Clooney Set for Salute to Her Sister

by Jack Hawn, The Los Angeles Times, Mar 30, 1988

Family photographs-some half a century old-were scattered about the living room of the Beverly Hills mansion where Rosemary Clooney has lived for 35 years. She had been looking, as she had promised the previous day, for some of her sister.

"Here's one," the singer said, her expression suggesting a private thought, a cherished moment suddenly recaptured. "That's the old Mercury, our first car."

The photo showed two young women seated on the rear bumper of "the old" De Soto. The picture was labeled "Betty and Rosemary May 25, 1949."At the time, the Clooney sisters were singing as a duet and sharing laughs while on the road with a band led by Tony Pastor, a former saxophonist for Artie Shaw. But they had gotten their act together long before that.

Extremely close, the sisters became a musical "entry," as Rosemary put it, while Betty was still in diapers.When, in 1976, Betty Clooney died of an aneurysm at age 45, the shock was traumatic for Rosemary. In 1983, a foundation was established that bears her sister's name, and, since 1986, an annual concert has helped finance the organization's work.

Titled "The Singers' Salute to the Songwriter," the event, at 7:30 tonight at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, will give a financial boost to the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons With Brain Injury and the Betty Clooney Center, which opened last month in Long Beach.

The show will feature more than 20 entertainers (Debby Boone, Diahann Carroll, Vic Damone, Jack Jones, the Lennon Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob and Delores Hope, to name a few), who will pay tribute to songwriters Betty Comden and partner Adolph Green, Brazil's Antonio Carlos Jobim, Burton Lane, Michel Legrand and Melissa Manchester and arranger Ralph Burns.

While going through the old photos and reminiscing, Clooney occasionally wiped a tear, admitting that even now, 12 years later, "it's still difficult, very emotional."

"We always sang together," she recalled, "from the time Betty was 2 and I was 5. We sang at home, in the car. . . . We lived with my dad."

Grandfather Andrew Clooney, a jeweler twice elected mayor in their hometown of Maysville, Ky., often featured the youngsters as entertainers at political rallies.

"We would sing on street corners, anywhere we could collect a crowd," Clooney said. "Betty had a natural gift for harmony. Her voice was lower than mine."

After the family moved to Cincinnati, Betty-then in junior high school-auditioned for a local talent variety show, singing "Temptation," and was selected.

"I didn't try out," Rosemary said, "I guess, because I was afraid I wouldn't make it."

But the "entry" did make it on a Cincinnati radio station in 1945.

"My dad was a drinker," Clooney readily admitted. "He went off the wagon on V-J Day and disappeared for three weeks. So we took a streetcar downtown and auditioned. We were kind of pushed into it. We were 16 and 13 at the time."

The girls' mother and their brother Nick were living in California then, Clooney said.

After singing "Pattycake Man," "Dream" and "Hallelujah"-"those three songs, over and over, they hired us. It was an open audition. They put us with a voice coach, and we made $20 a week apiece. I think I saved more then than I do now."

After about 18 months on local radio, the teen-agers (then 18 and 15) went on the road with Pastor, but were chaperoned by their uncle and legal guardian, George Guilfoyle, a freshly discharged Army bomber pilot who traveled with them.

"Uncle George was only six years older than I was," Clooney said, "but he was tougher than anybody in the world."

The sisters sneaked smokes and tried to date members of the band, which Guilfoyle didn't permit.

"Betty loved a trumpet player and I loved a guitar player, but it was only when we played a few towns in Texas that we were able to go out with the guys," Clooney said. "That's where Uncle George had trained and where he had girlfriends." She laughed. "He was too busy to keep his eyes on us.

"Everybody adored Betty. She was engaged to so many guys. When they would break up, she would give them a St. Christopher medal."

Press releases say Betty Clooney grew weary of the one-night stands after two years on the road, quit the tour and returned home. But Rosemary gave a different version.

"The real reason she quit," Clooney said, "was because she knew I had a (deal for a) record contract and I wouldn't be the one to make a break. She started working again in Cincinnati on a TV station."

Rosemary signed a Columbia Records contract after the split and soon hit the jackpot with "Come On-a-My House" and, later, the enduring hit "Tenderly."

Married in 1953 to actor Jose Ferrer, she had her first of five children two years later and has almost never stopped working. Even now, two months from her 60th birthday, her schedule is heavy with commitments.

The sisters remained close, especially during those dark periods of Rosemary's life-the two divorces from Ferrer, the addiction to Seconal, five years of psychoanalysis, group therapy, etc.When she was hospitalized in Santa Monica in 1968, Rosemary recalled a visit from Betty.

"I was under some very strong shots. I didn't believe anybody. I didn't trust anybody. And Betty said, `Listen, you know as long as I'm in charge, I'm not going to let anything happen to you.' "

But when Betty died, Rosemary wasn't at her side, having just returned from England, where she had been working with Bing Crosby.

Betty had suffered a massive stroke while entertaining the parents of the young man her daughter was planning to marry. She died the next morning while undergoing surgery.

"She didn't smoke, drank only occasionally, was thin, active. There was no preparation for it. She wasn't sick. You want to blame somebody, but there was no one to blame.

"Some people hang onto the grief," Clooney added, "because that's all that's left."

Betty Clooney died in Las Vegas, where she had met band leader Pupi Campo while working on Jack Paar's morning TV show. The couple married in 1954 and produced four children.Among them is Cathi Demman, who will sing one of Melissa Manchester's songs at the concert. Appropriately, she has selected a song that seems to please her aunt. It's titled "Happy Endings."


Click Above to Return to
Home Page