June 11, 1997

Nick Clooney, long-accustomed to being Rosemary's brother, now known as George's dad

By Gail Shister

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

``ER'' hunk George Clooney could have been a leading man in the silver screen's Golden Age, says his proud pop.

``Whatever `it' is, George has it,'' beams AMC host Nick Clooney. ``He has that incandescent quality. William Powell had it. Clark Gable had it. Cary Grant had it. Everyone assumes parents can't be objective about their kids, but it's not true. George fills up the screen very well. He has a presence.''

That presence got good reviews as a divorced dad in ``One Fine Day.'' Next up: The bodysuited caped crusader himself in ``Batman'' ``and Robin.'' With Father's Day on Sunday, here's a fastball down the middle for you, Nick: How far can Gorgeous George go?

``Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise - he's good enough for that league,'' says Clooney, 61, a former news anchor and talk-show host in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. ``We won't know for another three or four years, though. We have to see how he does after his first bomb.''

Clooney ``pere'' joined AMC in June 1994. In addition to serving as afternoon host, he makes about 35 appearances a year for the cable movie channel. Still tethered to the journalism world, he writes three columns a week for the Cincinnati Post.

Having lived most of his life in the shadow of his big sister, legendary singer Rosemary Clooney, Nick has gotten used to being known as the father of 36-year-old George.

``I had my basic training with Rosemary,'' he laughs. ``All those years, I always understood that my obit would read `brother of Rosemary.' It was tough when I was 15, when she hit. Now I understand that my obit will say `father of George.' It doesn't bother me. In fact, I enjoy it.''

In the early '60s, Clooney was hosting a popular teen dance show for the ABC affiliate in Lexington, Ky., when he was asked to sub for vacationing Dick Clark on ABC's red-hot ``American Bandstand,'' then broadcast out of the old Arena at 46th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia.

``When I got the call, it knocked me over,'' Clooney recalls. ``I was scared to death. I had no idea what I was doing. I drove up, because I couldn't afford to fly. It was supposed to be for just one show, but it ended up being two, so I had to get a room at the Bellevue. I had a great time.''

A lifelong movie fan and spokesman for film preservation, Clooney says the old flicks remain popular ``because they move at an entirely different rhythm. They're based on words. Movies today are based on images and emotions and MTV cuts.

``Some of them are very good and exciting, but kids today have never heard William Faulkner's or F. Scott Fitzgerald's or Ben Hecht's words coming out of someone else's mouths. They're darn good writers. Their stories have beginnings, middles and ends, with constant themes.''

How's this for a theme? Host hooks up with big movie channel by accident.

It happened. Here's how: Clooney sent a $50 check to AMC for its film preservation drive. A few weeks later, he received what he assumed to be a form thank-you note, and tossed it without opening the envelope. Bad move, Nick.

Turns out that envelope contained a job offer from then-AMC honcha Jane Wallace, a former Clooney colleague from the syndicated ``On Trial'' in the late '80s. Eight weeks later, Wallace called and said, ```Damnit, Nick, the least you could have done is say no,''' he recalls. ``I had no idea what she was talking about.''

Motto of the story, says Clooney: ``... Always open your junk mail.''