HER LIFE IS A Song
There's always been a special kind of radiance about those singing Clooney sisters, Rosemary and Betty. But there's a very special kind of radiance about Betty Clooney these days, now that she's singing on Robert Q. Lewis's lively shows over CBS-TV and CBS Radio. It puts a light in her big dark eyes, which seem more a Latin heritage than a gift from her Irish forebears (but sure and 'twas the Guilfoyles on her mother's side and the Clooney's on her dad's and what could be more Ould Sod than these?). It puts a gleam on the masses of thick, dark hair, and on the five feet, four inches and 110 pounds packed with energy.
"I'm happy," Betty says, as if that should explain everything. "Happier than I have ever been in my twenty-four years. Even though I am doing more than I ever did before. Working harder, crowding in more things, Doing the Robert Q. Lewis shows, playing club dates and ballroom engagements, doing telethons, benefits, anything required of me. But it's all fun. The whole thing is just--well, just great!"
There's something else too. Several things, in fact. Things that have made Betty very happy. Like having a settled home, for the first time in years, and fairly settled hours of work. "I could never, until recently, say to my mother, 'Let's have dinner at 6 tonight., if you don't mind, and then I have a date.' I could never be sure of my schedule. Now I can be. My work had kept me on the move, or uncertain that I could keep any date I made, or follow through on any plan.
"If I met someone I thought I might like, I never had much chance to know him better. Just when I thought that might happen, I would have to leave. How can you be sure it's more than the usual friendship when you meet a person only a few times before you have to go off somewhere? You have to see that person with his friends, and with your friends sometimes--with his family and with yours--and you have to get to know his moods and the way he feels about things that are important to you. Now all this is changed. I'm finding happiness I didn't know existed for me."
If this sounds as though Rosemary Clooney's young sister ever felt underprivileged, it isn't so. Not al all. Betty still thinks she has had the most wonderful, the most exciting and adventurous life a girl could have.
"We just always loved to sing," Betty says. "My grandfather was Mayor of Maysville, Kentucky, for several terms, and Rosie and I always sang when he made his campaign speeches. Her special number was 'When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver.' She certainly could make it sound sad and beautiful, even then. I sang 'Home on the Range'--you can tell that Grandfather was a Democrat, because that was President Roosevelt's favorite song. After the meetings, we handed out pamphlets about Grandfather's candidacy. I might add that we were real little 'hams' then, and we loved every minute of it."
The Clooneys moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and the girls went on singing, for clubs such as Rotary, at school entertainments, at church affairs. Rosie was beginning to think big thoughts and to carry Betty along with her enthusiasm. One day, after school, Rosie put a choice up to her younger sister. "We have thirty cents between us Betts," she said. "Which would you rather do--go downtown to radio Station WLW and ask for an audition, or get a soda?"
Betty was immediately entranced with the idea of an audition, but Rosemary was beginning to waver. She really wanted that soda. So they flipped a coin. Betty won, and downtown they went, lugging their schoolbooks.
"When our names were called, we suddenly realized how scared we were. Even Rosie, on whom I counted for support. We sang one duet. They asked us to do another. Then the program director came out of the control room and said, if we would take some lessons in mike technique, he could use us later.
"We told Mother and she was willing to have us try. After two lessons, we got impatient and stopped. When we went back to tell the program director we were ready, he said we weren't--but he would take us, anyhow, and let us learn there."
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There came a time, however, when Betty began to grow tired of the life that had seemed so thrilling to a fifteen-year-old. Now she was eighteen, and Rosie was twenty-one. Their uncle, who now traveled with them most of the time, as their chaperon and manager, didn't like the idea of a girl of Betty's age having dates with men she met casually. It wasn't the same as letting her go out with the home-town boys whom everybody knew. betty understood his point of view, even while she resented it just a little, and she began to long for the life of a normal young girl, the circle of friends of both sexes, the parties, the dates, the fun.
"By the time, Rosie and I had learned so much about show business from Tony Pastor, to whom we will always be grateful. He had taught us that it never pays to get too impressed with yourself, in this or in any business, and that there just isn't any substitute for hard work. But I was getting a little tired of it all, and I wanted to go home.
"First I told Rosie, and then the others. She understood, and they did, too. She stayed out our two-weeks' notice, and I got on a train bound for Cincinnati."
Soon Rosemary had a call from New York, about a record contract. She signed with Columbia Records and began the career which zoomed so spectacularly with the release of her recording of "Come On-A My House." Betty stayed on in Cincinnati, happy to be home, relaxing for a while, until she got a call from a local TV station. She hadn't done any television up to then, but now she was beginning to sing alone and she thought she might just as well try a new medium and jump both hurdles at once. At first she was on five times a week, and finally it grew to sixteen. There were club engagements, and the usual benefits and personal appearances, and before long she was building a career of her own which promised to lead to big things.
Suddenly, Rosie--who was singing on television in New York--became ill. Betty was asked to substitute for her. She made several appearances--on Songs For Sale, on the Robert Q. Lewis shows, and some others. "It was the first time I had worked in Rosie's place, and at first people referred to me as 'Rosemary Clooney's sister.' Rosie was afraid I might be hurt by this. 'Betts,' she would try to explain to me, 'it's only because these people are my friends and they don't know you yet.' By the time they stopped calling me Rosie's sister and remembered I was Betty Clooney, no one was prouder of me than she was."
The affection of these two is well-known in show business, and it seemed completely fitting that they could record the song called "Sisters," for Columbia Records, Rosemary's label. Betty was on the West Coast, doing the Bing Crosby show--with Gary Crosby, who was subbing for his had--when the call came.
"We hadn't done a record together for five years," Betty recalls. "The only time we ever argue is when we work together, so naturally we started! Rosie had some ideas about harmony. I had some ideas about phrasing. We started to argue over them the minute we stepped into the studio, and we never stopped until we walked out of it! We got to the point where we were being very formal with each other--I called her Rosemary instead of Rosie and she began to say Betty Ann instead of Betts, just like she used to when we were kids and she was annoyed.
"When we got into the car to ride home together, we looked at each other and began to laugh. 'Betts,' she said. 'Rosie,' I answered. And we giggled all the way home. It was like old times. Now we have decided that it's a stimulating way to work, each goading the other to do her best. Rosie is really the most wonderful sister a girl could have, with not a trace of jealousy or meanness in her. I think she is a fine actress as well as singer, and I love seeing her in movies. As far as I'm concerned, she has just everything."
Betty herself has a brand-new recording contract, with RCA Victor X label--a new one--for which she has already done "Si Si Senor," "Ko Ko Mo," and "Only Forever" (that last one a sentimental song quite in keeping with her present mood!). The youngest Clooney sister--ten-year-old Gail Ann-is following her big sisters' example and starting with children's recordings for Columbia. (Their brother, now in the Army, has a fine voice but doesn't expect to use it professionally, at least not as of now.) Gail Ann lived in Hollywood with Rosemary and her husband, Jose Ferrer, to keep Rosemary company before the arrival of her baby.
Recently, Betty flew out to Hollywood for a quick trip to see Rosie and the gang and hear the newest voice in the family--baby Miguel's. "I'm so happy for Rosie," she said. "I'm happy for every girl who marries the man she loves and has a family. That's every girl's dream, isn't it?
"Yes," she admitted, "there's someone I am very fond of." (The glow at this point became fairly dazzling!) "We're not ready to talk about it yet, but it has happened at last, to me. I have had a chance to see him with his friends, and with mine. TO have him as a guest in my home many times. To learn what things he thinks are important, and to tell him what things are important to me. Just as I always dreamed of doing when I was on the road."
In the meantime, Betty loves the little apartment in New York, near the CBS studio, where she and her mother keep house. ("My mother is really indispensable. She takes my telephone calls, keeps the house, and my whole life running smoothly.") Betty loves the dinners at home, instead of dining in restaurants and hotels all the time. She loves sitting around, watching TV, listening to radio.
She has a small but flourishing horse-breeding business now, down in the old hometown of Maysville. Her manager-uncle helped her decide on it. "You love horses," he said, "So it would be something you could put your heart into." Betty has, and there have been profits so far in both money ( a modest sum ) and enjoyment. Right now, under her uncle's management, they have three two-year-olds, four brood mares, one stallion, and three yearlings. "This year we will have three horses running--because it seems, this time, that our three little ones can be better used as racers--but mostly we're a breeding farm," Betty explains.
Enthusiastic as she is about her "breeding farm," Betty is still more excited about her current singing assignments. She loves meeting people and hearing what they like about the Robert Q. Lewis shows, why they're happier for watching and listening to Bob and his talented troupe. "It's wonderful to have a small part in all this," she breathes. "In fact, everything in my life is wonderful right now!"