Louisiana. The family arrived
in Daytona Beach on Palm Sunday where Joseph Vallone, (Armand's cousin) and his
wife Julia greeted them with open arms. They insisted that they spend a little time with
them, since Uncle Tom had so many of the family nearby, while they had no one in
Florida. They both made the short stay very memorable, and regretfully Armand and
Marie had to leave in time to be in New York by Easter. When they arrived at Uncle
Tom's house, the whole family gave them a royal welcome. They remained with Uncle
Tom until July 5, 1946. The trip was so enjoyable that it became the highlight of their
lives, with memories of the welcome and the love that was showered on Armand, Marie
and the children.
Some of the pictures that Armand made since he and Marie Suzon were married: in
1938- "Panamints Bad Man" - (played the part of Nicola), 1940-"The House Across the
Bay" with George Raft and Joan Bennett (played the part of a barber), 1941-"Raiders of
the Desert" (played the part of a waiter), 1942-"To Be or Not To Be" with Carole
Lombard and Jack Benny (played the part of the makeup man), and 1943-"She Has What
it Takes" (played the part of Tony). He also did a picture with Groucho Marx and
Carmen Miranda called "Copacabana."
Armand had a number of wives before Marie Suzon Rodriguez. They were all beautiful
and most of them were his dancing partners. He used to say that it was cheaper to marry
them than to carry them. By "carrying" he meant supplying a personal maid, paying for
separate hotel accommodations and the expense of separate baggage, etc.
Ironically Armand's first wife was named Marie, and his last wife was also named
Marie. And strangely enough, even their middle initials were the same. His first wife's
name was Marie Sabott Wright and his last wife was Marie Suzon Wright. The names of
his other wives, that the family can remember were, Ruby Earle, Patricia Fox, and Jane
Parmater. Armand's last wife, Marie Suzon Wright said "For the first 25 years of our
marriage, I was under the impression that I was his 6th wife - - it was after 25 years that I
learned that I was not wife number 6, but wife number 7!"