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Gayer Than Swingtime

When Paramount previewed “The Stars Are Singing” in Maysville, Kentucky, the town staged a welcome fit for a homecoming hero. All the citizens turned out to cheer their Rosemary Clooney, along with more than ten thousand people from neighboring towns.

It was a big day for Rosie, with a busy itinerary squeezed into a few hours. The parade down the main street was ready to start when she discovered no one had picked up her Grandmother Guilfoyle. So the parade waited while a police car rushed to the Guilfoyle house. In the back seat Rosemary, star of the day, huddled on the floor so no one could see her. Arrived at the house, she flew up the steps and pulled open the front door.

Grandmother Guilfoyle regarded her in amazement. “Oh, my goodness! Is the parade outside?”

“No. Come on, put on your bonnet— we’re going to take you into town.”

Mrs. Guilfoyle peered out the front window. “In a police car? My goodness, I’ve never ridden with the cops before.”

Rosemary’s barrel-house laugh roared through the house. “Come on,” she said and put her grandmother’s little hat with the bunch of violets at the front squarely on top of the gray hair.

Riding back, Rosie stayed hidden under her coat until they reached the bridge which took them into the main part of town, and her grandmother kept patting her head under the coat and saying, “You poor child. You poor child.”

Aside from worrying about Rosemary’s health, Mrs. Guilfoyle is happy as a clam about her granddaughter’s success. A week or so after the premiere Rosie called her up from New York.

“You remember that big picture of you they had hanging over the bank?” said the old lady.

Rosie remembered—it had been at least eight feet square.

“Well,” said Grandmother “They gave it to me.”

“What in the world are you going to do with it?”

And back in Maysville, Mrs. Guilfoyle’s face took on a patient expression. “Why, hang it in my living room, of course!”

Rosemary can’t wait to see that one wall almost completely covered by her face. This is partly because of her love for her grandmother, partly because of Rosie’s delightful sense of humor, and partly, it must be supposed, because she is a ham.

Rosemary Clooney is one of those rare phenomena in show business, the unknown who with one performance bursts into the bright world of the headliners. Her singular rendition of “Come on-a My House” brought a fortune rolling into the coffers of Columbia Records. It also put Clooney on the map of modern-day thrushes. With her warm version of the ballad, “Tenderly,” fans of popular music began to snap up everything Rosemary had ever recorded. This included her records for children; young mothers across the country noted with astonishment that for the pint-sized trade, Clooney can switch her voice to a quality that suggests mother love, Alice in Wonderland and the 4-H Club. People came to the justifiable conclusion that Rosie is the most versatile singer of our day.

Among those so impressed were the executives of Paramount Studios, who tested Rosemary and put her into a halfhearted role in “The Stars Are Singing,” a film which was being planned in a lukewarm manner. The daily rushes brought a revelation. The Clooney girl was not only a born nightingale—she had a personality that bounced right off the screen. Hurried conferences were held, the script was changed to give the public much more of Rosie, and the picture was built into a top-budget number designed to make the whole world Clooney-conscious.

The name Rosemary Clooney has a distinctive flavor of its own, perhaps because the name Clooney is, despite its Irish origin, a fairly uncommon one in the United States. When the clan resided in France centuries ago the name was undoubtedly spelled as Cluny, then when the fathers decided to shift to Ireland it was changed to the more Irish spelling of Clooney. It is a pixie-ish sounding name which coincides with Rosemary’s own bright quality.

When Rosemary was a kid back in Maysville, she and her sister Betty and brother Nicky soon ceased to be bothered by the fact that their name conveniently rhymed with such uncomplimentary adjectives as “looney” and “gooney.” Today Rosie feels highly complimented that cartoonist Al Capp has seen fit to weave one of his delightful satires around a character named Rosie Gooney, and she jokingly remarks that the one fine thing about a name like Rosemary Clooney is that it takes up so much space on a marquee there is no room for competition.

Where Rosemary herself is concerned, there is no room for competition. She treats every song she sings as lovingly as though it were her own creation, and projects a warmth that draws audiences to her. There is something about her that inevitably reminds people of other actresses. Some say she has the Carole Lombard flair for comedy, some see in her the Allyson quality of gaiety, others remark that the heart put into her singing reminds them of Judy Garland. In the final analysis, however, she is like no one but herself. Her hard work, her honesty, her sense of fairness—all are a result of her inherent personality and her environment.

Rosemary was the eldest of three children, all of whom began singing before they learned how to make mud pies. It was an inclination that was to lead all of them into show business where all of them were destined to make their mark.

When their parents separated, Grandfather Clooney made an immediate bid to take Rosie and Betty into his house. A dominant man who had practiced law and then been elected Mayor of Maysville, he doted on his first grandchild and had insisted from the moment of her birth that she must some day be a lawyer. In his home, the two small girls lived life in a fairly lush fashion. There were down quilts in the bedroom, shiny bicycles in the garage, and a maid in the kitchen to distribute fancy cookies. They were decked in ribbons and ruffles and hadn’t a care in the world.

Rosemary was nine when her Grandmother Clooney died, and after that she and Betty moved in with their Grandmother Guilfoyle, a large, comfortable woman who had borne nine children and become a widow when the youngest was three. She had taken Nicky at the time of the divorce, and her two youngest children were still living with her. Grandma Guilfoyle had no illusions about life. It was difficult and sometimes very sad, and she gave her new charges a great deal of hardheaded horse sense, as well as love. Her household afforded none of the luxuries the Clooney sisters had recently known, yet they took to the fuller life immediately, shedding their furbelows and going barefoot from May until September. The house was a big one and the kids pitched in to help, soon learning that work gives life a greater meaning. Rosemary has never forgotten it and is still today one of the hardest working people in the entertainment world.

The sisters began their professional careers when Rosemary was seventeen and Betty fourteen, as a duet on call to sing practically anything at practically any hour for Cincinnati’s radio station WLW. This went on for more than a year before bandleader Tony Pastor hit Cincinnati looking for a new vocalist. He heard the Clooney sisters and was so impressed that he ended up with two singers instead of one.

Because they were minors earning money they were wards of the state, and “Uncle George” Guilfoyle, although only six years Rosie’s senior, got the job of chaperone. George was a likeable young man immediately accepted by the boys in the band, but he took his duties so seriously that to Betty and Rosemary he loomed like an ogre over their lives. Uncle George approved of very few liberties for young ladies, and his censorship stretched so far that his young cousins were not even permitted to talk alone to band members. The only thing that ever got past him was Rosie’s romance with a guitar player.

She was nineteen then, and the band was playing the Palladium in Hollywood. Rosie and her guitar player managed a few fast words alone when they were backstage, and pretty soon began sending each other notes behind Uncle George’s back. Through these billets doux they decided they were in love and would get married, and it was arranged that they should meet after the show and find a minister who was still awake.

That night Uncle George accompanied Rosie to their boarding house on Vine Street and said goodnight at the foot of the stairs. Rosie hiked up three flights, entered the room she shared with Betty and began packing a small bag.

“What,” said Betty, rolling over in bed, “do you think you’re doing?”

“Sh-h-h!” said Rosie, pointing a finger at the floor, under which was Uncle George’s room. “He’ll hear you! I’m going to get married.”

Married!” Betty sat bolt upright.

Rosie shoved a pillow in her sister’s face. “For heaven’s sake, be quiet! He’ll find out!”

“You bet he’ll find out,” said Betty. Although only sixteen, Betty was an astute young lady, at that moment much more so than her older sister. Rosemary had recently made her first recording and critics said she held much promise, so Betty felt only horror at the thought that Rosie could give up a budding career for a two-room flat and a daily fare of macaroni and cheese. Betty flounced out of bed and ran down the stairs in her bare feet to pound on Uncle George’s door. Apprised of the elopement plan, Uncle George spent the night sitting just outside her door.

The next day, under the haggard eyes of Uncle George, the bewildered guitarist met Rosie backstage at the Palladium. “What happened to you?” he said. “I waited half the night.”

Rosie grimaced and jerked her head toward Uncle George and a triumphant Betty. “She told him—the crow!”

It has turned out, and no one knows it better than Rosemary, that everything happened for the best. Barely six years have passed. Yet in that time she has earned for herself one of the most promising careers, friends by the hundreds, fans by the thousands, and a fabulous income.

Along with this life in the higher echelons, she is also the proud owner of an Aleutian mink coat, a plush garment which Rosie candidly tosses over her arm in all but the hottest of weather.

Its purchase was not made in an effort to impress others—Rosemary Clooney is not that kind of a person. It was simply because all her life she had had a passion for furs and at last could satisfy her yearning. In preparation for the lucky day she spent years gawking at the furs that whooshed by her. She wasn’t afraid to stare nor to let dangle over the back of her chair what she hoped was a casually placed hand when there was a mink approaching. Fortified with such fur lore she set out to buy her own mink, accompanied by her manager Joe Shribman, who must give his permission for Rosie’s large expenditures. Joe knows that mink is not for paupers, but he was unprepared for Rosie’s determination to acquire a collection from the Aleutians. Faye Emerson owned the only other Aleutian mink in New York that year, and Rosemary had drooled too often at the sight of it not to try for one of her own. She slipped into one and Joe whistled his appreciation.

“It’s lovely, Rosie,” he said. “Walk over that way so I can get a better look at it.” It was indeed a thing of beauty, thought Shribman. Then he asked the price.

“Seven thousand dollars,” said the clerk.

He gulped twice, and Rosie still swears that his eyes bulged slightly.

“Is it warm?” he asked.

In all probability none of this would have been possible had not Betty Clooney squealed to Uncle George Guilfoyle on that night long ago, and today Rosemary feels only gratitude for the interference. George is now deeply imbedded in show business himself, having become manager for Betty, who records for the Coral label.

The professional parting of the sisters was a painful one, and yet another example of Betty’s consideration for Rosemary. For three years they had crossed and criss-crossed the United States with the Tony Pastor band, doing one-night stands in cities they had never seen and hamlets they’d never heard of. It was a rough and tumble existence out of battered suitcases. Rosie, who takes off her shoes at the slightest opportunity, left a trail of lost shoes from Seattle to Miami Beach. By that time, band managers Joe Shribman and Charlie Trotta were so enchanted with Rosemary’s voice that they had become her personal managers, and in 1949 they arranged a contract with Columbia Records.

Although Rosemary continued to travel with the Pastor orchestra, packing her clothes in the same suitcases with those of her sister, she knew the day was not far off when she would have to make the break. Recording artists must take advantage of the local fevers that spring up over their latest songs and hit the night-clubs in those particular areas. Betty knew it, too, and one night in Elkhart, Indiana, she announced to Rosemary, “I’m going home. I’m tired of working so hard.”

When Rosemary got back to their hotel room two hours later, Betty had packed and left. She had gone back to Maysville for what she had promised would be a long hiatus. Rosemary noticed, however, that when two weeks later she herself left the band, Betty was back in show business doing fifteen shows a week on television.

It had been subtly done, and Rosemary had been spared the embarrassment of splitting the act. If she lives to be ninety she will always be grateful. Wherever Betty is now, her phone rings at least once a week with a call from Rosie.

Pinning down either sister would be difficult even for the FBI. In their world of high pressure and hoopla they must be ready to fly to far-off cities at the drop of a contract, and the pace of their working lives is such that they sometimes can’t even locate each other. Brother Nicky is the only one of the trio who seems to have settled. He is a top flight disc jockey in Wilmington, Delaware. Rosemary, who has an affinity for telephones, makes a steady stream of calls to Wilmington, and gets a boot out of the fact that Nicky refuses to play her recordings on his show.

According to Rosemary, Nicky has a voice that can charm birds down from the trees, and she continues to plead that he start his own singing career. Nicky replies that he’s satisfied with the status quo and wants to write songs, perhaps one day a successful musical comedy. e Clooney kids never argued about anything except music, and not one of them has ever won an argument with the other, so Rosie should know by now that Nicky is not going to be a singer.

During the days of traveling with the band, Rosemary felt an occasional pang that she had not gone to college. She sang at hundreds of college proms, and watched with envy from the rostrum as boys and girls of her own age forgot their studies to dance dreamily to her own warbling. She has since concluded that her education has been valuable in its own way.

She has learned about life and about people, which is more than comes of most college educations, but nevertheless she continues to be an avid reader. She reads constantly, anything and everything from the brighter parts of history to the dull messages printed on cereal boxes. If print is in front of Rosemary’s eyes, she’ll read it. It’s the only relaxation that can be enjoyed in ten minutes or one minute, and Clooney has paid a fortune to airlines because she insists on carrying a suitcase of half-finished books.

She is beginning to wish, however, that she could settle down, that she could keep her toothbrush in a house rather than in her purse. Currently she keeps an apartment in New York and rents a house in Beverly Hills. But Rosemary is too much of a small-town girl to feel at home in a rented house. She wants a place of her own and is shopping for one now that a movie contract will enable her to stay in one place for a few weeks at a time.

There is always the possibility, of course, that she will one day settle into a home as Mrs. X, but what the X might stand for is anybody’s guess. About two years ago she was dating comedian Dave Garroway, but since that time her steady escort has been José Ferrer. Where that romance will end no one knows, as Ferrer, although separated from his wife for some time, is still not free to marry. He and Rosemary see each other when their paths cross, and she is quite frank in saying that she enjoys his company tremendously. “He is interested in so many things . . . we have so much in common . . . you can learn something from him every minute.” These quotes are undoubtedly an understatement of Rosie’s sentiments toward Mr. Ferrer, but in the light of the legal snags that have not yet been untangled, they are in the best of taste.

In the interim, her energies are devoted to her career. Her second movie, “Here Come the Girls” with Bob Hope, will be released in December. She is working now in “Red Garters” and in August will start “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby. Rosie has been called “Miss Crosby,” a reference stemming from the fact that she is, like Bing, a natural. They just give her a script, she learns her lines, and without a hint from a dramatic coach, she puts across her scenes with gusto.

She sings the same way. Somebody once told her she sings the same way Harry James plays his trumpet—a beat in back of the orchestra. She thought for a while and then said, “Yes, I guess I do. I never thought of it that way.” Rosie can’t read music and has no intention of learning. “I might get so wound up with the mechanics of it that I’d forget how to sing.”

The statement proves that Rosie sings from the heart, and the fact is perhaps responsible for her surge of popularity. That plus the fact that she is a ham. This she admits. “Of course ‘m a ham. Any performer worth his salt must be.”

Her fans are quite happy about it. Otherwise, Grandfather Clooney might conceivably have turned her into a lawyer and that, they say with a shudder, would have been criminal.




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