"Christmas won't be the same without her "

By STEVE EDDY, The Orange County Register, July 7, 2002

We have these rules, see, against plagiarism. And it's time to confess. When it came to writing about a certain person, I stole from myself a bit.

At least twice in the past few years I have used this phrase in a column or story or review: "The world is a better place because Rosemary Clooney is in it."

Now, of course, we have to change the tense. The world is a better place because Rosemary Clooney was in it.

Clooney, 74, who lost her battle with lung cancer last weekend, was a whole lot of things, principally a star of the first magnitude. Today's youngsters are (understandably) clueless about just what a big, big deal Rosie was in the '50s. (I have two words: "Hey There.")

For our purposes here, we are more interested in Rosie the jazz chanteuse, the one who basically reinvented herself after she vanquished her personal demons. The mature, jazzier Rosie sang with a voice that was sweet but never cloying, passionate but not overtly seductive. She had a deep reverence for the songs and their composers and never strayed too far from the melody but always managed to put her personal stamp on even the most done-to-death tunes.

She sang so pretty.

And then there was Rosie the person. Another confession: I'm not much for the backstage thing; a bit shy, in fact. But frequently, when we interview celebrities in advance of a concert, they'll say to "come say hi" afterward.

Christmas before last she was due at Segerstrom Hall for her "White Christmas" show. She was in New York, I was in Santa Ana, and we had the most delightful telephone chat. You didn't interview Rosie, you conversed. Down to Earth? Genuine? That was Rosemary Clooney, utterly lacking in pretension; in fact, she was a wizard at humility and self-effacement.

We talked about Irving Berlin and Bing and "White Christmas" and how cold it was back there and how much she missed her beloved Beverly Hills abode. We yakked about how her grandkids had bought her a computer and how she had yet to set it up. She asked about restaurants near Segerstrom.

This was far more like a casual talk with an old friend than an interview with someone I had unabashedly idolized my entire life.

And then there was the show. Rosie might not have been feeling all that well -- her breathing was a bit labored even then -- but she jubilantly sang Christmas carols, told jokes, regaled us with tales of her years in show biz, even showed clips of "White Christmas," for which she provided extremely amusing color commentary.

There were few dry eyes in the house when she finished singing the movie's title song, which closed the show.

Backstage, a clearly pooped Rosie was sitting down, greeting a long line of well-wishers and family members (nope, no George). My wife and I were near the end of the line.

Finally, it was our turn. We introduced ourselves, and I'm afraid I lapsed into a bit of Ralph Kramden - you know, "hommina, hommina ... ."

We chatted briefly, and when it was clearly time to go, I lost what little decorum I had left.

I kissed her hand and croaked out a muffled "I love you."

And that's the truth. I did love her, I still do, and I always will.

And now you can bust me under the "three strikes" law:

The world is a better place because Rosemary Clooney was in it.