CLEVELAND, OHIO – In 1964, limousine operator Tony Mazzarella gave four lads from Liverpool a lift and drove into rock 'n' roll history.
Mazzarella, who died Aug. 9 at age 77, picked up the Beatles when their plane arrived in Cleveland for their Sept. 15 concert at Public Hall. Photographer George Shuba captured the moment on film. His photo of Mazzarella in the driver's seat with John, Paul, George and Ringo in the back of the limousine has been printed in Beatles books and shown in rock documentaries in Cleveland and around the world.
Although Mazzarella gained international attention from his Fab Four fare, he chauffeured countless other celebrities around the city after founding American Limousine Service in the mid-1940s.
The Cleveland-born son of Italian immigrants started driving at age 13. Mazzarella, the eldest of six siblings, made deliveries for his parents' West Side grocery store in a green truck.
As a teenager, he drove the family car, an elegant-but-used 1937 Packard, to classes at St. Ignatius High School. He daydreamed of driving luxury cars for a living. Mazzarella was still in his teens when he bought a used limousine and began making money by driving mourners without cars from churches to cemeteries.
"He started with us," said funeral director Roger Berry. "When we got a new funeral home at 75th and Detroit, he used our garage," because he didn't have a garage of his own.
Later, Mazzarella lived with his first wife, Virginia, and their six kids in a ranch house with a seven-car garage underneath for his vehicles. By the late 1960s, he moved his cars and office to Lakewood, where he ran a limousine dealership.
He married again after Virginia's death in 1975. He and his second wife, Joanne, moved into a large colonial with his six kids and her three. They went on to have two sons together. They lived in Westlake before moving to Avon last year.
Mazzarella acted as chauffeur for wedding parties, foreign dignitaries and corporate leaders. He expanded his fleet and hired other drivers. For years, his limousines doubled as ambulances.
In the ‘60s and '70s, he handled limousine service for guests of a nationally syndicated television show hosted by singer Mike Douglas. Such legendary entertainers as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Sammy Davis Jr. parked their keisters on Mazzarella's limousine seats, as did Lassie, the canine movie and TV star.
"He was concerned about having his kids in the car," said his daughter Anna Maria Masterson. "You can imagine how he felt about Lassie."
After his Beatles experience, rock promoters and fans suggested Mazzarella cut up the limousine into small pieces to sell as souvenirs. Mazzarella declined. He later traded the car for a newer model.
Over the past 41 years, he told numerous interviewers the same story about his reaction to Beatlemania. "People were lined up on both sides of the road," Mazzarella said. "You'd think the Pope was coming down the road."
"He was so Catholic, every time he bought a car he wanted to get it blessed," said his son Bob Mazzarella. The great-grandfather attended Mass several times a day at whatever church was nearby, even when he traveled to other states.
"They called him the Roamin' Catholic, not Roman, because he frequented all the West Side Catholic parishes," his daughter said. "He worried about people. He prayed with them."
Many of the parishioners he met showed up for his wake and funeral. One woman told his family, "I used to see him at St. Luke's. He always gave me a ride."