Time Has Made Rosemary Sage

(Newsday 2-14-93)


FOR THE LAST TWO DECADES, Rosemary Clooney, the former girl singer, and Dante DiPaolo, the former chorus boy, have been growing old together in a house in Beverly Hills. The other day, rummaging through some old movie memorabilia at a shop in Manhattan, DiPaolo picked up some new art work for the walls: a poster for "Red Garters," a 1954 musical.

Clooney, its pretty blond star, is pictured in a merry widow, a red garter encircling her left thigh, and in each hand is a six-shooter aimed toward the sky in rootin'-tootin' glee. The mob of cowboys clamoring at her feet aren't identifiable from the rear, but DiPaolo is positive: "That's me," he says, pointing to the white-Stetsoned figure on the right. "I was about twenty-five and we didn't see each other again for almost twenty years."

So much of Clooney's life has been in two very separate parts. "She seems like another person," the singer says as she stares at the woman in DiPaolo's latest acquisition. Seated in the hotel suite where they are ensconced during her four-week engagement at Rainbow and Stars, Clooney's ample figure is covered by a sack-like dress and, as when she sings, her glasses rest on her nose. Even when she is wearing Bob Mackie sparkles in her performances, she seems more earth mother than famous artist.

On "Girl Singer," Clooney's next-to-last album, which has been nominated for a Grammy, there are two versions of the song "Straighten Up and Fly Right." The first is a scratchy recording by the youthful, innocent voices of the Clooney sisters, 16-year-old Rosemary and 15-year-old Betty, auditioning for a radio job in Cincinnati. The second is the mature, husky voice of a sexagenarian grandmother who has taken the words of the song to heart and sings them to the accompaniment of some of the best jazz musicians in the business.

"I thought my voice was pleasant and I felt that people felt that, but that there wasn't much of anything beyond that," Clooney says of the '40s recording that was the beginning of a singing career that put her on the cover of Time magazine when she was 25.

It was after Clooney's second divorce from the actor Jose Ferrer, the father of her five children, after her addiction to tranquilizers, her emotional breakdown and hospitalization and the embarking upon intensive psychotherapy, that "I worked out for myself that singing was such an important part of my life - the only constant - and how much pleasure it gave me."

Even then, in the early '70s, Clooney, who has never taken a voice lesson and doesn't read music, says that although she knew she would always be able to make her living by singing, "I had no idea at what level. I was really starting again at the very bottom." And it was in the lounges of Holiday Inns where patrons got the inside scoop on whatever happened to Rosemary Clooney.

There are few secrets about Clooney's life. She chronicled its ups and downs in her 1977 autobiography, "This for Remembrance," that was made into a 1982 TV movie, "Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story." So open has she been about the journey from a broken home in a small Kentucky town to recording, movie and television fame and personal tragedy that she's sometimes forgotten that others are less forthright. Once, on the air, she says laughing, she blabbed out to the CBS morning-show host at the time, Mariette Hartley, "Don't you remember? It happened in group." Hartley and Clooney shared the same analyst, but Hartley had been keeping her therapy a secret.

"I'm much more comfortable with this one," says Clooney of her present day persona. "The other one was cute and certainly hardworking. I liked her voice. But through the years I lost touch with the joy of singing which I've recovered." She has also lost a couple of notes at the top of her range, she says, "but gained a couple at the bottom. It's given my voice more depth."

Since her comeback, Clooney has earned the reputation as a musician's musician, a singer of American popular songs with great taste and an easygoing style that has put her in the ranks of legends like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. It is a fame she enjoys - and takes in stride: "I interpret things well, I've got good time, I sing in tune and I get the job done," is her practical assessment of her talent. She is as busy as she wants to be, her personal and professional life sometimes overlapping: Last year Clooney sang "Our Love Is Here to Stay" at three of her children's weddings. "I wore the same dress," she says cheerily. "The pictures are interchangeable."

"Do You Miss New York?," Clooney's newest album, released to coincide with her fifth annual appearance at Rainbow and Stars, is her 17th for Concord Jazz (son Gabriel's pastel of her singing at the club has been reproduced for the cover). Nightly shows at Rainbow and Stars are a mixture of songs from this - including Dave Frishberg's title song - as well as other albums and a few standards such as "Love You Didn't Do Right by Me," the song Irving Berlin wrote for her for another 1954 movie, "White Christmas."

She often does "Hey There," which she made famous in the late '50s, and, always, "Come On-a My House," the adaptation of an Armenian folk song that established her as a singing sensation in 1951. "Hey There" is for her, she says. "I like it, it's an easy song to sing so it's kind of a rest place for me in the show." When she

originally recorded it, she was singing for herself, she says. Now, "I feel like I'm talking to every young person in the world." (And, if she really were, she says she'd also tell them "that nothing is as important as it seems when you're young.")

It's true, she says, that she initially resisted recording "Come On-a My House," and resented its becoming her most popular song - in 1968, yet another demand for her to sing it from a Reno nightclub audience was the breaking point that led to her hospitalization. Now, she says resignedly, but not unhappily, "I do it because it's certainly part of my past and I don't want to disappoint anybody. Music takes you right back in your memories."

Audiences, however, sometimes confuse their memories. Clooney also gets requests for "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" When that happens, the singer says, "My only wish is that somewhere in the world Patti Page is working tonight and someone is asking her to sing `Come On-a My House.' "

Copyright 1993, Newsday Inc.