....What Makes Rosie Glow?
BY KIRTLEY BASKETTE
In the professional experience of Mitch Miller, director of Columbia popular recordings, nothing quite equals the day a colt-legged, honey-haired girl stepped inside his New York studio, waved him a bright hello, kicked off her pumps, and sang a sentimental ballad into the microphone. After she finished, Miller made a circle of his thumb and forefinger, mumbled surprisedly, "That's it!" and glanced at his wrist watch. It was exactly fifteen minutes since Rosemary Clooney had walked in the door.
Last year this Kentucky-bred girl shuttled across the country fifteen times. Along the way, she played eighteen hotel, night club and theater engagements, broadcast 46 radio and television shows, cut 35 records, and starred in two motion pictures.
Outside of two ill-fated recordings, every effort was a success, and Rosemary collected around $300,000not bad for a girl who has yet to take either a voice or a dramatic lesson, is still unable to read the simplest musical score, and just turned twenty-five last May 23.
More remarkable is that in accomplishing this extraordinary entertainment feat, Rosemary Clooney exhibited no signs of strain. She gained weight, ate chili at midnight, and slept like a baby"sometimes," she remembers, "standing up." Her manager, Joe Shribman, who traveled with her, says, "Rosie's the easiest working girl in show business"--an opinion with which Bing Crosby and other experts in the art of relaxed performing agree.
Bing has already enlisted Rosemary Clooney for thirteen of his radio shows and will costar with her in his next Hollywood musical, "White Christmas."
Brought to Hollywood two years ago last October, Rosemary came out on her first screen test looking, in her own estimation, "like somebody's grandmother." Yet. with this photogenic handicap and no previous screen experience worth mentioning, she scored a phenomenal hit in an otherwise undistinguished film, "The Stars Are Singing," because, in the words of its producer, Irving Asher, "her personality flashed up like neon lights."
From the beginning, everyone loved Rosemary. Across the land children hunched beside nursery record players, lost in Rosemary's jolly renditions of "Me and My Teddy Bear," "Susie Snowflake" or "Willie, the Whistling Giraffe." Their big sisters and brothers fed dimes into jukeboxes and sipped malteds soulfully to the sad-sweet lyrics of "Tenderly," "Half as much," "Did Anyone Call?" Parents of both twiddled radio and TV dials, hoping to catch the same personable Clooney girl on the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby or Martin and Lewis shows. Geographically, Rosemary Clooney's admirers range today from Rome to Tokyo, into Korea and, some suspect, behind the Iron Curtain. A recent sophisticated magazine cartoon showed two Kremlin sentries in a huddle as one whispered, "Tonight--Voice of America--Rosemary Clooney--Pass it along!"
Yet, only a few years ago, this capable, sunny and eminently secure young woman was an insecure divorce orphan, shunted around from one relative to another, unpretty, unpopular and always pressed by poverty. At eighteen, she embarked on the strenuous. impersonal life of the dance-band circuits. And while the singing talent she developed there is what entertains millions today, another quality, as persistently expanded, has proved even more important in winning her success, friends and happiness her ability to find good in everything until everything became good for her.
Rosemary Clooney was born in the little Ohio River town of Maysville ( population 8,990), Kentucky. On both sides of her family (Clooneys and Guilfoyles) she is Irish. Appropriately, her name was inspired by a song. Her parents, Andrew and Frances Clooney, attended a performance of "Rose Marie" the day before the seven-pound baby girl arrived in her Grandmother Guilfoyle's big, old-fashioned house on Maysville's Third Street.
A favorite daughter's return. Rosemary was guest of honor
Andy Clooney was a painter"not pictureshouses," as Rosemary recently corrected a Manhattan society matron. But not many people were painting their houses in Maysville during the Great Depression. When they were, they couldn't pay Andy enough to support his family, especially when another daughter, Elizabeth, and then a son, Nicholas, came along.The Clooney kids never knew a lasting home of their own. When their parents' marriage broke under financial pressure, Frances went to work in a Lexington dress shop, while Andy sought a fresh start in Washington, DC. The girls were left with their Grandfather and Grandmother Clooney, and sometimes with Grandmother Guilfoyle.
"When I was at Grandfather Clooney's, the nuns at St. Patrick's parochial school would ask me, 'Have you any clothes to give to the poor children?'" Rosemary says. "And when I was with Grandmother Guilfoyle, it was, 'Is there anything you need?' "
Andrew Clooney, Senior, was a man of property and distinction in Maysville. He owned a jewelry store and, in Rosemary's childhood, was the perennial Democratic mayor. He also filled his home with books and loved music. His wife was a Southern belle, who insisted on gracious living.
But Ada Guilfoyle had neither time, money nor inclination for such luxuries. A plain woman from pioneer stock, she had character. Widowed, with nine children of her own to raise and little to finance the job, she was a genius at making things "do." When Rosemary was nine, her Grandmother Clooney died, and the sisters moved permanently to Grand mother Guilfoyle's.
Rosemary's habit of extracting some kind of gladness from every misfortune was partly her own nature. But it developed under her grandmother's encouragement and example.
Once Rosemary tumbled from the step of a lurching streetcar and plowed a deep gash in her elbow, which is still scarred today. Blood gushed alarmingly, and she was hurried aboard the tram which bowled nonstop, bell clanging down Market Street to the nearest doctor's office.
Patched up, she was asked by the physician if it didn't hurt.
"Yes," she admitted, "but golly, what a ride!"
The Clooney sisters always had a wonderful time when they were singing. And from the time they made up the double bed they shared until they washed and dried the dishes at night, they were usually harmonizing some popular tune.
Soon they were potent attractions at most Maysville school, church or service-club events, and always a vote-getting feature of Grandfather Clooney's political rallies They'd serenade the inmates of the jail on the way home from church.
In the summer of 1941, Ada Guilfoyle moved her adopted brood to Cincinnati, where most of the Guilfoyle sons and daughters had already gone to seek employment or marriage. Rosemary was thirteen at the time, and although she was sorry to leave the friendly Kentucky town, actually the move was highly exciting. It promised new friends, new fun and new triumphs.
She was rudely disappointed. In the city, for the first time, the provincial girl encountered snobbery, thoughtless cruelty and caste. Her first crushing experience came at a sorority rushing party when she entered Withrow High School. For this affair, (Grandma Guilfoyle curled her hair and frantically altered a cousin's dress. Rosemary tripped off feeling "like Cinderella."
But her glory was even more fleeting. She stood around uncomfortably, while the girls pumped her about what her father did, where she lived, and what kind of a car her family drove. "Oh," they'd say, drifting off. And she caught a phrase"that Kentucky hillbilly." Finally she moved self-consciously toward the door and lied her thanks for a wonderful time. A girl followed her out to the sidewalk.
I'm sorry," she said, "but you were blackballed."
That was to happen to Rosemary Clooney four separate times. And each time, alone before the bathroom mirror, she would wonder what was wrong with her.
Added to these familiar adolescent tragedies was another very real handicap: At an age when a stable home life is the greatest asset a girl can have, Rosemary Clooney's shifted around like a Bedouin's.
When Ada Guilfoyle's youngest son George, joined the Air Force, Frances Clooney came to Cincinnati to take over her daughters. But soon Frances married a Navy man and left for California. After that, Andy Clooney tried to make a home for Betty and Rosemary, but that didn't work out. Next, they moved to the home of their Aunt Jeanne Dudenhoefer one of the Guilfoyle girls, in suburban Green Hills. These shifts meant that Rosemary attended four different high schoolsone year at each.
"But I didn't let it get me," Rosemary says bravely. "I thought, 'Well, if I can can't dance at the parties, I'll sing for them.''' She found a job with a band ran by a boy named Billy Petering. Billy played at all the high-school dances. Sometimes Betty joined them, swinging out harmony for $2 a night. But Rosemary got far more out of it than that. By using the talents she had, instead of fretting over those she lacked, she found some of the things she'd missed.
Billy became a beau. "My first actual romance," Rosemary says. "Until then it had to be Frank Sinatra." Unembittered by her experiences, she made a sorority finally at Western Hills High. And in 1944, when she was sixteen, she got a job singing with Betty at Cincinnati's radio station WLW.
Rosemary doesn't take credit for this first real professional break. "The audition was Betty's idea," she freely admits. "That afternoon we had a quarter to spend. I wanted chocolate malteds, and she wanted to use it for carfare to the station. We flipped, and I lost."
The Clooney kids from Maysville--Rosemary
"Tonight at ten--Voice of America
The most relaxed performer of
As things turned out, however, nobody lost. A local band leader named Barney Rapp liked their style and hired the Clooney sisters to sing with his band. l hen, the summer after Rosemary was graduated from Our Lady of Mercy Convent, Tony Pastor came to town looking for new singers to tour with his orchestra. Rapp recommended the Clooney sisters.
Yanked out of a public swimming pool for the tryout, the girls showed up with sunbaked noses and stringy hair looking even younger than their eighteen and fifteen years. But, after singing they were hired. "Now I suppose I'll have to find a nursemaid, too," Pastor frowned. Their uncle, George Guilfoyle, home from the wars, volunteered as traveling guardian.
The sultry night of July 10, 1946, when Rosemary opened with Tony Pastor's band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was both agonizing and wonderful. Beneath the plaid taffeta gown which-Grandmother Guilfoyle had made, her ankles trembled, partly because she'd never worn spike heels before, partly because of what she knew was at stake--not only her new job, but her self-reliance. below, on the 'door of the vast Marine Ballroom, three thousand faces swayed, all strange. To make matters worse, that afternoon she had been handed four unfamiliar solo arrangements which had belonged to the singer who preceded her, none in her key. When she reached for a high note in the first one, her voice broke into a comical, discordant croak.
"In my mind I was already on the train back to Cincinnati, and I wanted to cry. But before all those people?"
Instead, she smiled--as wide as she could. There was a heartening roar of applause. Next time she hit the high note.
"It was easy then," she says. "I knew they were with me."
The Clooney sisters sang in the supper rooms of big-city hotels, in provincial tobacco barns, college gymnasiums, social halls, fair tents, and smoke-choked night clubs. But characteristically, in this rigorous, itinerant life, Rosemary saw only opportunity. When the band played one-nighters in Brooklyn, she rode the subway into Manhattan afterward to study night-club styles of famous entertainers. In the afternoons, she made the same journey to the Paramount Theater to catch the latest bobby-sox idol Wherever Pastor traveled, there were disk jockeysnight owls and early birds who remember the Clooney sisters showing up at dawn, bright and full of chatter, explaining, "Mr. Pastor couldn't come, but he sent us."
Because she had a middle-ranged voice, Rosemary sang the solos for the sister team. Her first band record, with the double-talk title of "I'm Sorry I Didn't Say I'm Sorry When I Made You Cry caught the attention of Manie Sacks, then a Columbia Records executive. There began to be talk about a recording contract for Rosemary.
In the spring of 1949 Betty decided to return to school, and two weeks later, Rosemary arrived in New York alone with her contract. It guaranteed only eight sides a year at $50 a side. Four hundred dollars a year isn't much in New York. But the friendships and experiences which Rosemary had steadily built made up the difference.
Joe Shribman became her manager and found radio and TV spots on the Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Vaughn Monroe and Jan Murray shows. In between Rosemary played outlying resorts and clubs, but her name meant little nationally until her records began to sell. None of the first eight did.
It was a disk jockey Doug Arthur of Philadelphia, who indirectly brought about Rosemary Clooney's first hit record. He wrote a tune called "The Kid's a Dreamer," and sent it to Rosemary. She recorded it, and with Arthur's help, it sold 65,000 copies in the Philadelphia area alone. Then ;'Beautiful Brown Eyes" leaped to a 400,000 sale, and Rosemary was on her way.
Her record popularity has steadily mounted. Today Rosemary Clooney shares the feminine best-seller distinction with Patti Page and Jo Stafford, all three jockeying, month by month, for front position. Rosemary averages between two and three million record sales annually.
Mitch Miller, who has supervised all Rosemary's recorded hits, explains this three ways: "First," he says, "Rosie can sing anything and in any style. Then, she always sings as if she's singing just to you. But her most important asset springs straight from the girl's character. To Rosie everything is rosy."
Miller should know. It was he who picked a strident, frenetic novelty, composed by the quixotic author William Saroyan and his cousin Ross Bagdasarian for Rosemary to record. Even Rosemary regarded this project skeptically. The tune sounded like a drunken chant, and the lyrics were incoherent. But she sang it so super enthusiastically that "Come On a My House" sold over a million impressions.
Out in Hollywood, Bing Crosby remarked casually to Don Hartman, Paramount's production head, "You ought to look into this kid, Rosemary Clooney. From what I hear she has something for everybody." Crosby's hint was good enough to bring Rosemary down from Las Vegas, Nevada, where she was appearing for her unimpressive screen test. Signed anyway, she was spotted warily with two song numbers in "The Stars Are Singing."
What happened then can best be explained in the words of Hartman, who kept an anxious executive eye on that first picture.
"Of course, Rosemary Clooney is an exceptionally talented girl," he says. "But there is also a studio momentum that some rare personalities catch and ride to the top. Hollywood is like any you like you, they help you beyond what their jobs require. From the start, everyone loved Rosemaryso all knocked themselves out in her behalf."
The script was rewritten as the picture was filmed, and Rosemary wound up the star. Since then, she has been starred in two more, "Here Come the Girls" and "Red Garters." With "White Christmas" coming up, the Clooney epidemic seems certain to spread. By now, too, studio technicians have ironed out her camera problems. In fact, recently photographers voted hers one of the "ten most stimulating faces in America."
This new career makes Hollywood officially Rosemary Clooney's home town the first she has been able to claim since Cincinnati. Actually Rosemary's engagements take her all over the country. Nevertheless, for the first time in her life comparative stability allows her to maintain a house, even though the three-bedroom place in Beverly Hills is rented and ready furnished. There she lives with an "outdoors-broken" taffy-colored cocker spaniel, a maid and a secretary who also chauffeurs her about in her first automobile, a black Ford convertible. Rosemary has not yet learned to drive. Her lone attempt ended up against a mailbox.
In what leisure hours she has, Rosemary is attempting to make up for some of the things she missed as a girl. She has recently taken up tennis, golf and bicycling and started swimming again. Conscious, too, of a brief education, Rosemary is an avid reader. Often after work on relentless rounds of Hollywood nightspots to study other singers' styles, she spends the predawn hours with a book. Frequently it's the dictionary.
With the money rolling in, Rosemary tries to hold herself down to an allowance doled out by her manager. She has understandably indulged in some extravagancesa mink coat, countless pairs of expensive shoes, lingerie and gold jewlry ingextravagance is sending gifts to her family, and checking on them by telephone. Her bill has run as high as $600 a month, with calls to Grandma Guilfoyle, to Betty, now a nationally-known recording artist in her own right and a Detroit television star, and to brother Nicky, until recently a Wilmington, Delaware, disk jockey.
However, in Hollywood Rosemary Clooney isn't lonely. She knew no one when she arrived, but she has already collected a wide circle of friends who hail her as "Rosie" or "Cloon." One of the closest is Bing Crosby, at whose house she spent last Christmas and whose son Lindsay Rosemary calls "my secret love."
Rosemary and Jose Ferrer didn't let
Her real love, not secret at all, is Jose Ferrer, the kinetic Puerto Rican actor-writer who, like Rosemary, commutes mutes between New York and Hollywood. They met in New York when Ferrer was estranged but not divorced from his wife, Phyllis Hill, a Broadway actress. Falling seriously in love for the first time, Rosemary handled this delicate situation with typical honesty. "If we go together," she decreed, "it will be in the open, not sneaking around to hide outs."
Ferrer felt the same way, and the romance flourished publicly for over a year. When Ferrer was divorced in July, he married Rosemary, who frankly said
"I want six childrenthree more than Mother and three less than Grandma."
Last January 22, after townsfolk signed a petition to bring her first picture to Maysville for its world premiere. Rosemary went back home. Fluttering across Market Street and on every important building in townincluding the jailwere banners emblazoned WELCOME HOME, ROSEMARY ! By noon the town s 8,990 population had swelled to 25,000 When the fifty-ear motorcade from Cincinnati stopped to regroup at Aberdeen just over the river, Rosemary looked around the welcoming committee, then gasped in dismay, "Where's Grandma?"
Informed she was still at home, Rosie raced ahead in a police car and found Ada Guilfoyle putting a pie in the oven. Helping her into the black Sunday dress and the hat with artificial violets, Rose mary sped her back to the parade and the seat of honor beside her own.
Throughout the day, as Rosemary accepted the key to the city, had Lower Street renamed "Rosemary Clooney Street" in her honor, and auctioned off tobacco for charity, Ada Guilfoyle stayed by her side.
At the Russell Theater that evening Rosemary sang the songs her homefolks like best.
"Now," she announced at the end, "I want to sing one especially for the per son responsible for whatever I am today my grandmother." And to the plump little woman dabbing her eyes in the third row, she sang, sweet and clear, Grandma Guilfoyle's favorite, "Moonlight and Roses."
As Bob Hope recently put it, "Most people in this business climb the ladder stepping on other people's necks. But Rosie Clooney has been boosted up by their hearts."