Posted on Mon, Jul. 01, 2002

Just a 'girl singer'

Superstar stayed true to humble Maysville roots

By Rich Copley


Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, baptized in Maysville, married in Maysville and will be buried in Maysville.

Through more than half a century of international stardom, Ms. Clooney, who died Saturday at the age of 74 from lung cancer complications, always found time to return to the Northern Kentucky river town she called home.

"Rosemary always believed she was a hard-working girl singer from Kentucky," her brother Nick Clooney said yesterday from his home in Augusta.

Rosemary Clooney, the singer of classics such as Come On-a My House and Hey There, was one of the first stars to emerge from Kentucky in the modern media age.

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conductor Erich Kunzel said she was "the Sinatra of the ladies."

"In Kentucky 50 years ago, I can't imagine someone being bigger or better known than Rosemary Clooney," said former Herald-Leader columnist Don Edwards. "Not only did she have hit records, but she was in the movies and she was married to a famous actor," he said, referring to Clooney's first husband, Jose Ferrer.

Edwards said Rosemary and Nick Clooney, a TV and radio personality, endeared themselves to Kentuckians by always having a strong sense of their roots.

Nick Clooney said those roots took hold in the rough Depression and World War II years and, though she lived in a Beverly Hills, Calif., home once owned by George and Ira Gershwin, his sister "was always looking for an excuse to come home."

The fourth annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, scheduled for Sept. 28 in Maysville, was supposed to be her return to public after a year battling cancer.

Nick Clooney said he and Rosemary were talking about the event Thursday night and she was excited. Then, Saturday afternoon, "I got a call that things were beginning to shut down," Nick Clooney said.

The congregation at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Maysville received the news from the Rev. William Hinds at Mass yesterday morning, the same way they hear of the deaths of other members of the church.

Hinds first met Ms. Clooney in 1997, when she called him to ask if she could be married at the church to her second husband, Dante DiPaolo. "She wanted to get back into the sacraments," Hinds said yesterday. Bob Hope's wife, "Delores Hope talked to her about religion, and she wanted reconciliation with the church."

At the time, she seemed to be aiming for a small private wedding, Hinds said. "Since so many people asked if they could come, she opened it up."

Her wedding, featuring guests such as the Hopes, was one of the biggest things to hit Maysville in years. There were 800 guests in the church and 50 more outside.

It wasn't the first time she brought a little bit of Hollywood to her hometown. She came home for the premiere of her first movie, The Stars Are Singing, in 1953.

Maysville insurance agent and former mayor Bill Boggs said Ms. Clooney's long blond hair and mink coat and the thousands of people who turned out to see her are etched in his mind.

"I can remember exactly where I was standing for the premiere for The Stars Are Singing," he said yesterday.

Singletary Center for the Arts director Holly Salisbury remembers a luminous Clooney in an appearance in Paris, Ky., after making the movie White Christmas with Bing Crosby. "I was 10 or 11 years old," Salisbury said. "I used to dance in my room to Come On-a My House."

Salisbury wasn't alone.

But Clooney's childhood friend Blanche Chambers said success never went to the Girl Singer's head. "Every time I'd see her on TV, that's what came to me was she's famous, but she always came back to the place she loved," Chambers said yesterday. "She was always my friend.

"I was grateful she became famous and she was still the same kind person she was when she left. She still was Rosemary Clooney, the little girl who was raised on Market Street in Maysville, Kentucky."

Over the years, Clooney moved her Kentucky residence down the road from Maysville to Augusta, where her brother lives, and continued to be amazed by the friendliness of her neighbors.

In 1997, when Augusta was flooded, friends went into her home to move her things to higher ground. "I don't know if my neighbors out here would have done that," she said from Beverly Hills in an interview with the Herald-Leader.

Friday, Ms. Clooney will be buried in the cemetery at St. Patrick's.

Nick Clooney said the funeral will be open to the public, as will a wake later in the day to celebrate his sister's life. Details are still being finalized, but funeral arrangements will be handled by Moore & Parker Funeral Homes of Augusta.

"We're doing fine by remembering her," Nick Clooney said of himself and his family. "I have one of her albums on now, though I'd probably do that anyway. With all of these amazing films and recordings, we'll never forget her."

Boggs said Maysville was shocked and saddened to hear of her death but also was reflecting fondly on her life.

He said, "To know someone like that who rubbed elbows with presidents and entertainers and royalty and also remembered the local people -- it's an honor to have known her."

Rosemary Clooney