“Mambo Italiano” was written by the songwriter Bob Merrill and first performed by Rosemary Clooney. Merrill, a lyricist, screenwriter, and theatrical composer, was more of a fixture of stage than radio, with a long string of Broadway hits to his credit including Funny Girl, Carnival!, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He also wrote for the silver screen and television, ranging from W.C. Fields and Me to Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.
Allegedly, Bob Merrill literally scribbled the song on a napkin while dining at an Italian restaurant and phoned it in over the pay phone, humming the tune and everything. He was on deadline.
The song was banned by New York’s WABC radio because of its suggestive lyrics. The radio station didn’t understand them and thought they might be suggestive. Clooney’s label was forced to counter with statements from a professor of romantic languages and a Catholic priest, both of whom confirmed that the Italian lyrics were “in no way offensive or vulgar.”
Clooney sang this in the same mock Italian accent as in her 1951 #1 “Come-On-A My House.”
The Clooney family’s connection with Italy has continued to this present day. Rosemary’s nephew, the actor George Clooney, spends much of his time in the Lake Como area in northern Italy, where he owns a villa.
According to the online version of Webster’s Dictionary the song’s origins lie in a traditional, danceable folk-like Italian song, but it was Merrill who put it on paper and made the song popular worldwide.