Hanging out with Rosie on early TV

by Nick Clooney, Cincinnati Post, January 8, 2003

Here comes some stuff I learned while on my way to learn other stuff. This is a column idea I stole from somebody, but I no longer remember who, so it doesn't count.

In this case it is television stuff I learned while researching other television stuff for my Goodlife TV introductions.

"Broadway Open House." If you are old enough to remember that TV show you are definitely on Social Security. The hosts were Morey Amsterdam some nights and Jerry Lester other nights and the big star created by the show was Dagmar. She was the talk of the whole country.

Did you know that show lasted only 15 months and that neither host lasted a year? I didn't know that.

When I was a teen-ager living with my sister Rosemary in New York the summer of 1950, "Broadway Open House" was the hot new show. Columbia Records booked Rosemary, who had not yet had any hit records, on the program.

When we went to the studio, we soon found out that Jerry Lester did not get along with Dagmar. For those who don't know, Dagmar was a very big blond, what we use to call in those days "well-endowed." Jerry Lester had hired her, named her and given her a dead-pan delivery of non-sequitur poetry, which made her an instant sensation.

Word backstage was that, after only a month or so on the air, Dagmar was making as much as Jerry Lester. Whether that was true or not, you can believe me that there was a deep freeze on. Jerry and Dagmar did not speak to each other at rehearsal or at any of the breaks during the show. Rosemary looked at me, raised her eyebrows and shrugged. I shrugged back.

"Broadway Open House" was the late-night NBC program that paved the way for the "Tonight Show." There was a small band fronted by accordionist Milton DeLugg; performers stopped by to chat and to sing or do a skit, always promoting their latest project, just as now.

Another show Rosemary did that summer was "Songs for Sale." She and Tony Bennett were regulars with Jan Murray as host and Ray Bloch as orchestra leader. Amateur songwriters brought in their tunes, Rosemary and Tony performed them, a panel of experts judged them and the winner had his or her song published.

Problem was, neither Rosemary nor Tony read music all that well. Each had to learn two new tunes a week and, as Rosemary said, "We slaughtered those songs." I remember well the look of horror on the faces of some of the songwriters as the melodies they had labored over became unrecognizable on national TV. I asked both Rosemary and Tony in recent years if they remembered any hit emerging from that show. Both laughed sheepishly and shook their heads.

My favorite that summer was a program on Dumont, which was then the fourth network, all of them headquartered in New York. It was "Cavalcade of Stars" -- with its first host, the frenetic Jack Carter. Later that year, Jackie Gleason took over, introduced all his characters and his cast and started the long run which eventually moved to CBS and immortality.

But I didn't care about any of that. There was a pretty young girl who did the commercials for the Congoleum-Nairn floor-covering people and she often did them on the Dumont TV network.

While Rosemary rehearsed her song, I sneaked away and watched the young girl rehearse her commercial. I think she called herself "Bonnie Maid." She wore a little tam and a short plaid kilt and had an unforgettable face and figure. I watched her do, perhaps, 10 commercials that summer. I never had a chance -- or took the chance -- to say hello.

She was an actress, of course. Her name was Anne Francis. She had a very nice career without ever knowing how she haunted my summer of 1950.