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Lightning Strikes

Barbara McNair"On our opening night at the Beverly Doheny, a little movie house converted to live theater, the audience went wild, rushing up to the stage to reach out to us," Rosemary wrote in Girl Singer.

"The fans were great," Whiting said. "The first thing, the first little theater, was on a side street in Beverly Hills. The first night when we worked there, all of the sudden we saw these people coming towards us to embrace us. It was like a cloud of people. And we thought, ‘Oh my god!’ We’d never seen that before. It was like what people were doing for, you know, hip singers. It was wonderful."

"We were very, very, very successful on our first engagement," Rose Marie said. "We made the front page of the L.A. Times. It was so good. Everybody was so surprised."

The surprising success of the group caught everyone off-guard, but one of the women, Barbara McNair, felt the act just wasn’t right for her.

"I think I was in the first one that they did," McNair said. "The reason I was in it was that my manager, Bill Loeb, managed the other girls in the group and that put the whole thing together. After the first session he realized that I didn’t really fit in with the other ladies because they were from a different era. I only did one stint with them, then they replaced me with somebody else who was more within that era."

McNair has fond memories of her brief brush with the 4 Girls, however.

Rosemary and Jose in the 50s"I shared a dressing room with Rosemary Clooney, which was a wonderful experience for me," she said. "She was such a wonderful lady. She told me all about how she had her nervous breakdown. She said to me it was like a switchboard – like taking all of the plugs out of a switchboard and she had to re-plug all of the plugs back into her mind. Her husband came on the set one day to visit her. It was nice to see him, Jose Ferrer."

Ferrer – known by everyone who knew him simply as "Joe" – was never far from Rosemary’s mind at the time. Their children, all born between 1955 and 1960, were in early adulthood, and beginning to come into their own by 1977. When in private moments with Whiting, sometimes Rosemary would mention her ex-husband, with whom she had had not one, but two tempestuous marriages.

"Once in a while, Margaret and I went out by ourselves," Rosemary wrote in her memoirs. "Over martinis, we’d talk about our work and life on the road... ‘Let’s call Joe,’ I said to her more than once. ‘Let’s just call him.’

"‘What will we say,’ she asked.

"‘We are two singers sitting here thinking of you.’"

An actress herself, McNair was in awe of Ferrer, who is thought by many to have been the greatest actor of his generation.

"He came into the dressing room," McNair said. "He and Rosie had conversations. I left of course. I didn’t want to be eavesdropping on them. But it was really a nice surprise to see Jose Ferrer walk up to the dressing room door! I always respected him. He was such a fine actor. She never mentioned that he was coming by, so it really caught me by surprise. I was kind of starstruck."

McNair said that Clooney at the time was having financial difficulty, a fact that has been borne out in many reports of her life at the time, including her own two autobiographies.

"She said to me, ‘There’s a gown I saw in a window. Gee, I’d love to have that gown, but right now I can’t afford it,’" McNair said of one conversation with Clooney. "I said, ‘Well, can I buy it for you?’ And she said, ‘Oh, absolutely not. I wouldn’t accept it.’ But I would have bought it for her, she was such a nice lady."

Though they had become warmly acquainted during the Beverly Doheny gig, McNair and Clooney parted ways for good at the close of that first engagement.

"I never even came in contact with her again," McNair said. "I never had another chance to see her."

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