"The Ring Around Rosie"
By Dora Albert
TV Radio Mirror - March 1958
The family circle surrounding Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer is rich in enduring love, as well as almost overwhelming talent
Over in a corner of the spacious den of the Rosemary Clooney - Jose Ferrer home in Beverly Hills, Jose was showing Gail Stone, Rosemary's twelve-year-old sister, a rope trick he had just learned. (Gail is the clever young actress who plays one of the "twins" on The Eve Arden Show.) In the center, a TV set was tuned to a musical program, to which Rosemary was listening dreamily. In another corner, Rosemary's brother Nick (whom you'll soon be seeing in M-G-M's "Handle With Care" and also in a small part in "Bay the Moon") was reading a Civil War story. In the nursery - formerly Jose's art gallery - Gabriel, born last August and thus the youngest child in the household, was sleeping contentedly. In the kitchen, Maria, just a year older than Gabriel, was watching with big, interested eyes as the servants cleaned up after dinner. In a bedroom upstairs, on rosemary's mother was quietly putting Miguel, who will be three in February, to sleep.
This was a typical evening in a wonderful household, where love flows into every nook and corner, touching all members and visitors with its magic. Rosemary's warmth has helped transform an old Spanish house into a home that overflows with people and their affection, a home where talent grows by the bushel.
Jose has been hailed by critics and by members of the motion picture industry as a genius. He has starred in and directed five films, the latest of which, "Bay the Moon," he is directing for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The picture is reported by the Hollywood grapevine to be one of his greatest. Jose has already won one Oscar for his work in "Cyrano de Bergerac" and an Oscar nomination for his acting in "Moulin Rouge."
Rosemary we all know and love. She has been called "Hollywood's favorite songbird." With the voice of a thrush, she has won several gold records (each representing a disc that sold fabulously well), enchanted movie audiences - and those at home, too, with The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney on NBC-TV, and The Ford Road Show starring her on CBS Radio.
Rosie's younger sister and brother are headed for
Nick, her younger brother, who lives with his mother in an apartment four blocks from Rosemary's house, was in the Army special services in Germany. From about 11 P.M. to 2 A.M. every day, he played popular records and talked over AFN to entertain war-weary men and women abroad. They listened eagerly, and Nick built up a terrific following in England and the British Isles.
When he returned to the United States, he visited his grandmother in Kentucky, then Rosemary and Jose. Impressed by Nick's personality and appearance, Jose asked if he might be interested in an acting career. It turned out that Nick had played in dramas over AFN, and was interested. Jose introduced him to casting directors, one of whom cast him "Handle With Care."
"Did Jose indicate that he'd like the casting director to hire Nick?" I asked Rosemary, as we sat in the pleasant, quiet Naples Restaurant on Vine Street in Hollywood. Rosie, ignoring all the rich foods urged on her by the waitress, was dillydallying with a cup of tea. She looked trim and extremely smart in a cocoa-colored suit, with one simple ornament - a gold-colored peacock, similar to the NBC color TV trademark.
"Nick got the job on his own," said Rosie. "Jose never indicated in any way that he wanted the casting director to favor Nick. If he had, Nick would never know whether he got a start on his own in the movies or owed it all to Joe." It was after Nick had proved he could act, in "Handle With Care," that Jose selected him for "Bay the Moon."
Gail is another talented member of the household. Now twelve, Gail started to live in the Ferrer-Clooney household about four years ago. Previously, she'd been living with her mother and Betty Clooney - who, like Rosie, is a singer. In fact, Rosie and Betty started as a sister singing team when they were eight and five, respectively. They made their first professional appearance together on Radio Station WLW, Cincinnati, singing with a hillbilly band. Later, they pursued separate careers as singers.
Four years ago when Betty had to go on a road tour, she thought it might be best to send their younger sister Gail to boarding school. "At the time, I'd been married to Joe for about six months," said Rosie, her blue eyes very soft, as though she were caressing a lovely memory. "Joe said, 'It would be a shame to send a little girl of eight to boarding school. Why can't she come and stay with us? We have a big house and plenty of room for her.' Joe is always very considerate of me and my feelings. He has completely adopted my family.'"
Rosie's among the best, right up there with such
Gail did guest appearances on a couple of Rosie's filmed TV shows, and made some children's records with her, which turned out very well. When Jose was casting "The Great Man," in which he starred and which he directed, he decided Gail would be just right for the scene between two sisters, where one talks and the other giggles. He chose Gail for the giggling sister.
"Gail had to know the other girl's speech and react appropriately," Jose told me. "It is harder to stay alive in a scene without material, without lines. This is a much stiffer test of acting than delivering a speech. Gail met the test beautifully." "Would you have hired her if she hadn't been rosemary's sister?" I asked. "I certainly would have," said Jose. "Nobody gets a fob with me because he or she is a friend or relative."
Gail's name didn't even appear on the cast sheet. But reviews praised the girl who giggled, and audiences sent in letters and cards asking who she was. One of those who asked was Eve Arden. And, when Eve found out, she promptly engaged Gail's services for her own program.
"Many children, when they're working at a regular job," said Rosie, "promptly take over a household - but not Gail. She is professional, but she is not the usual professional child. She works at her job, but she does it quietly, with no temperament, no phoniness. She rehearses her lines quietly upstairs by herself, or sometimes with one of use cueing her.
"Without being a professional child, she has tremendous poise and charm. It is fascinating for me to see the combination of small child and glamorous pre-teener in Gail. Last Halloween eve, she had a chance to be both. When she went trick-or-treating with Miguel, both wore skunk suits with tails, and stripes on the back. In that skunk suit, Gail was completely the little girl dressed up for Halloween.
"Because Miguel had to go to bed early, they returned to the house at seven. Then Gail put on a skating skirt, leotard blouse and gay mask, brightened her lips with lipstick - and, for the rest of the evening, handed out treats to the children who came to our house." With them, she was a self-possessed glamour girl, dressed in an outfit befitting a young TV actress.
How can so much talent exist in one family, much of it under one roof, without the roof caving in? With Rosie, who treats you after a couple of meetings like a friend instead of as an inquisitive interviewer, you can be frank. I asked her, point blank, how such talented individuals could get along with each other without temperaments running riot.
"Actors' temperaments are over-rated," said Rosie. "Personally, I think there is no temperament like that of a harassed housewife - goodness knows, most housewives have plenty of provocation! When two children start to cry at once, the washing machine goes on the blink, or the drying machine won't work, then the phone rings, why shouldn't she get temperamental?" "But you might have all that to contend with, in addition to your professional work," I reminded Rosie.
"I have competent help," she replied. She rapped on the wooden table for good luck as she said, "We have a maid who's been with us for seven years, and wonderful nurses for the children. When a housewife doesn't have adequate help, I think her problems are much more upsetting than when something goes wrong at work."
Over lunch at the M-G-M commissary, Jose told me, "There is almost no temperament in our house. When I'm working, I'm high-strung, but I seldom lose my temper or shout or talk in a loud voice."
"Rosemary and I keep our work out of our private lives. I study where I work - between the takes at the studio. When I'm directing, I spend so much time with the writer at the studio that I know all his lines, all the scenes. I don't have to go over my lines at home."
Home for Jose is a place for peace, love and harmony, not work. When the gates of the studio close behind him, he walks into a new world - one with enchanting vistas. He has a hundred exciting interests, many of which Rosie shares. He's fascinated by his wife, her family, their children.
When he first met Rosemary on a New York TV program, on which he guested, they already had a profound respect of each other's talent. Time has not dimmed this feeling, but it has increased their love for each other. Where teenagers often feel a physical passion they mistake for love, these delightful adults have grown into love.
When they were first married, those who didn't know them very well said, "How can a charming but lightweight girl like Rosie hold a genius like Mr. Ferrer?" They didn't know our Rosie. Jose does. "It infuriates me," he said, "when people ask, 'What do they see in each other?' - as if I were an intellectual and rosemary a barefoot girl from the hills of Kentucky, born with a velvet throat. Rosemary is an intelligent girl with a wide range of interests. Her looks, her warmth, and her great sense of humor attracted me. By some divine accidents, we're both human beings.
"Rosemary is a singer, and a darned good one. She didn't get that way by accident. It's a nice and comfortable theory that someone who is able to sing as well as Rosemary does it by accident. Nobody gets that good by accident. She worked and worked and worked to develop her voice."
Rosemary and Jose used to laugh about the astonishment with which the world greeted their marriage. Now Jose added a firm footnote: "Rosemary has a lot more in her upper storey than most of her critics. This girl is not only a warm, loving person, but runs her household with smooth intelligence. She is a grownup, not only by the calendar, but in her emotions."
So great is the love and warmth that flows protectively and sensibly over the Ferrer-Clooney household that it melts all problems down to size. Half of this great warmth comes from Rosie; the other half - to Hollywood's surprise - from Jose.
The household may be filled with talent, but there's no competition or jealousy among the talented ones. Once, Rosie and Jose started to learn chess at about the same time. The late Herman Steiner, a close friend of both of them, and a master of the game, helped both of them. For ten days, they discussed chess strategy.
Then Gail came down with the flu. Jose bought her a chessboard. "Please show me the way the pieces move," Gail asked Rosie. After about fifteen minutes, Gail said, "why don't we play a game now?"
Rosie said indulgently, "Honey, this isn't a game you can play after fifteen minutes' instruction. You don't just learn the principles of the game in one brief lesson and then sit right down and play. You'll need more instruction." "I think I understand what you've explained," said Gail, "so let's play a game."
They sat down to play. Rosie was sure she'd trounce Gail soundly. At first, it looked as if she was right. I'll finish her up quickly, thought Rosie. This is something you're not supposed to try to do in chess. Rosie laughs now, as she recalls, "So you know what happened. In three moves, she defeated me! After that, I virtually gave up chess. Today Gail plays a very good game, often against Jose."
Gail is an integral part of the household, almost like a daughter to Jose. In turn, she idolizes him. Some mornings, Jose, Rosie and Gail all wake up at the crack of dawn, gulp down some orange juice then drive to Malibu, where they go horseback riding. When they're through, they stop at some truck drivers' paradise for breakfast.
Rosie is full of praise for Gail's prowess at horseback riding and everything else. "Gail doesn't like to jump, but she's very good. She won third prize in her age group at a recent horse show."
Much as she loves her immediate family, the center of Rosie's world is Jose. Though they've been married for four years, when she talks about him she talks like a bride. "If I live to be 180," she told me, "we'll never be able to spend enough time together.
"That's why I'm starting to commute from Hollywood to New York. Joe is going to direct a musical version of 'The Captain's Paradise' on Broadway. Within twenty-four hours after he left, he called me twice from New York. As for me, when I woke up in the morning, I started missing him from the first instant. When I read the morning newspapers, there were four items I would have shown to Joe, that we would have chuckled over together. I cut them out and mailed them to him.
"From now on, I'm going to leave Hollywood every Thursday when my show is over and stay with Joe until Sunday night. Then I'll fly back to Hollywood so I can start rehearsing Monday morning."
Rosie says that the secret of a happy marriage is respect for the other person's time, talent, and wishes. "There's never been any question about my going to a party when Joe has an early call. To me, the most important thing then is for him to get his sleep. On the other hand, since I have to wake up very early on Thursday morning and have a full day on Thursday, Joe won't accept any invitation for Wednesday nights in Hollywood."
"But why?" I asked. "Why can't you go to a party with a girl friend, when Jose has an early call; why can't he go to the fights with a male friend, when you have to get up early?" "Because," Rosie said patiently, "we enjoy being together so much. I wouldn't want to deprive myself of Joe's company. There just aren't enough hours in the day for us to spend together."
Both of them enjoy watching fights, Miguel, their three-year-old, also likes to watch fights, on TV. It looks as though he, too, will have a bushel of talent. From the time he was one-and-a-half years old, he used to challenge his daddy to "pretend" fights. Then the wonderful, dignified Academy Award actor would topple over under the soft rain of his baby boy's blows. Miguel would start counting over him - one, two, three!
Miguel's a born mimic. When Jose made a picture abroad, Miguel accompanied his mother and dad to London, Brussels, and Paris. In England, the family met Arthur Howard. Miguel was fascinated by the actor's long, serious face, and soon began imitating him. Whenever Jose says, "Let's see your English face," he gives and almost perfect imitation of Arthur Howard.
Recently, when Rosie and Jose were having breakfast in bed, Miguel came into their room and said, "I'd like you to meet my little girl friend, Sylvia." He lifted Sylvia - who is as imaginary a character as the rabbit Harvey - and put her on the bed. "What color is her hair?" asked Jose. "Blond," said Miguel. "How tall is she?" asked Rosie. He lifted his hand about eighteen inches over the bed. "I think I'll go back to Nana," he said next. ("Nana" is Rosie's mother.) He left, closing the door behind him. A minute later he was back. "I forgot Sylvia," he said. "Come on, Sylvia." He lifted the imaginary child gently, then quietly closed the door.
"You might think Miguel was nuts," said Jose, "but he's the healthiest minded, most complete extrovert you ever met. However, he has quite an imagination. He loves fantasy. Once, when he was playing ball, I pretended to be the ball, and asked him not to bounce me so hard, because it hurt. For the next fifteen minutes, he carried on a long conversation with the ball, inquiring tenderly, each time he bounced it, if it was feeling all right."
"I gave him a candied apple recently," said Rosemary. "He said it looked like a bell. I pretended I could hear it ringing, and he said he could hear it, too." Some parents go into a panic when their youngsters show too active an imagination. They find it hard to distinguish between lying and pretending. But, in a tender, talented family like this one, there's no confusion. Imagination and talent are encouraged, not discouraged.
However, if any of the children really misbehave, Rosie feels it's proper to spank their tender bottoms. At such times, Rosie's mother looks on with silent disapproval. Later on, she "alibis" the child's misbehavior. In return, when Rosie is tempted to criticize her mother for being overprotective, Jose says, "But Rosie" and goes into a strong defense of his mother-in-law.
It's a family joke that "Nana" like most grandmothers, thinks the children are perfect. "We tease her a bit about this," Rosie smiled, "but Joe will never let the teasing go too far." "Maybe it's because he, too, thinks the children are perfect," I suggested.
"Perhaps," said Rosie. "But mostly, it's because he's so gallant, almost Old World in his attitude toward older people. He feels that we should never be the least bit unkind toward them. He never criticizes my family, and won't let me say a word against any of them, ever."
Jose has tremendous respect for Rosie's talent, and is very much interested in music himself. When Jose was at college, he led his own band. Around the house, Jose does more singing than Rosie. He's the one who sings in the showers. You rarely hear Rosie singing around the house, except when she's singing one of the children to sleep. Miguel likes songs like "Bushel and a Peck," or "Pop Goes the Weasel." Maria likes bright songs too.
So far, the only sign of talent Maria has exhibited is doing her Rocky Marcianco trick. When her dad says, "Maria, do your Rocky Marciano," she sniffs with her nose as though taking a difficult breath.
When asked if she would like her children to go into show business, Rosie said, "I think parents ought to expose their children to lots of different things, rather than just one. I don't think it's fair to narrow down their world to one profession their parents want. Lots of parents try to live their children's lives for them."
Talent isn't even a word yet to Gabriel Vicente
Though Jose sometimes accuses Rosemary of being too protective a parent, he occasionally outdoes her in this respect. "Joe would like to foam-rubber the house to protect the children," Rosie smiled. "If he's playing tennis and Miguel starts to run toward the terrace, Joe seems to have eyes in the back of his head with which to observe Miguel. He says to Miguel, 'Slow down when you get toward the steps.' When Maria started walking, Joe told me, 'There is something with wheels and a bar that will not tilt. You've got to find it for Maria.' I went to about a dozen stores, before I found it.
"Because of the length of time we were away from home traveling, Miguel got a little confused about the time, and now wakes up each morning between 2 A.M. and 5 A.M. Joe got into the habit of listening to Miguel's faint noises when he wakes up, and of going in to reassure him.
"At least three times on the way to the airport to New York, Joe said to me, 'You'll have to listen to Miguel. The moment he awakens and asks for me, please go into his room and reassure him.'" Of course, Rosie does. But she says, "Isn't it funny that Joe should say that maybe I'm overprotective of the children?" Since Jose and Rosemary understand and respect each other's talents so much, is there any possibility that he himself might ever become a steady fixture on TV, perhaps in a husband-and-wife show?
"Never," said Jose. "I'm terrified of TV. Steady work on TV would scare me to death. It might be professional suicide. When you're on TV, everybody gets to know you too well. They mystery that should surround an actor is gone. TV swallows up, chews up, spits out it's performers. The TV public has been fickle with some of its greatest one-time favorites." What about Rosemary? Is Jose afraid of what TV might do to her?
"No," he said. "That's different. She's a great singer, photogenic, attractive. I know she will not only survive, but become greater than ever. But I'm not young, attractive, or an outstanding singer. I have no faith in my ability to survive a steady TV series. I would never dare undertake one."
In every other medium, Jose shines brilliantly. So does Rosemary. And in every medium of entertainment they've tried so far, so do Betty, Gail, and Nick. Last Thanksgiving Day, The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney also featured Gail and Nick and Betty - who flew in from Miami for the program. (Betty is married, too, and a very happy and devoted mother.) This was truly a Clooney family holiday. But, for the entire Ferrer-Clooney family, every day's a holiday, a feast of mutual admiration and deepest affection - and respect for one another.
Jose has virtually adopted Rosie's family, considers them as much
his own as Maria and her brothers.