Clooney: Diva without artifice

by Beverly Beckham, Boston Herald, Wednesday, July 3, 2002

I almost didn't go. It was too expensive. I didn't have the time. God knows it wasn't convenient and it certainly wasn't necessary.

But I went anyway. I called a ticket broker in New York City and agreed to pay more than I'd ever paid for two tickets to a show. Then I called Amtrak. Then I called my daughter who lives in New York City and asked if I could stay with her and, by the way, did she want to see Rosemary Clooney?

I went when reason and practicality told me I shouldn't go solely because for my whole life Rosemary Clooney has reminded me of my mother. And I wanted to see her in person, while I could.

My mother was a singer, too, not a famous one but a singer anyway, whose music I heard from the time I can remember. I grew up listening to Teresa Brewer and Jo Stafford and Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney, first on an old 78 rpm record player, then on a new hi-fi my father bought one Christmas.

And I heard my mother, too, always singing along. Clooney's range was her range, their voices most similar, the sound they made alone and together something that moved me.

``Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes. Love never made a fool of you. You used to be too wise.''

My mother sang in minstrel shows and at parties and around the house. Rosemary Clooney sang on records and on the radio and sometimes on TV. Their audience was what separated them. Or at least that's what I thought.

Rosemary Clooney was pretty when she was young, blond and blue-eyed and lean. So was my mother. The first time I saw ``White Christmas'' I said, ``That lady looks just like you, Mama.'' And she laughed and said, ``No, she doesn't.''

But the truth is, she did.

They looked alike in their later years, too. Clooney had grown overweight because of years spent fighting depression; my mother was overweight because of years spent in a wheelchair, recovering from a coma. My mother never sang during those years. Music wasn't her redemption.

But it was Clooney's. Because of it, she managed to get some of her old life back. I loved that she pulled herself up and out of despair, and though the world kept knocking her down, it couldn't defeat her because she refused to give up.

Seeing Rosemary Clooney in person could have been one huge disappointment. I had her so wrapped up in myth and with my mother, so intertwined with hope and with the past that how could she do anything but disappoint?

But she didn't. She walked on to that small stage, a woman who had trouble walking, who was breathless in those seconds. And she took a seat and caught her breath and made eye contact with the audience and smiled and sang her songs, some that I knew and some that I didn't. And between songs she talked and told her stories.

There was no artifice to her, no schtick. She was just Rosemary Clooney, intimate and comfortable and familiar. Seeing her and hearing her felt like coming home.

Later, I met her, briefly, and I didn't say, ``You remind me of my mother,'' though I ached to. But nobody wants to hear that. So I just thanked her for years of enjoyment. And she smiled, my mother's smile.

When the Visa bill arrived, it was even more than I expected. But I didn't care. It was worth every penny, for there are some things in life that are priceless.

Seeing Rosemary Clooney was one.