Arts and Leisure

Opera Diva Eileen Farrell Meets A Nice Irish Cop

A forged check and a matchmaking couturier brought radio singing celebrity Eileen Farrell and New York City cop Robert Reagan together, where they stayed for more than 40 years.

Eileen Farrell

Eileen Farrell

Farrell was an unusually versatile singer who could sing an aria as well as belt out a blues number — though perhaps that’s what you’d expect from an Irish-Catholic Connecticut girl whose parents were vaudeville performers.

She got her start in radio, then began touring as a concert soprano in 1947. Her big break came when she dubbed vocals for Eleanor Parker in Interrupted Melody, a film about an opera star’s comeback. She launched her opera career in 1956 and sang for five years at the Metropolitan Opera.   She made 22 curtain calls the first time she appeared at the Met in the title role of Gluck’s Alceste.  One New York Times critic said when she sang at Carnegie Hall you could hear her in Newark.

Eileen Farrell wasn’t impressed with the pretension of opera. During  the ‘60s she appeared both as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and on television variety shows, singing and clowning in sketches with Jonathan Winters and Carol Burnett. She is credited with the first crossover hit, I’ve Got a Right To Sing the Blues, an album recorded in 1960.

Eileen Farrell was born in Willimantic, Conn., on Feb. 13, 1920, to The Singing O’Farrells, a vaudeville husband-and wife duo before they had children. The family moved frequently, to Norwich, Conn., to Woonsocket, R.I., and to Storrs, Conn., where they taught music at the University of Connecticut, then Storrs Agricultural College.

At 19, Eileen Farrell moved to New York City to see if she could make it as a singer. When she auditioned in 1940 for the CBS Chorus, she sang the only aria she knew, Vissi d’arte. She got the job. The next year, she got her own radio show singing classical and popular music. It was called Eileen Farrell Sings.

She had started to make enough money to buy first-class clothes. A couturier named Herman Patrick Tappe designed several outfits that suited her new celebrity status. One day, someone forged a check in Tappe’s name for $10,000. He called the police and a member of the NYPD forgery squad responded. His name was Robert Reagan.

Two Nice Irish People

Reagan looked at Tappe’s client list and recognized Farrell’s name. “I listen to her on the radio every week,” he said. Tappe replied,“Well, her name is Farrell and yours is Reagan. You’re a nice Irishman, and she’s a nice Irish girl. Why don’t the two of you come out some time and have lunch with me?”

They did. Then he asked her out. On their first date he treated her to two lobsters. After that, they started seeing each other regularly. “I wasn’t used to being treated like an Irish princess,” she wrote. “But I was starting to think that maybe I could learn.”

They were married on April 5, 1946, had two children and lived happily ever after for the next 40 years. They lived on Staten Island and spent vacations at their house in Castine, Maine. After Bob died in 1986, she bought a condominium in Yarmouth, Maine, close to Portland, where she gave many concerts. She also gave master classes at the University of Maine at Orono.

Her success came as a complete surprise to her. “I really don’t have the faintest idea how it all happened,” she wrote in her autobiography, Can’t Help Singing: The Life of Eileen Farrell.

Eileen Farrell died March 23, 2002, at 82. You can watch her interview with Charlie Rose here. You can listen to her sing, I’ve Got A Right To Sing the Blues here. She sings My Funny Valentine here.

This story has been updated from the 2014 version.

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