Show Biz! The KLAFFS Second Family Business

By KLAFFStyle Editorial Staff

3 Generations from Band Singer Mollie to “The Voice” Contestant Lilli

Previously on KLAFFStyle and in the pages of KLAFFS.com, we’ve mentioned the Klaff-Passero family’s show business background. Now, KLAFFS Chairman Joe Passero’s niece, Lilli Passero, has been a popular contestant on Season 12 of NBC’s three-time Emmy Award-winning vocal competition, The Voice, the premiere watched by 13 million viewers. Lilli made it to the show’s “Top 10” by virtue of the esteem of both its judges and the audience. (For those of you unfamiliar with The Voice, you can find everything you want to know — and more — on the show’s Wikipedia page.)

Lilli represents the third Klaff-Passero generation to take to the performance spotlight. So, we thought it would be a good time to examine the second family business at KLAFFS – Show Business – and how it’s helped shape the company’s unique retail concept. We’ll start with Mollie Klaff Passero.

Mollie and her sister Debbie Klaff Katz, who sadly passed away recently, took the helm of the business from their parents, Joseph and Mary Klaff, who founded the company in 1921. Before her second career managing the KLAFFS lighting department, Mollie enjoyed her first and very early career in show biz.

She began singing professionally at age eight. Ironically, she was a contestant on the top talent show of her day, Major Bowes, on the radio. She had her own radio show at age 13 on Bridgeport’s WICC-AM. During the 1940’s she was chosen to sing and tour nationally with two of the most famous swing era bands, New Orleans trumpeter Louis Prima’s big band and the Bunny Berigan Orchestra.

After her big band stints, she performed under the stage name Marilyne Towne on all the major radio networks. Along the way, she met, fell in love with and married Maury Passero who was also in show biz in another arena. Maury managed Stamford’s Palace Theater for many years and learned the art of stage craft there. He later worked in film and movie house sales and distribution for RKO.

When Mollie left her formal singing and radio career to go into the family retail business, Maury followed her into the industry, first as a home builder with his brother Dr. Phil Passero and then at the helm of KLAFFS. Mollie never stopped singing and, in fact, narrated and sang jingles for KLAFFS radio ads throughout the 1960s. She often opened spots with what became her trademark in the community, “Hi! This is Mollie from KLAFFS!” Customers would come into the store looking for the lady behind the voice.

You can hear a jingle by Mollie and a band singer tune by Mollie performing as Marilyn Towne right below.

Come Rain Or Come Shine

by Marilyne Towne | The Talk Of The Town

When the company built its flagship Norwalk showroom, it was Maury’s creative vision to bring in a family friend, the famous Broadway set and theater designer Ralph Alswang to make the store a “show palace.” Which brings us to the next show biz generation.

Mollie and Maury’s children (in oldest-to-youngest-order) Lisa, Jeff, Joe and Felicia grew up in a home that was always filled with music. Lisa Passero, who today works in the Norwalk lighting department, like Mollie, reminisced with us about the wonderful atmosphere she and her siblings experienced:

“Mother and Dad always included us kids for their many parties where great performers of the day were among the guests. We kids would watch the action from under the piano. It always included impromptu performances. It was so special and influenced each of our creativity and interest in show business in different ways.”

Lisa followed a path to stage and screen (big and small) as a singer, comic and actress. In New York, she performed on Broadway in the play Filumena, staged by Franco Zeffirelli and directed by Lawrence Olivier. Her comedy troupe High Heeled Women performed in popular Manhattan clubs including The Duplex and the Bottom Line.

A move to the West Coast netted Lisa roles in feature films, including Poison Ivy and Last Exit in Brooklyn. She also landed parts in many TV series including Who’s the Boss, Quantum Leap, Saved by the Bell, Caroline in the City and Beverly Hills 90210. She also developed a one-woman song and comedy show, which she performed at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Gardenia.

Returning to Connecticut to take a role at KLAFFS, she continues to perform her show at top venues including The Metropolitan Room in New York City. Mollie’s younger daughter Felicia, who for many years managed KLAFFS in Westport, faithfully operated the spotlight for Lisa’s earlier club performances. Felicia is also the family’s number one fan followed by Joe’s daughter Eve who is a close number two!

Their brother Jeffery Passero, Lilli’s father, studied acting and directing in college and in New York.  His well-rounded career includes acting, directing, producing, teaching and casting (New York’s Roundabout theater and many of NY’s Off-Broadway theatres) as well as over 60 features films, including “Poison Ivy” with Drew Barrymore, and Nicolas Cage’s “Sonny” starring James Franco. Jeff and his wife Elizabeth Hayden-Passero, also an actress and singer, have their own production company and have produced for film and Broadway (David Hyde Pierce’s “It Shoulda Been You” starring Tyne Daly). Their new musical “Kiki Baby” will be premiering next year at the York Theatre in New York City. Jeffery is a busy acting teacher and coach with clients all over the country.

Joe Passero previously shared his musical training and performance as a jazz drummer in his Cup o’ Joe column. His sense of theater in retail as a critical differentiator in the Internet age is evident in every aspect of current day KLAFFS.

And returning to the third show biz generation, Lilli graduated from Pittsburgh’s prestigious Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in acting. She has since appeared on television, in films and has starred as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at Los Angeles’ Malibu Playhouse (directed by her dad, co-starring her mom and produced by none other than Dick Van Dyke!) Lately, she has been focusing on singing and writing music and recently recorded her first music video “I Keep Seeing.”

Lilli’s older sister Sasha Passero is a talent agent in New York City. Her younger sister Izabella Passero is a fashion design major at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Voice represents Lilli’s turn in the national spotlight. On The Voice, three judges/coaches turned their chairs for her during the show’s “Blind Auditions”. Lilli chose Alicia Keys’ team after the singer ad-libbed a song to Lilli begging to be chosen. When Keys selected another team member during the ‘Knock-out Rounds’ both Blake Shelton and Adam Levine battled to “steal” her. She chose Levine and made it to the Top 10. In a tough competition she made her last performance as the audience pared the field down to eight.

You can watch Lilli’s “Blind Audition” here. It includes some beautiful and emotional shots of her parents — and it’s a lot of fun, too.

Lilli’s Aunt Lisa is certain she’ll remain on firm footing:

“Lilli is an incredibly sweet and wonderful girl. She’s humble and level-headed. She considers being on The Voice a win and is enjoying the incredible experience. It will be a great and well-deserved boost to her career.”

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