A Very Clooney Holiday Show Pop music: The `White Christmas' star will be joined by much of her family in a program of seasonal favorites with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and a choir

BILL KOHLHAASE. The Los Angeles Times, Dec 17, 1993

Rosemary Clooney will tell you that her two favorite holiday songs are "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." She'll forever be linked with "White Christmas," Irving Berlin's melancholy tune that lent its title to the 1954 movie in which Clooney starred with Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and her good friend Bing Crosby. The story behind her feeling for "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is much more personal.

"We never really had a home of our own when I was growing up, even before our parents divorced," she recalled this week on the phone from her home in Beverly Hills. "After that, (brother) Nicky, (sister) Betty and I were always together for the holiday, but it was with one relative or another. It was a difficult time for us. And the music of Christmas was important to us. We didn't always know where we'd be spending Christmas, but we knew we'd be together and would have the songs.

"I wasn't that young when `I'll Be Home for Christmas' came out (in 1943). I was born in '28. But it was wonderful and very sentimental, and it became a thing for us. `I'll Be Home for Christmas,' and we didn't have a home. I still reflect on this."

Clooney promises a family affair tonight and Saturday when she will sing with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. She has been involving members of her own family in her holiday tours since she started them 12 years ago.

Joining her on stage this time will be her daughter-in-law Debby Boone (who is married to her son, Gabriel Ferrer. Clooney married actor Jose Ferrer during the summer of 1953 while she was preparing to shoot "White Christmas"; they divorced in 1967) and Boone's four children, Jordan, Dustin, Gabrielle and Tessa Rose. The 250-voice Orange County Choral Conductors Guild Choir, directed by Helen Weed, will also be included.

Clooney, who has lived in her Beverly Hills home since 1953, says this year is particularly special to her. Four of the five children she had with Ferrer will be with her (the youngest, Rafael, born in 1960, will be in New York) as will all of her eight grandchildren.

"I've been busy getting the playroom painted and all the books put back on the shelves . . . . The house is such an important part of my life, the first I ever lived in. We moved in a month after (she and Ferrer) were married, and it always has been a big part of Christmas."

She remembers wonderful Christmases the family shared in the home while her children were growing. "We always had three Christmas trees, one in the living room, one in the hall, one in the den. There was a late supper on Christmas Eve, and we opened our presents on Christmas morning. The children would get up very early and wait behind the doors of their room until they could come out to see what Santa brought them.

" `Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' is a very touching song for me. And that Charlie Brown Christmas song"-she stopped to sing a few bars of "Christmas Time Is Here"-"I'll always remember sitting with my children in front of the television, watching that show and listening to that beautiful song."

But it's the yearly flux of "White Christmas" reruns that will forever keep Clooney associated with the holidays. "We started rehearsing the movie at the end of July of 1953 and shooting it in August, and we didn't finish until just before Christmas. Most of it was done on two huge stages at Paramount, big enough that a sleigh could come through with fake snow falling all around. The whole experience was wonderful.

"Irving (Berlin) wrote the most wonderful music, like `The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing.' You know the Danny Kaye role originally was written for Fred Astaire, but Danny did a wonderful job with it. And when Bing was singing `White Christmas,' all was well with the world."

Clooney and Crosby maintained a close friendship over the years. After a difficult period of inactivity following her divorce, Clooney was asked by Crosby to appear at the celebration of his 50th year in show business, held in Los Angeles in 1974.

"I remember standing backstage and going over and over the words to the song I would be doing. And Bing came back and said, `What are you doing?' And I told him I was afraid I wouldn't remember the words; it was a Paul Simon tune. And he said, `Rosie, take the words out with you on a sheet of paper when you sing. The audience isn't going to form a posse and come and pull you off the stage if you carry the words out there.'

"I learned so much from him. He had impeccable taste and was always so professional-always 15 minutes early for rehearsal. He gave a full measure of credit to everyone he worked with, and he was especially close to the musicians. He was happiest when he was with them. And he trusted audiences so completely. I never had that until I saw how it worked with Bing."

Today, Clooney keeps busy with concerts, recordings and charity work. She has done a series of albums for the Concord label including tributes to Crosby, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer and, of course, Berlin. Her most recent release, "Girl Singer," was done with big band backing, as will her next.

She is passionate about her charity work, which involves the Betty Clooney Foundation For Persons With Brain Injury (named for her late sister, with whom she sang in Tony Pastor's band in the late '40s). Proceeds from Clooney's annual "Singers Salute to the Songwriters," usually held at the L.A. Music Center, go to support the foundation's center in Long Beach.

For now, though, it's the season that occupies her mind. "Yes, I'll be singing `White Christmas' in Costa Mesa. You can count on that. And `I'll Be Home for Christmas,' because this year, I will." * The Rosemary Clooney White Christmas Party with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Orange County Choral Conductors Guild Choir takes place tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $22-$50. (714) 740-2000.

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