When I Needed Someone to Watch Over Me. . .
George Clooneys Aunt Was There to Teach Me About That Thing That Money Cant Buy
By Elizabeth Kaminsky
I awakened on a recent Saturday morning, June 29, with the funniest song in my head. I laughed at myself, wandering around the house, cleaning, as I sang Mambo Italiano, a song made popular by Rosemary Clooney. She was on my mind so much that day. Rather than sing alone, I thought Id let a pro handle it. I took out her Girl Singer compact disc and played it loudly. Through the entire 90 minutes, I rode the highs and lows of her marvelous voice. Her phrasing and musicianship have always inspired me. As I sang along, I felt like we were together again.
I now know why Rosie was on my mind that day. She died the very day that she and I were singing together in my living room. Later, through tears, I watched the rebroadcast of her last performance on Good Morning, America. She struggled for her breath, as she had the last several years. Yet her remarkable tone rang through as she sang one of my all-time favorite songs, Our Love Is Here to Stay.
I met Rosemary Clooney at a time in my life when I really needed someone to watch over me, to quote one of Rosies hit songs. I lost my mother in 1995, after a long, painful journey through many illnesses. I was my mothers physical caretaker for 20 years and her emotional caretaker for many more than that. Our inseparable bond started when my father died; it was just the two of us, watching over" each other for the next 31 years. Mom personified class, sass, grace and unconditional love, all rolled into one. In that regard, she and Rosie had a lot in common. Life with Mom was a wild ride, one I wouldnt trade for anything. When she died in February 1995, her death left the biggest void imaginable.
That first year, I found myself wondering how I would get through each day. Long about October, I began to dread the upcoming holiday season. It was then that my cousin called to tell me about an audition notice hed seen in our local paper, advertising for back-up singers to try out for a Christmas show starring Rosemary Clooney. I had always loved Rosemary Clooneys music and her movies, but Mom loved them more. She would play all of Rosies records on an enormous Zenith console that we kept using long after technology had passed it by, and Christmas for us was never complete without drinking bubbling hot chocolate and watching White Christmas.
Mom was the most star-struck person I have ever known. She lived in bewildered awe of the classic film stars from the 40s and 50s. She spent every Saturday lost at the movies. I truly believe Mom regarded those stars as her friends. The day she met Debbie Reynolds, she told me, This is the best day of my life. Now if I could just meet Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, Id die a happy woman.
To me, that audition notice seemed like a love note from my mother. Even so, the thought of it scared me to death. I hadnt sung in years, especially not in front of anybody, and definitely not in front of anybody famous. Miraculously, I has hired and joined a wonderful group of singers with whom I still keep in touch. I dont believe my voice had anything to do with it. It was Moms divine intervention that got me that job and put me in the chorus, 20 performances a year, two years running, as part of Clooneys annual White Christmas Party show.
Every performance was magical. Rosie was the most genuine and generous performer I have ever seen. She praised us sincerely at every show, on stage and off. She threw parties for us, took photographs with us and told us great stories. Shed reminisce about being back in Atlantic City, where she and her sister performed on the Steel Pier. She delighted in explaining the back-lot gossip surrounding her co-stars in White Christmas. I loved hearing that Bing Crosby was a good kisser, Vera Ellen didnt do her own singing and Danny Kaye was as cute as he was talented. It was like listening to Mom. Rosie told heartwarmingly funny stories about her stay at the Mayo Clinic and her meeting with the Pope. She gushed about her children and her grandchildren. She joked that young women were now attending her concerts, hoping to catch a glimpse of her nephew, George. She beamed when she spoke about Dante DiPaolo, a Hollywood dancer and long-time love, whom she wed during the shows run.
Rosie encouraged us to follow our dreams. In her presence, you felt like you were with your favorite Aunt the one who never judged you, who always listened to you and who always made you feel especially loved. Those 90 minutes on stage with her felt like 90 minutes more with my Mom. I could feel Moms arms around me and I swore that if I looked hard enough, Id see her sitting in the audience. I never made it through the closing chorus of Im Dreaming of a White Christmas without crying. They were undoubtedly tears of joy.
By now, Im sure Mom has gotten her wish, and I trust that she and Rosie and old Blue Eyes have a lot to talk about. The last song I heard Rosie sing talked about love, the kind that is here to stay, the priceless kind that money cant buy. How grateful I am to have known that kind of lovetwice in a lifetime.
Thanks to Mom, I met Rosemary Clooney. They were some of the best days of my life. I made exactly $1600 as a back-up singer and I have saved every cent. Someday, Ill use it to follow my dreams. And Ill die a happy woman.
Elizabeth Kaminsky is the owner of Outburst Creations, a communications consulting company and artists cooperative. She has extensive experience in human resources, investor relations and adult education.
This article first appeared on the women's finance Web site www.makingbreadmagazine.com