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The Girls of 4 Girls 4

About the Author Matt Connor


You're listening to Rosemary Clooney's Revenge Medley


Not long after the TV special aired, two of the original 4 Girls 4 decided to peel away from the group. For Rose Marie, leaving the act was a matter of her own personal mental health.

"I was the first person to break up the group, because I was almost having a nervous breakdown," she said. "I was always trying to keep everything together. I’d say, ‘Come on, you talk to her and you talk to her. We gotta do this. We gotta do that.’"

In her book Rose Marie goes into more detail about her departure from 4 Girls 4.

"Yeah, we had a lot of good times and some pretty rough times, and I was slowly having a nervous breakdown because of all the bickering going on with the show," Rose Marie wrote. "It was mostly little things that just got on my nerves. I was always trying to straighten them out so that we could do the shows. I didn’t realize what it was doing to my stomach."

Whiting was the next to leave, but just prior to the exit of Rose Marie and Whiting, there were a series of controversial events that would nearly rupture the 4 Girls 4 act when it was near the height of its success.

The first spat between the women during this period was the kind of serio-comic incident that could have been written into a song by Irving Berlin. In fact, it was. To be precise, it was a lyric from "Sisters," which Rosemary Clooney sang in her most famous film, "White Christmas":

God Bless the Mister
Who comes between me and my sister.
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man.

Helen O’Connell had been dating a fellow identified only as "Ken" in Margaret’s autobiography. According to Whiting’s account, Ken had the impression that Helen was drifting away from him, so he hatched a plot to make her jealous and thus draw her closer to him. He called Margaret twice during a tour that took the 4 Girls 4 through Kansas City and Phoenix. He said he wanted to know Rose Marie’s birthday, because he wanted to send her flowers.

The next night, Helen gave Whiting the cold shoulder, glaring at her even as they were performing the finale onstage. Why, you ask?

"You’re trying to take Ken away!" Helen shouted at Margaret. "He called me in Los Angeles. He said you had been calling him all the time."

"Please believe me," Margaret averred. "I never called him. I don’t even know his last name."

Whiting tried to convince O’Connell that she had merely provided Ken with Rose Marie’s birthday, but O’Connell stubbornly refused to believe her. That’s when Rose Marie walked in the room. Overhearing the argument, Rose Marie smiled and said, "Oh yeah, Ken. He sent me flowers. Wasn’t that sweet?"

Like every other squabble, this one too got straightened out.

It would not be the first time that a romance between one of the "girls" and her beau would cause a rift between the women. There was the time, for instance, when Wrangler had a very nasty fall in New York and required hip-replacement surgery. Whiting called Loeb and asked for a few days off between engagements. According to Whiting, Loeb agreed. But then 4 Girls 4 got a lucrative offer to perform during the time Whiting requested off. Loeb called her back to tell her about the offer. Whiting remained adamant. She deserved the time off and Wrangler needed her. Besides, that week had been free when she first put in her request for downtime.

This led to a huge misunderstanding between the four women. It seemed to them that Margaret was putting her personal life ahead of the act, and they weren’t happy.

"Helen pointed a finger at me," Margaret wrote in It Might As Well Be Spring. " ‘Don’t you ever let your love life interfere with my career!’"

There was a shouting match to end all shouting matches, with accusations and cross-accusations. Rose Marie alone remained silent.

Still, the ladies went on and did their regular show as if nothing had happened. Soon thereafter a birthday party for O’Connell and Clooney – who were born on the same day seven years apart – was held in New York. The atmosphere was decidedly frosty, and Whiting believed that Wrangler – who had come as her guest to the party – had been deliberately snubbed.

For a while, everyone seethed. But this, too, passed.

Another big quake to strike the 4 Girls 4 happened after the women got word that Loeb and his partners were planning to launch an act called 4 Boys 4.

"This news did not make me a happy person," Whiting wrote. "First of all, 4 Girls 4 had not come close to achieving its potential. I certainly didn’t want to see Loeb and Weems dissipating their energies on a rival group until they had done all they could for us."

Problem was, 4 Girls 4 was the original conception of Loeb, and there was little the other "girls" – who were just as concerned as Whiting – could do about the creation of the new act.

They needn’t have worried too much. 4 Boys 4 turned out to be a loser.

"There was another act called 4 Boys 4, or 4 Guys 4, something like that," Sviridoff remembered. "I think it had, like, Donald O’Connor and Tony Martin and guys like that. It should have been a great act. But it wasn’t."

If it’s known at all today, 4 Boys 4 remains only a hazy memory for the folks who actually caught the act. Very few did.

But the loudest and most controversial event to strike at 4 Girls 4 happened in 1981. It was then that Rosemary got the impression that Loeb was victimizing her financially. Her manager, she said, "who sometimes handled the booking for all of us, had been double-contracting, writing one contract for the venue and one for the girls. If the venue contract said $15,000 and ours said $10,000, my manager kept the difference. He’d even kept deposits from venues that should have come straight to me, and he’d simply pocketed them. I was shocked at the gall and enormity of the betrayal.

"So were the other girls," Clooney continued in her account of the incident in Girl Singer. "At the Westbury Music Fair, in a backstage blowup that wiped all our petty disagreements off the map, we raged and railed while the hapless house manager kept putting his head in. ‘Half an hour,’ he said hopefully.

"‘There will be no show tonight!’ one of the girls exclaimed, full of righteous outrage."

Eventually, Whiting rose majestically and told the "girls" she was going out there to perform, and the rest followed suit. But there was now an insurmountable rift between Clooney and Loeb.

To this day, however, Loeb is adamant that there were no financial shenanigans going on with the 4 Girls 4.

"There was no double-contracting at all," Loeb averred. "There were contracts made, and all of the girls saw what they were. The agent at the time, he was getting his regular commission, and the money that was left over after his commission was split up. There was no double-contracting. Absolutely not. That was Helen O’Connell’s thing. She thought she wasn’t getting her fair share of everything. It was a very, very sensitive point, but it never existed.

"There wasn’t any double-contracting," he again emphasized. "Marty Kummer, who was the agent for the job, was booking places and he would get the contracts and he would issue us our contracts for what we wanted and for what we were supposed to get. What he was doing with his promoter or with his places as a booker was his business. It was as straight and as clean and as honest as any deal there is in the business. There was never any funny goings on or playing around. Helen started thinking she wasn’t getting as much as she should get. She started creating a problem, started creating talk, started creating questions and it just got to the point that after everything I had done, I wouldn’t put up with it anymore."

Loeb remained with the act through the replacement of Rose Marie by the indomitable Martha Raye.

"I was still with the group when Martha came into the show," he remembered. "I remember Nick Condos always being in everybody’s nose. He was Martha’s husband, who acted as her manager also."

Soon thereafter Loeb settled his differences with the 4 Girls 4 and moved on. After the rift with the "girls," however, he retired from show business for twenty years. Today, he said, he’s become involved with a motion picture production company, his first foray into entertainment since he left 4 Girls 4 in the early 1980s.

"I burned out in about 1982. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I think the 4 Girls 4 was the little hair that broke the camel’s back... Helen threatened to sue, and she wanted to get the name 4 Girls 4 for herself and own it. She was no more entitled to it than anybody. I mean, she was great and we had fun and joked and kidded, but she was extremely difficult."

Sviridoff took over Rosemary’s career management, and Loeb stayed in touch with the singer for a few years, but eventually the two lost touch completely. Just weeks later, Whiting left the act.

"We did have problems. You can’t get four girls who are big stars and were doing a great act and not have problems," Whiting said. "But we got along and the great thing was our senses of humor. Rosie and I became very close on that tour. She said I was kind of like her sister Betty. We’d hang around a lot together."

In her book, Rosemary said she wept when Whiting left 4 Girls 4, even though she knew the two of them would team up for their own cabaret act in just a few weeks. The parting was difficult for Whiting, too. Today, when she talks about Rosemary, her voice occasionally cracks with emotion.

"Do you know what we did? We used to give each other an opening night gift," Whiting said. "We’d give each other records and pins or anything we saw at the shop. Rosemary once gave me a gorgeous soap dish that I’ve carried with me. And I see it..." here she pauses briefly, clearly teary-eyed at the memory, "...every day in my bathroom."

In her book, Margaret describes her parting thusly: "I gave my last performance in Latham, New York, in September 1981. Clooney cried. Martha said goodbye. Helen didn’t."

Still, she adds, just a half-page later, "To sum it up, my feelings about 4 Girls 4 – and about Bill Loeb – are that if a phone call came from any one of them, I’d be on the next plane."

Two years later, the call would come.

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