I didn’t expect to be Queen. I was so proud and happy to be chosen for such a beautiful club -Marian Italiano Greco
What is lovely never dies, But passes into other loveliness, Star-dust, sea foam, flower, or winged air. -Thomas Bailey Aldrich, A Shadow of the Night
As the day approached to interview Marian (Mariana) Italiano Greco, I knew I was in for a treat. After three canceled appointments because she was busy, I was finally going to meet the last Queen of L’Unione.
As she invited me into her home, I thought, “Marian, you are tall–most girls of Sicilian background are on the short side.” In a flashback to the 1950 Hollywood movie Sunset Boulevard, I remembered the desperate screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) as he entered the home of the former silent screen actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson.) He yelled, “Hey, I know you. You used to be big.” She responded very profoundly, “I am big. It’s the movies that got smaller.” Marian’s father was a member and fervent supporter of L’Unione, now often called the Italian Club of Tampa. “We girls belonged to the Ladies Auxiliary. You know it was a men’s club back then.” Marian explained she was crowned Queen of L’Unione on November 27, 1936; the following year, she was crowned Queen of Latin Fiesta.
“I think I was L’Unione’s last Queen because I don’t remember attending another Queen’s Ball to abdicate. You know World War II was on, and many of our boys were overseas.”
The delightful part of this interview was that she remembered every detail of her Queen’s Ball–especially people’s names and the conversations. “I want to get a gown for Marian; I want something different,” she remembers her mother saying to Mr. Arthur Kessler, the buyer from downtown Maas Brothers. He was leaving on a buying trip to New York and, while there, purchased a beautiful evening gown for Marian that fit perfectly.
The gown was covered in sequins with a chiffon fishtail at the bottom. A hue of iridescent ice blue and pink shimmered in the spotlight. “I know Mommy paid at least $100 back then. We never showed it to my father. He saw it on me for the first time when I came down the stairs at our home on the evening of the ball.”
Getting ready for the event on that special day remains vividly in the mind of the then-teenager. Her family was happy for Marian–the fact that she was representing the L’Unione as its Queen made them ecstatic.
I finally asked Marian where her crowning took place. She explained that the coronation occurred on the second floor of L’Unione, the Theater Floor. “They had theater seats then, and we were all seated there just like they do at the Academy Awards. The crown itself was gorgeous, you know. Then we went to that beautiful third-floor ballroom and danced till five in the morning.” She concluded with, “I didn’t expect to be Queen. I was so proud and happy to be chosen for such a beautiful club!”
When I inquired about her escort for that evening, Marian exclaimed, “Oh darling, my escort was Joe Greco.” Marian and Joe were married on September 24, 1939. They later became the proud parents of Sandra Jo (Diaz) and Gilda Ann (Barnhill.) She has two grandsons and five great-grandchildren.
I asked if there was one particular thing she remembered about that evening. She tilted her head, rolled her eyes, looked up, gesturing with her hands, and said, “The building! It was all up in lights on the front. It remained lit for the whole week. It was something to see.” It was as if I was watching Norma Desmond when she gazed upward, knowing the camera was about to roll in Sunset Boulevard, and said, “The stars are ageless.”
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
MARILYN L. FIGUEREDO
Marilyn was Cigar City Magazine's co-owner and managing editor until her passing in 2007. Marilyn was born in 1948 in Tampa, where she lived her entire life and, more specifically, her early childhood in Ybor City. After a successful 30-year career at Delta Air Lines, Marilyn embarked on what became her true passion: reinvigorating the colorful, multicultural history of Ybor City through the lives and personal stories of the families and individuals who made up the uniqueness of this Tampa quarter. She did this primarily through Cigar City Magazine, serving on various committees and organizations, and attending cultural events throughout Tampa. Her work alongside her niece Lisa Figueredo, founder and Publisher, was instrumental in producing Cigar City Magazine.
Marilyn's legacy will live forever throughout the pages of Tampa's first historical magazine–CigarCityMagazine
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