By Jane Wilkie
The Success Story of 1953! One song began it, one movie clinched it
- and young
Miss Clooney, record maker, was everybody's Rosie, record breaker!
Gulping down coke between bites of a hot dog, a willowy blonde waited in the wings of a theater for her cue to go on stage. The show people around her were horrified. For years - for centuries - singers have been taught never to sing on a full stomach.
"Rosie," they pleaded. "Don't!" "It's all right," she said, and the words worked their muffled way through a piece of roll. "But suppose you burp in the middle of your song!" Rosemary Clooney shrugged. "S'all right," she said. "I'll just re-phrase it."
This is an anecdote that any movie star would prefer to put in their bottom drawer, and a procedure that most singers would shun like the plaque. Rosemary Clooney, however, is not one to wrap hot towels about her precious throat and insist on a handy cup of hot tea, nor is she likely to hedge when asked a question, whether it be about her age (25), her appetite (prodigious). She treats life and people the same way she sings - tenderly, honestly, without affectation, yet with plenty of what is known politely as intestinal fortitude and impolitely as guts. The all-around result is that wherever Clooney goes she is immediately referred to as 'our Rosie'. There is a warmth to her personality that seeps out and enfolds everyone she meets, and willing victims include an assortment of elderly ladies, schnauzer dogs, small boys, millions of big boys, what's even more remarkable, women of all ages.
Rosie does not do this intentionally. She was born with the personality of the Pied Piper, an indefinable something that could (and did) charm a Time Magazine writer right out of his derisive adjectives. The latest large group to fall under her spell are the citizens of Hollywood, where the name Clooney is currently rolled around more tongues than are filet mignons. Our Rosie, they say, is going to be in the big time for long years to come, and they say it so happily that you'd swear they were talking about themselves.
One of the reasons people like Clooney is that Clooney likes people. She isn't truly happy unless she is surrounded by at least three other human beings, and when she first arrived on the Paramount lot she asked rather shyly if she could have the corner dressing room. This particular 10' by 30' space is assiduously avoided by other actresses, as it is situated at the junction of two studio streets that must be passed by everyone who enters the lot. This is precisely why Rosie wanted it and nowadays if it contains Clooney it also contains a round dozen other people. They pass by in countless numbers and every one of them yells, "Hey, Rosie!" And Clooney always bellows, "Come on in!"
When she walks down a studio street the windows go up as though a Manhattan parade were approaching. Seamstresses, cutters, carpenters, messenger girls - all of them have to call a greeting, and Rosie grins wide and roars, "Hi, Dad!" to the men and, "Hi, Mother!" to the women. The expressions are typical of Clooney who is amusing when she talks. Her conversation is sprinkled with such ticklers as, "I was out of my skull", referring to a headache, and, speaking of a dramatic role she had done on a radio show, "I was pretty awful. You may consider that I am no longer the Mary Pickford of song."
Rosie likes to kid herself, and it is the firm opinion of those who know her that she will be the absolute last to lose her head over the success that is pouring in upon her so fast. Two years ago she was practically an unknown, recording songs for Columbia that consistently missed being hits. Then came the famous "Come On - A My House" and the Clooney craze began. Despite the raucous jiggle of "Come On - A My House" it was suddenly discovered by her new fans that Rosemary could spin a ballad with such heart that listeners were mesmerized into utter adoration. Disc jockeys began talking about her in their sleep, theater managers clamored for her presence on their stages, and the kids who were lucky enough to be given her records for children included her in their prayers. More than a year ago the manager of a large record shop said, "There's an awful lot of popular junk we have to stock all the time. People buy it - I don't know why - but even though I've studied music seriously for years, after listening to this stuff all day long I'm happy to slip in a Clooney record. That girl is a real artist, and remember when I say that I'm pretty jaded where singers are concerned. For my money, she's the only one worthy to record a song. And she can sing anything." Then Rosie hit Hollywood, via Paramount Studios, and when her first picture The Stars Are Singing was previewed, audiences knew a star had been born.
There has been an overpowering storm of adulation, yet Rosie remains untouched by it. She has not even bothered to keep a set of her own records for herself. She takes the success, particularly the Hollywood part of it, with a great deal of sense, for she knows that a movie career is a lot more consistent than that of a recording artist who is only as good as his or her last release.
She also accepts Hollywood much in the spirit of a wide-eyed kid, and with two pictures behind her and two planned for the future (Red Garters and White Christmas, the latter with Crosby), still goggles at other celebrities. The first time full movie make-up was applied to her face she was as delighted as a kitten with a ball of string, refusing to wash her face until the last minute before she climbed into bed that night. "I only wished I could have had eight recording dates that day." The first time she met Bing Crosby, who is the idol of other singers as well as run-of-the-mill citizens, she stood speechless and unable to move. Bing made a stab at conversation. "I understand we're going to do a show together soon." Rosie nodded dumbly and Bing tried again. "What's the date of that show, anyway?" By now Rosie's eyes were glazed over. "Oh, sometime in the 20's," she said.
Later she explained to him that she was not a complete idiot, that she had only been stunned, for later Rosie was to learn that nothing embarrasses Bing quite so much as people who refuse to relax in his presence. It was after she had learned to talk to him easily that Bing dealt Rosie her favorite compliment. "I think you're the best singer in the business," he said.
It has remained her favorite because it can't be topped, for according to Rosie's lights, singing a song well is the best thing that can happen to her. She does it constantly in a busy schedule of perpetual personal appearances, guest spots on radio and television shows, recording the tunesmiths' products, and making movies. She is busier than the old woman who lived in a shoe, yet always takes time to talk to people.
Last February she left for New York after finishing Here Come The Girls with Bob Hope, then returned to Hollywood for a week of engagements which included a premiere in her honor, four radio programs, assorted TV shows, interviews, posing for art and taping two radio shows with Bing. There was plenty to think about on the plane winging its way toward Hollywood, but as we've already stated, Rosie likes people. She sat down next to a young girl and immediately started a conversation. "What's your name?" Rosie wanted to know. "Rosemary," said the girl. "Honest?" said Clooney. "So's mine!" The girl smiled and said, "I know." It came out that she was flying to California to be married to a trumpet player in Hildegarde's band. It was her first plane ride and her first trip to the west coast. Clooney bounced happily in her seat. "Tell you what - why don't you and your Jerry have lunch with me the day I'll be spending at Paramount? I think it's a Tuesday."
That was to be the couples' wedding day, but they weren't going to miss Clooney. They took their blood tests at 11 o'clock in the morning and were told to come back for their marriage license after a two-hour period. So they hot-footed it to Paramount where they had lunch with Rosemary, and then slipped into the retinue of people who follow her around the lot. At four that afternoon they were still in the gallery and watching Clooney pose for a barrage of cameras. In a free moment she galloped over to where they sat, seemingly more enchanted with her than each other. "Hey, today's almost lost! When are you kids going to get married?" The other Rosemary beamed. "I've waited three years - what's one more day? We'll get married tomorrow."
The compliment might well have sailed unnoticed over the head of another movie star, but not Rosie. She put her arms around the reluctant bride and said, "That's the nicest thing anybody ever said to me." And Clooney meant it, every word.
If Rosie is warmhearted toward strangers she is naturally more so with her own family. The telephone wires hum between Rosie's current location and the dress shop managed by her mother in Wilmington, Delaware, her younger sister Betty who records for the Coral label, and her still younger (19) brother Nicky who is a disc jockey on a Wilmington radio station. Recently Nicky went to New York to spend a week-end with his now famous sister, and in the process of conversation showed her a clipping about himself. It stated that Nicholas Clooney, disc jockey, aspired to writing the whole book, music and lyrics of a musical comedy. Rosie whooped at her kid brother. "The lies you tell!"
"I'm serious," he said. "Here," and he took from his pocket the music and lyrics of a song he had written, among others, for his planned show. At this point Rosie can pick her own songs for recording, and she considered that she would drop an atom bomb into Nicky's lap. "This is nice," she said. "You know - I just might record it." And Nicky threw a hydrogen bomb back at her. "Uh-uh," he said. "It would break up the score."
The Clooney family is Irish, pure green on both sides, and there ensued an argument that any Englishman would have steered clear of. The Clooney kids never argued about anything except music, and when that happened they made up in quality for what they lacked in quantity. Each one of the three was blessed with a good voice, a fact which is slightly mysterious as none of their forebears could trill anything more complicated than "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Pop Clooney did all right according to Rosemary, but, "Mom is a stylist - she sings out of tune." Back in Maysville, Kentucky, when the kids were little, they'd latch on to a new tune and learn to sing it and from then on it was considered solely his or her property. If either of the other two sprouts dared to sing it, he or she was promptly clobbered by the proprietor.
At any rate, Rosie won this particular tangle, and her latest record release is "It Happened To Happen To Me" - composer, Nicholas Clooney.
Music - popular music - just comes naturally to Rosie. She is frank to admit that she knows little about classical music. "I've just never been exposed to it," she says in understatement. From the beginning her life was filled with ballads and blues, and there wasn't a symphonic recording in the house. From the time she began to sing in public there has been no time to do anything except sing some more. Mitch Miller, top tune picker at Columbia, has given her a fine library of classical recordings, and when Rosie has had a half hour in between engagements of planes she has spent the period listening to Brahms or Sibelius. "You know," she says, wide-eyed with the pleasure of discovery, "it's beautiful. I hope I have time to learn more about it."
Rosie's honesty is no small part of her charm. "People are always asking me whether I prefer golf or tennis. I can't do any of those ladylike things. I can't even swim - not a stroke. But ask me about baseball or football. I was a whiz at those. Back home I played shortstop on the local nine." She flatly declares she's tired of seeing The Stars are Singing (seven times for various business functions), and says she hated school. "I dodged math all the way through high school and finally had to put up with it in my senior year." She speaks candidly about her attempts to charm the 3,600 disc jockeys in America. "I phone and write about 150 of them, I guess. The poor guys get 64 new releases in a week, and you can't expect them to play yours unless there's a personal touch somewhere."
Her appetite has already been chronicled by dozens of writers who are happy at last to find a girl who's willing to admit that she loves food and lots of it…and who states she has to be careful about weight. Most movie stars exist on halfhearted salads and black coffee, and would sooner lose an eyelash than confess they gain weight at the drop of an hor d'oeuvre. Not Rosie. She pats her imaginary paunch woefully and says, "I've got a singer's diaphragm, and if I'm not careful, that's where the spaghetti goes." She has a penchant for Italian food, created in the days when she sang with Tony Pastor's orchestra. Most of the boys in the band were of Italian parentage, and whenever they hit a home town the resident musician would invite Rosie over for Mom's lasagna or fettucinni. Rosie hasn't been able to resist Italian dishes since, and tells gleefully of the time she was foiled.
"You know how, when photographers take pictures of you with food, they just half cook it so that it looks fresh? Once during my ignorant days they put a bowl of lasagna in front of me and I couldn't wait until the picture was finished so that I could dig in. Well, I dug in. And, Mother, they had to pry my mouth open."
Rosemary even acknowledges the fact that she smiles at a lot of people at times when she couldn't feel less like smiling. "When you're on the way up they make excuses for you, but when you've arrived you're expected to be Miss Enchantment of 1953. It's hard sometimes - very hard."
She was amazed at the shrewdness of her grandmother on this score when she talked with her recently back in Maysville. Grandmother Guilfoyle has never been closer to show business than the local movie house, yet she put her finger on the burden that is hardest to bear. "You're working too hard, Rosie," she said. "Poof," said Clooney. "I like it this way. You know that." "Rosie…how many people have you been nice to today when you were too tired to be nice?"
Perhaps she gathered the idea from the reception given Rosie by Maysville when The Stars Are Singing was premiered there. The town's normal population of 6,600 was swelled to 20,000, and the streets (one of them named Rosemary Clooney Street) were festooned with flags and banners. There was a parade, and there were speeches and it was one of the biggest days in Maysville's history. Rosie was the heroine and wherever she went there was a crush of people, all of them shouting hello and trying to grab her hand. For Rosie it was the thrill of her life, and her smiles that day came from a grateful heart.
Maysville was the only home she has ever known. Since childhood it has been a series of one night stands, graduating to weekly engagements, and by now she is harder to pin down than an ounce of mercury. "Home" to Rosie is either her apartment in New York, which she used to share with best friend Jackie Sherman, or the Beverly Hills home she has rented. Unfortunately, the friendship between Jackie and Rosemary has cooled considerably, because Jackie could never get along with Rosie's favorite beau, Jose Ferrer.
Between the two homes are 3,000 miles, and she covers them continually. When she makes it to Beverly Hills she is greeted effusively by her cocker spaniel Sam, who for no particular reason is a man hater. Sam will make up to anything in skirts, but disdainfully ignores any male who enters the house, a mental habit that will have to change with a girl as adorable as Rosie.
She seems to have captured the country, from the farmer's daughter to the tycoon's son and including the editors of Time Magazine. The cover portraits painted for the magazine of statesmen, royalty and scientists inevitably stay with the artists, who prize them for their own showings each year. To our knowledge this has been the fate of every painting except that of Rosemary Clooney, for which she sat from 9:30 one night until 2 o'clock in the morning, the only time she could wiggle out of her schedule. That one was bought by Time Magazine, who paid painter Boris Chaliapin the sum of $2,000 for it, and then proudly presented it to Clooney.
If love and affection, professional respect and admiration are music to our Rosie's ears, it looks very much as if she shall have music wherever she goes. END