Rosemary's acting debut most frightful

by Nick Clooney, Cincinnati Post, December 4, 2002


Many thanks to the elegant Kitty Hutchings of May's Lick, Kentucky, a lifelong friend, who has given me permission to steal, er, borrow research she gathered for an article published in the St. Patrick (High School, Maysville) Alumni News.

The genesis of Kitty's story is one of my favorite photographs of all time. Pictured are the cast of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the performers drawn principally free from the fifth and sixth grades of St. Patrick's, 1940.

Most in the photo are in full costume. In the center, resplendent in a huge hat and a dramatic sash, is Prince Charming, none other than our cousin Joe Breslin.

Third row, third from the left, quite beautiful in a crown and a cotton/ermine cape and a heavy necklace is my sister, Rosemary Clooney. It was her first public dramatic role, though she had sung for audiences from the time she could walk.

The show was put on in what is now the Mason County Museum. The family's collective memory is that Rosemary was wonderful, but, of course, the assessment of relatives is always suspect.

So Kitty Hutchings did a marvelous thing. She went to other cast members and asked them to recount their memories of that long-ago performance. The result of her work is published in the Alumni News, current edition. What follows are some excerpts, but by no means all of Kittty's article.

Don Buckley, class of 1947, who was one of the seven dwarfs, recalls "Rosemary wanted to be Snow White, but she was cast as the Queen/Wicked Witch by Sister Geraldine because it really was a bigger part.'' Don added, "Over the months of practice, some of the dwarfs almost outgrew their parts.''

The play's director was not above a bit of chicanery to ensure her principal actors' complete attention, as we learn from Margaret Williams Sears, class of 1946. "(On the night of the performance), Sister Geraldine moved the magic mirror to another place on the stage to keep Rosemary on her toes. Rosemary didn't know about it until she got on stage, but she carried it off!"

Marion Byron Gilligan, class of 1946, who was Princess Naomi in the play, still remembers with a shiver Rosemary's hideous laugh as she handed the poison apple to Snow White, an unsuspecting Rose Marie Tierney.

Wanda Ring Anderson, class of 1947, said there was another memorable footnote to that scene. Just as the Wicked Witch offered the apple, her taped-on nose fell off, landing right in her basket. Without missing a beat, Rosemary went on with her lines. "She stole the show even then. She was a regular comedienne."

Mary Catherine McHugh Pfeffer, class of 1947, recalls Rosemary as a great storyteller who entertained Mary Catherine walking to and from school. "After school, we would sometimes go to see Grandfather Clooney at his jewelry store. He'd always ask her to sing for him. Then he'd give us a nickel for ice-cream cones."

Nora Jane Maley Cooney, class of 1946, also remembers the many times she and Marian Gilligan walked to school with Rosemary and Betty when the family lived on West Third Street.

Several years later, when Nora Jane was in business school in Cincinnati, she and Marian ran into the Clooney Sisters, all dressed up in green suits, on their way to WLW studios where they were singing on popular radio shows. In January of 1953, at Mayor Rebecca Hord's reception for Rosemary after the Maysville premiere of her movie "The Stars Are Singing,'' Nora Jane and Marian had a long, private visit with their grade school friend.

And where was your humble correspondent when "Snow White" and the "Wicked Queen" and "Prince Charming" ruled the Maysville stage? Alas, I was too young to matter, not yet on the radar screen. I didn't start school until the fall of 1940, months after Rosemary's memorable debut.

Thanks for all the work, Kitty. I wish I'd thought of it.