The youngest of 11 children of Ermedlindo Scarpa, a concert clarinetist and member of the RCA recording orchestra, he was raised on music.
As he recalled it for interviewers, on Sunday as Papa came around the corner after playing at the last Mass, Mama would throw the macaroni in the boiling water. After Papa tested it, they would eat. After the meal, the whole family would sing an opera, each member taking a part.
"The neighbors sent in the requests for the opera they wanted to hear during the week," he told interviewers. "I sang, but mostly I'd think, and Papa would ask, 'What is he thinking about?' I thought of a white telephone or a palm tree or a purple mountain I saw in a movie."
All he wanted, he said, was to be somewhere else, doing something else. So he'd run away from home and his family would bring him back.
His urges to run away were aided by his experience in school. He spent most of his time there imitating his teachers, adding little touches of humor that kept his classmates laughing and his principal busy ordering him to leave school as a discipline problem.
Mario's answer was to run away again. In the years that followed, he worked as a bus boy, operated a drill press, pickled hams, sold flowers and sailed the world.
His father's verdict: "He's just crazy."
His break into show business came at a party at Palumbo's. He was called out of the audience to perform. He did impressions. The audience liked it and applauded. A career was launched. Soon he was Guy Marks, a comedian booked on the nightclub circuit. Then he went touring with Stop the Music starring Eddie Fisher. The show and he wound up in California, and soon he was booked on The Joey Bishop Show, The John Forsythe Show and The Tim Conway Show.
The label "second banana" stuck.
He shrugged, "First banana, second banana. The peelings are the same."
So long as the audiences liked his work, it made no difference.
Often, he said, when he heard the audience laugh and the applause began, he
closed his eyes and said to himself:
"See, Papa. I'm not a total loss."
Last season, he worked on the Jack Klugman show You Again? He was a frequent guest on The Merv Griffin Show and, when he could, he worked the casinos.
And, whenever he could get away with it, he sang his theme song, "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas."
He had recently completed a pilot for a new Sid Caesar show and had been scheduled to go to California on Nov. 5 to do a movie for television, a sendup of the medical profession. Illness prevented him from going.
He was married several times; all ended in divorce.
Surviving are his sisters, Mafalda Serpentini, Yolanda Leitch, Melba Barlow, Gioconda DeLuca and Alba Zaiser; sons, Tony and T.J. Scarpa.
Services will be private.
Contributions in his name may be made to the American Cancer Society.