Rosemary Clooney back on track

(Gannett News Service 5-10-96)

Life's rosey again for '50s hitmaker Rosemary Clooney.

And the singer-actress credits her nephew George Clooney, the late Bing Crosby and lessons learned from a breakdown for making her comeback possible.

``I just found out my new album, ``Dedicated to Nelson (Riddle),'' is No. 9 on Billboard's jazz album chart,'' says Clooney, 67. ``I can't believe it. I haven't been on a Billboard chart in decades. This is wonderful. I'm finally in control of my career and singing what I want, the way I want.''

Other indications of Clooney's comeback are Grammy nominations in 1992, 1993 and 1994; critically acclaimed albums for the Concord Jazz label; sold-out concerts; and a stack of TV scripts for her to consider.

To Generation X'ers, Clooney's best known for being the aunt of George Clooney -- star of the top-rated TV drama series, ``ER.''

``Georgie,'' as she calls him, is also a red-hot movie star, having just made his film debut in the Quentin Tarantino-written vampire sendup, ``From Dusk Till Dawn.''

He's shooting ``One Fine Day'' with Michelle Pfeiffer, after which he will don Batman's cape for ``Batman and Robin'' and revive the ``Green Hornet'' as a feature film.

The fact that Rosemary and George are related hit the headlines when she first appeared in her recurring role as an Alzheimer's patient on ``ER.''

``Georgie got me on ``ER,'' Clooney says. ``People think I opened doors for him, but I didn't. In fact, he's the reason I'm acting again. I'm receiving lots of TV scripts now because I was on ``ER.'''

But don't look for Clooney to begin popping up all over TV. She hasn't found any scripts that appeal to her.

``I started with the best and now I can't find any scripts that are comparable to the quality of writing on ``ER,''' she says. ``Lydia Woodward, one of the show's writers, created that great role just for me. She even took the time to learn all about me first and listen to my albums.''

Clooney can't wait to be on ``ER'' again. In fact, she admits to bribing her nephew in hopes of speeding things up.

``I just gave him a beautiful cashmere sweater for getting me on the first time,'' she says. ``And I stressed there are a lot more where it came from.''

So, can we expect to see her in ``Batman and Robin?''

``I don't think I'm ready for that,'' she says, chuckling.

Clooney isn't a bit surprised by her nephew's ascent. ``Georgie came to live with me when he was 19 years old,'' she says. ``I still had my five kids at home and he became my sixth. I always knew he'd make it. The camera loves him and he loves acting.

``He worked long and hard to get where he is by taking every acting class available and doing every showcase he could get. He's 34 years old now, so he's not exactly an overnight success. He was in a lot of shows before ``ER.'''

The two are still close and she often talks with him.

``But I've never given him advice because he doesn't need it,'' she says.

Although he's red-hot now, most older music lovers still regard her as an even bigger star because of her huge popularity in the '50s when she became the first female singer to hit the cover of Time.

Her pop hits for Columbia such as ``Come On-a My House'' and ``Hey There'' topped the charts, she had her own hit NBC variety show, her nightclub performances sold out nationwide and she starred in a string of blockbuster movies such as ``White Christmas,'' with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

During this hectic time, she married Academy Award-winning actor-director Jose Ferrer, who died a few years ago, and had five children. But it was a stormy 15-year union that ended in divorce.

Clooney says Ferrer forced her to turn down the female lead in ``On the Waterfront'' opposite Marlon Brando. The part went to Eva Marie Saint.

``Jose told me I could only do musicals,'' Clooney says. ``But that wasn't the real reason he wouldn't let me do it. He was very jealous of Marlon. We were good friends long before I married Jose. So every time Marlon saw me he'd give me a big kiss. Jose hated that.''

To keep up with career and family demands -- and to soothe her annoyance at having to sing cutesy, novelty songs she didn't like -- Clooney says she began taking prescription sleeping pills and tranquilizers. She soon became addicted.

Then in the late '60s, the assassination of her close friend Robert Kennedy and a bitter divorce, coupled with her longtime drug addiction, sent her over the edge into a total breakdown. She committed herself to a psychiatric ward.

Her ordeal was the subject of a 1982 CBS movie, ``Rosie, The Rosemary Clooney Story.''

After five years of intensive therapy that finally enabled her to express her feelings, Clooney tried to resurrect her career. Nobody wanted her.

Today, she thinks that a lot of good came from those dark days.

``After I got out of the hospital, I was in therapy five days a week for years so I couldn't leave town,'' Clooney says. ``I realized I wouldn't be doing any Carnegie Hall gigs. But I had to make a living. ``So I started singing in every little lounge that'd have me. It was then that I finally appreciated my voice, my music. Before that, everything had been handed to me. I was only 17 years old when I became a star. It had come too easy. I'd never appreciated it. It took a breakdown to put things in perspective.''


Copyright 1996, Gannett News Service, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.