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The Girls of 4 Girls 4

About the Author Matt Connor


Enter Allen Sviridoff

The next few years marked what were the glory days of 4 Girls 4. Crisscrossing the country to widespread acclaim and enormous audiences, the act, at its peak, toured forty weeks out of fifty-two. It was a big job to coordinate all that luggage, all those hotel reservations, all those flight arrangements. And apparently those tasks were being done on a catch as catch-can basis. The "girls" desperately needed a road manager.

"It was 1978 or 79," Allen began. "Rose Marie had a friend named Ben Stroebach. He was a production manager from Broadway. He had done all of the Harold Prince stuff and was Katherine Hepburn’s personal road manager. Rose Marie called him to see who could come on the road with them. Ben worked with me – he had actually trained me – with Mitzi Gaynor. He called me in Buenos Aires – I was there with Ginger Rogers – and he mentioned that these ladies wanted a road manager and would I be interested. I said sure. Sometime in 1978 or 79 I went up to Phoenix to interview with them, and got hired the next day. Then it was on the road ever since."

"I was the one who called Allen Sviridoff into it," Rose Marie said. "I said we needed a road manager. It was the best way to travel, the best way to do a show. Allen would take care of the luggage, the plane, the limos. I had Allen come to Phoenix and, of course, Helen didn’t want to go for it because it would cost her one fourth of his salary. But I said we needed someone to take care of everything because we were a big act and we were making a lot of money and we should go in the right way. He became our road manager and he was wonderful."

"Sometimes it was a trip; sometimes it was chaos," Rosemary wrote in Girl Singer. "We had all the encumbrances of a performer on tour, multiplied several times – luggage, schedules, travel arrangements – and each of us had a manger to throw into the mix, ostensibly to organize it all. ‘This is like 4 Managers 4,’ Margaret complained. Rose Marie agreed. ‘We’re going in like amateurs. We need a road manager.’ In typical take-charge fashion, she got us one.
"Allen Sviridoff came highly recommended from a theater manager Rose Marie knew in New York. He was very bright, great at organization, terrific at lighting. So what if any one of us was old enough to be his mother? We flew him to see our show in Phoenix, and afterward, I cooked shrimp in an electric skillet while everybody grilled Allen."

Sviridoff was hired, and spent the next few years in a frenzy of touring, acting occasionally, he said, like "the Henry Kissinger of the group, making sure that I brokered a deal that everyone was happy with."

"Everyone had their own little disagreements with everybody else at one time or another, but pretty much they were fairly strong comrades-in-arms," Sviridoff said. "They all had their personalities, they each had their own habits that drove each other crazy, but at the same time they stood up for one another no matter what. Some of the evenings with all four of them after the shows were the funniest I’ve ever been present at. Rosemary and myself and the musicians would play cards after the show into the wee small hours."

"Children were important to everybody, and everybody had their own problems – and wonderful things – with their own children," he added. "They were all close to the same age, about ten years of each other, and they all had children of approximately the same age, and they all had one thing or another – a wedding, a divorce – which they all shared on the road. That was kind of a microcosm of life. The way that they dealt with things on the road as a unit was very interesting. To have those four women in the same room at the same time was quite a challenge."

He vividly recalled one of the most famous and oft-repeated tales to come out of the 4 Girls 4 experience.

Helen O'Connell"We were at one of the Kenly Theaters in Ohio," Sviridoff began. "Margaret was always on first, Helen was always on second. There was some commotion during Margaret’s act, up in the upper balcony. I was in the booth, so I could see everything that was going on. So I went backstage and went in and told Helen and Margaret – who were sharing a dressing room – that a very sad thing had happened.

"‘During your act, Helen, a woman died in the upper balcony,’ I said. And Margaret looked up and, without a beat, said, ‘Well, at least she got to see me sing.’"

That was a story Rosemary and the rest of the Clooney clan loved to tell and retell. As late as 2003, one of Clooney’s children approached Whiting at Patsy’s restaurant in New York City at a dinner honoring Rosemary, and told Whiting a version of that same story.

"I’d met Margaret Whiting practically a lifetime ago," Clooney wrote in her second autobiography, "when we were both young singers plugging records in New York,"

"She lived a lot," Whiting said of Rosemary. "I got to meet her and get to know her when she went to Ed Sullivan’s daughter’s wedding. My sister was a bride’s maid, and I think Rosemary was the maid of honor.

"Rosemary was a darling woman. Volatile, exciting, funny. She had the greatest sense of humor and could have been a wonderful actress. Forget Paramount and those early movies, but she could have done wonderful work as an actress."

Rosemary’s "volatility" – or, more precisely her quick and unpredictable Irish temper – was something she acknowledged herself, in her own autobiography.

Rose Marie"Not even the best will in the world could have kept Rose Marie and Margaret and me from clashing on occasion," she wrote. On one such occasion, Rosemary stood seething in the wings while she waited for Rose Marie to finish her act, which had gone eight minutes over schedule. The 4 Girls 4 were appearing in Reno, where the performers were told to keep their acts to a minimum so the gamblers could get back out on the slot floor. If Rose Marie went over her twenty-minute allotment, Rosemary would have to cut her own set to accommodate casino executives who wanted a crisp 80-minute show.

"I thought it was the height of rudeness," Rosemary wrote. "When she introduced me, I told her so, right onstage, in front of the band and a packed house. ‘You did twenty-eight minutes,’ I told her."

Margaret also included an account of that story in her own memoir, adding that Rose Marie was greatly upset by the incident.

"Yet Rosie was the first one to stand backstage and rub Rose Marie’s neck when she was suffering from one of her migraines," Margaret wrote. "There would be times when I would be offstage and see both Helen and Rosie standing with ice and rubdowns for Rose Marie who, in typical trouper fashion, would sail out onstage when she was introduced, smiling as though nothing were the matter."

"Rosemary was a Gemini, and that’s two people in one," Rose Marie said when asked what Rosemary was like to work with. "One minute she’d be in one mood, and in another minute she’d be in another mood. It was difficult to find out which one she was in at which time.

Rosemary Clooney"For instance," she continued, "we all rented a house for the two weeks when we were in Cape Cod when we played there, and we split everything money-wise and were very close. We both cooked – both of us loved to cook – and we had a lot of fun. But we finished that gig and the next day, when we were in Chicago, I think, she wouldn’t even talk to me.

"I said to myself, ‘What did I say? What did I do?’ But it was just her other mood coming out. She could just be so close and so wonderful and very thoughtful and kind and the next minute she wouldn’t talk to you. And you wouldn’t know what you did or said."

Still, she added, "We became very good friends because we thought a lot alike and we used to room together in dressing rooms and things like that. We two kind of stuck together and became very good friends. Her kids became friendly with my kid and it became very, very nice."

There can be little doubt that the pressures of constant touring had a detrimental impact on the women’s nerves, which often led to bickering. But there’s also no denying that Rosemary, Rose Marie and Margaret shared a deep, intimate friendship that grew ever stronger as the years passed. Each of the women have said that friendship never dimmed, even years after 4 Girls 4 was no more. Part of that was due to a shared history.

When Rosemary married Jose Ferrer, for example, in one of the most high-profile weddings since Marilyn Monroe was wedded to Joe DiMaggio, Whiting was front-and-center.

"I was doing ‘Girl Crazy’ and Jose was down there in Dallas doing some show," she said. "He was coming to work to do his show and I was through rehearsal so I was sharing his dressing room for the moment.

"I was sitting there. He said, ‘Margaret, what are you doing on Sunday?’ I said ‘Nothing.’ He said, ‘Well then come to our wedding. I’m marrying Rosemary.’ It was in Dallas. I used to say to Rosemary, ‘Never forget, I was at your wedding.’ I think she always loved Jose. But Dante was wonderful to her. God, he was darling."

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