"Though famous, Rosemary Clooney was a small-town girl"

by JERRY JONAS, Bucks County Courier-Times, July 7, 2002

Those who knew her best insisted that despite her fame and whether she was talking with a king or the pope, she never forgot where she came from.

In a column last January, I described how in 1952 I visited a sound stage at Hollywood's Paramount Studios and watched a young singer-actress perform before the cameras.

The film was titled "The Stars are Singing," and, although it was her first starring role in a movie, the young woman was already one of the country's most popular recording stars.

During the previous year, her recording of a novelty song, "Come on-a My House," had been the number two hit in the country for 10 consecutive weeks.

Her name was Rosemary Clooney, and during breaks in the filming, I would have the opportunity to speak with Rosemary and discover that not only was she a pretty young woman with a beautiful voice, but she was also an extremely personable and likeable individual.

Clooney seemed in every respect a small-town girl who hadn't taken her recent successes too seriously and hadn't let Hollywood go to her head.

In the next several years, Clooney would star in several more films, including the classic "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby. Throughout the 1950s, she would have 13 "Top 40" hits as her singing career skyrocketed.

After a long retirement, she would launch a new career in the 1970s and in the '80s and '90s would have more than a dozen successful recordings.

Long a Clooney admirer, I had been prompted to write the column by news reports that she had recently undergone surgery to remove the upper lobe of her left lung. During a routine annual check-up at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., she had advised doctors of a persistent cough, which she feared might be pneumonia.

Unfortunately, tests proved it to be lung cancer.

On the day following the surgery, Clooney's agent, Allen Svirdoff, appeared extremely optimistic. He reported that she was "progressing well, and would not even need post-op treatment."

The following day, the news turned ominous. A spokesman for the Mayo Clinic announced that Clooney's condition had become critical. Her scheduled February appearance with her brother, Nick Clooney, at "Feinstein's at the Regency" in New York was postponed, and she was unable to attend the 2002 Grammy Award ceremonies, where she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the days and weeks following the column's appearance, numerous concerned readers sent e-mails and left phone messages asking for additional updates and information on Clooney's condition. Many of her longtime fans wanted to know whether she would be able to resume her career.

My own attempts at getting information led nowhere. When contacted, Clooney's friends and professional acquaintances in the broadcast and recording business seemed to be totally in the dark as to her condition. Phone calls to agents were not returned, and an e-mail to her brother Nick was not answered. To me, the lack of information didn't bode well.

Then on Saturday evening, a week ago, came the news. With her family at her bedside, at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif., Rosemary Clooney had succumbed to her illness. She was 74.

According to her brother, the singer's death came without warning. "It was a shock," Nick Clooney told interviewers. "She had not been doing well, but nothing near enough to suggest this turn of events."

"She was looking forward to returning (to her home town of Mayville, K.Y.) for the fourth annual Rosemary Clooney music festival on Sept. 28," he went on. "I had a very good conversation with her (two days before her death). She was very upbeat and feisty. She was uncertain about being strong enough to sing, but talked about getting a new Bob Mackie dress to wear for the occasion."

Unfortunately, her next trip home would be a sad one. On Friday, following a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Patrick's Church in Mayville, one short block from the Russell Theater where she had received a hero's welcome home 49 years ago following her screen debut, Rosemary Clooney was laid to rest. Her gravesite sits on a hill only a short walk from where she was born and raised.

According to her brother, St. Patrick's had been an important part of her life. It was there, as a parochial first grader, that she had first been requested to sing before an audience.

"She always said it was the first place she song on purpose - meaning someone actually asked her to sing," her brother said.

It was in St. Patrick's Church that she had been baptized, received her First Holy Communion, and had been married to her longtime companion, Dante DiPaolo, in 1997. What was at first planned as a private wedding became Mayville's social event of the 1990s after Clooney decided to invite the whole town.

Longtime friends insisted that Clooney's request to be buried in Mayville was typical of her. Those who knew her best insisted that despite her fame and whether she was talking with a king or the pope, she never forgot where she came from.

In her heart - and even in death - Rosemary Clooney was always a small-town girl.