Friday, March 25, 2011

An Interview with Rose Marie

Kliph Nesteroff: I was just listening to your recording of Take a Picture of the Moon. 

Rose Marie: Oh my God, I was about five years old!

Kliph Nesteroff: It's a beautiful, beautiful song.

Rose Marie: Well, how nice of you to say that. I was about five or six years old.

Kliph Nesteroff: There's a sincerity to it that is just so charming.

Rosie Marie: Ah, you're so kind.

Kliph Nesteroff: Earlier today I was watching the Betty Boop cartoon in which you did the voice for the character Sally Swing. 

Rose Marie: Oh, the cartoon. Yes. I don't remember much about that. God, I don't know how I got that job. I was signed to NBC at that time and they got me all the work... and I had done a Vitaphone short before I signed with NBC. I don't know how that all happened either!

Kliph Nesteroff: Apparently your Vitaphone short was screened at The Wintergarden the same night that Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer had its premiere...

Rose Marie: Yes. They played a couple of shorts at that time that were silent and mine was the only one with sound. It played with The Jazz Singer at The Wintergarden in New York. It was a phenomenal thing. I went up to Jolson and said, "You were wonderful, Mr. Jolson!" He said, "Get away, you little brat!" He didn't like kids.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you ever encounter Jolson again later on in your career?

Rose Marie: Yes, at a benefit. I did my act and I had to announce him as the next act. He said, "You tell 'em they haven't heard nothing yet, you little brat."

Kliph Nesteroff: But he was serious right?

Rose Marie: Oh, yes. He was mean. He was a lousy man. Very mean and very... oh, he was terrible. In fact, nobody ever liked him.

Kliph Nesteroff: You were also in the 1933 film International House starring WC Fields, and he always played a character that hated children.

Rose Marie: Yes, I did that and we shot [my sequence] on Long Island. That was through NBC. The picture was about a new invention called "television" which is very funny to me. I just did a cameo, if that's what you would call it. I was eight or nine years old. We shot it in Long Island or Jersey.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you actually get to meet WC Fields?

Rose Marie: Oh, yes. Yes, definitely. He didn't like kids either (laughs), but he was very nice to me. He was nice to me, but I guess his way of being funny was to say he hated kids.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was looking at a newspaper advertisement from 1933. Baby Rose Marie at the RKO Palace with The Diamond Brothers, Willie and Davis and Irene Vermillion. Do you remember any of these acts?

Rose Marie: Well, I remember some of them. I don't remember all of them. I did vaudeville with Edgar Bergen and what the hell is his name? Bergen and His Birds. Willie West and McGinty. People like that. It was very funny because Edgar Bergen was a minor act at the time. When I did Candice Bergen's show, Murphy Brown, I told her, "I worked with your father in vaudeville when he was doing a doctor sketch." She said, "Well, you couldn't have played the nurse - you were too young!" I said, "No, I was headlining. He was the opening act." She didn't care for that too much.

Kliph Nesteroff: What was Edgar Bergen like?

Rose Marie: He was very nice. We became very good friends. I never had any trouble with anyone when I was doing vaudeville. All of them, I guess because I was a kid, they all taught me what they did. I learned how to juggle. I learned how to walk on a big ball. I learned how to do trapeze. I was the kid. They used to say, "Come on, let's keep her busy." And they taught me everything. It was a very educational thing for me.

Kliph Nesteroff: One of those people was Rudy Vallee.

Rose Marie: Rudy Vallee. When I was about six or seven he did his broadcast from The Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. I did his radio show and we became very good friends. In fact, when I moved to California, he had a radio show and that was the first thing I did when I came out to California. He was very, very nice.

Kliph Nesteroff: And Dick Powell?

Rose Marie: Oh! Dick Powell was a doll. He was the emcee at The Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. I worked there with him. I used to do my act and then I would do a number with him in which I would tease him. I would do a song called Oh, You Don't Know What You're Doing. I would put my hands through his hair and I would say, "Whadja do with the sardines?"

Kliph Nesteroff: And one more influential star that took you under his wing - Jimmy Durante.

Rose Marie: Oh! That man was the love of my life! Love of my life! I'm not an impersonator, I never was, but in my act I used to do a little bit of a Durante in a song. It got [more and more popular]. His wife said I did the best Durante of all. In fact, I ended up having to do a whole song as Durante in my act. I used to go to Jimmy and say, "How do I do this?" He taught me how to do him with the proper inflections and how to move my hands. He had a certain way of talking. I graveled my voice a little more and it got to the point where I had to do full numbers about Jimmy Durante; I'm in Love with Jimmy Durante and I Wish I Could Sing Like Jimmy Durante. It was a whole series of numbers that I did in my act. I had to go to Jimmy all the time. He even taught me how to play the piano like him.

The latest thing is I've been inducted into The Smithsonian. They took some of the Baby Rose Marie things and some of the things from The Dick Van Dyke Show and some of the stuff from Top Banana. I've had almost three careers. Baby Rose Marie, Ms. Rose Marie and Rose Marie!

Kliph Nesteroff: Yes, well I always knew you from your work on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but I love the Baby Rose Marie stuff most of all. 

Rose Marie: I know. Everybody does. It was unusual and an awful lot happened. Forgive the expression, but I was a phenomenal thing at that time. I just grew up and continued on in the business and went into another era of my life. Started to do nightclubs and hotels and I had an act. Did a lot of nightclub work. Then I got married and went into television.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did Milton Berle write material for your act?

Rose Marie: Milton and I have been friends for thousands of years. Milton wrote a lot of material for me and we worked together a lot. I did a Broadway show with him that was a flop called Spring in Brazil. And I was the only one who could handle him. I understood him where no one else did. Milton was a genius and Milton could not explain what he wanted or how he wanted it. He'd get all mixed-up. For instance, he was doing his television show and he said to the conductor Victor Young, "I want a G chord here." My husband told me this. My husband was a musician in the band. Victor Young said, "Okay, gentleman. Give me a G chord." They went, "Tah-dah!" Milton flew over to Victor and practically killed him. "I said a G chord you dumb son of a bitch!" Called him all kinds of names. My husband, who also knew Milton very well, said to Victor Young, "He wants a C chord." So Victor Young said, "All right, gentleman. Give me a C chord." They went, "Tah-dah!" Milton says, "That's a goddamn G chord! Don't you know what you're doing? That's what I wanted." I knew Milton from the time I was four years old. He always went around telling people, "I saw Rose Marie without her top." I was three or four years old!

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Rose Marie: So, he couldn't explain anything. But he was a genius. Every time that I did his television show he would say to me, "Get into video. It's going to be a big thing." And he was right. When I was around nine years old I met Morey Amsterdam. I did vaudeville when I was Baby Rose Marie to prove that I was a child and I wound up playing all the RKO theaters. [Ed. Note: Many radio listeners refused to believe that the boisterous singing voice of Baby Rose Marie belonged to a child]. I wound up in California. There was a radio show called Al Pearce. Morey was on the show. I met Morey and we became friends instantly. I've known him all my life. Morey wrote my act. He used to write material for me. He was a writer before he became a comic. I guess he made everybody laugh so he figured he'd be a comic himself. I got him his job on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Kliph Nesteroff: Morey Amsterdam was also alternate host of the first late night variety show, Broadway Open House. Did you know the other host of Broadway Open House - Jerry Lester?

Rose Marie: Yes, I worked with him here in California at Slapsie Maxie's, which was the big nightclub here in town. I worked with him here and I worked with him in Florida. There are no people in show business that I don't know. It's amazing. What I do now is commentary on people that are all dead. Nobody remembers! Nobody remembers Sophie Tucker! Nobody remembers, like you do, Jerry Lester and things like that. People call me, they say, "We're doing a book. Can you do some commentary?" I'm in every book that's coming out! The Three Stooges. There's a whole chapter of me in this new Three Stooges book.

Kliph Nesteroff: Your husband was Bobby Guy. He was in the Kay Kyser Orchestra.

Rose Marie: Yes, he made a couple of movies with Kay Kyser. I met him when he got out of the army. He was with Kay Kyser from the time he was seventeen. I knew three days after I met him that I was going to marry him.

Kliph Nesteroff: After vaudeville you played a lot of nightclubs. You played The Copacabana...

Rose Marie: I played The Copacabana, The Pierre Hotel in New York, Chez Paree in Chicago, The Palmer House in Chicago, Lake Tahoe - I played every nightclub that was going.

Kliph Nesteroff: What do you remember about Copacabana manager Jules Podell?

Rose Marie: He was very nice. You've got to understand they [the Mob] all treated me very, very well. They always referred to me as "the kid." I had no difficulties with people at all.

Kliph Nesteroff: I was talking with Shecky Greene the other day about Martha Raye's Five O'Clock Club in Miami. Do you remember that venue at all?

Rose Marie: Yes, but I never really worked there. I knew Martha. Martha and I grew up together practically and I knew Shecky very well. I worked Atlantic City and all the big hotels; The Ambassador, The Pierre, Chez Paree, The Copa, The Latin Quarter... all those kinds of places.

Kliph Nesteroff: Eventually you were on the same bill regularly with Jan Murray and The Vagabonds.

Rose Marie: We were all booked together in Florida. Everyone had their own act and everyone did their own bit and then we did a finale. We were the smash hit that season in Florida at The Clover Club. We got together and kibbitzed around with jokes and teasing one another. The Vagabonds would be playing and Jan would come down the aisle with his shirt off. 

Kliph Nesteroff: What was The Clover Club like?

Rose Marie: It was just a nightclub, a very nice nightclub. It was run by the Mob. Jack Goldman. As you know, the Mob was very, very good to me. And The Vagabonds had their own nightclub too. They were wonderful. We worked together - that combination was so successful that we worked Florida for about sixteen weeks and broke all records. Then we played The Riviera in New Jersey, we played Vegas, as a group. Then everybody went their own way.

Kliph Nesteroff: Lord Buckley was performing in Florida at that time.

Rose Marie: Yes, he was a comic that worked very dirty (laughs). I saw him, but I never really knew him. Jackie Miles. Jackie Miles was my era. Jackie Miles was one and Joe E. Lewis was another. Joey Bishop....

Kliph Nesteroff: What can you tell me about Joe E. Lewis?

Rose Marie: Oh, he was wonderful. He had great material. I worked with him at the Chez Paree in Chicago and worked sixteen weeks with him in Chicago. Jack E. Leonard the same thing. I worked with him and did a couple shows in Florida.

Kliph Nesteroff: How about some of the great black performers of the era. Did you...

Rose Marie: Sammy Davis was the only black act that I ever really worked with. Well, I was very friendly with The Nicholas Brothers. We were very good friends. 

Kliph Nesteroff: They were amazing.

Rose Marie: Yeah. We worked together in vaudeville, we did club dates together. My mother and their mother used to sit in the back and wait for us.

Kliph Nesteroff: How did you get your role on The Phil Harris - Alice Faye [radio] Show?

Rose Marie: My husband was doing the show. He was a very, very popular trumpet player. He was the number one man in California. He was doing The Phil Harris - Alice Faye Show. They knew who I was and they invited me over to their house for dinner and stuff like that. I would kid around imitating Sheldon Leonard. He was on the show playing a tout. I imitated him for fun. Phil and Alice said, "Why don't you do the show with us and you can play Sheldon Leonard's sister?" I said, "I'd love to!" Which is what I did. Sheldon, by the way, was a genius. I knew Sheldon... he used to come to Vegas to see me. I worked with Danny Thomas. He was with Sheldon. They'd come to see me. They said, "Don't you ever bomb?" I said, "I try not to." I said, "Why don't you have me on your show, Danny? You've got Make Room For Daddy. I'd like to do your show." "Your time will come." I met Sheldon through that and we became family. We became very good friends. 

I got a call from the casting director that said, "Go down to see Danny Thomas." I thought, "Ah, I finally got a job [on Make Room For Daddy]. She said, "No, this is for a new show called The Dick Van Dyke Show." I said, "What's a Dick Van Dyke?" I went down there and met Carl Reiner. Sheldon had said, "If you want the best - get Rose Marie." Which I thought was very nice. After the [audition], Carl Reiner said, "Sheldon was right. You are the best." I said, "That's very sweet. Thank you." I said, "Who have you got for the third [cast member]?" He said, "We haven't picked him yet." I said, "How about Morey Amsterdam?" See, Morey was known in show business, but the world didn't know him. The public didn't know him. So I gave them the number. I called him when I got home. I said, "They're going to call you about a new show - it's called The Dick Van Dyke Show." He said, "What's a Dick Van Dyke?" He got the job. Now the world knows Morey Amsterdam. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Your husband was in the orchestra on The George Gobel Show as well...

Rose Marie: Yes. My husband did all the big shows in town - Dinah Shore, George Gobel, Milton Berle and he wound up on The Tonight Show. He and Gobel were very, very friendly. My husband was very friendly with everybody and we were a very sociable, nice couple.

Kliph Nesteroff: And you were close with Lucille Ball.

Rose Marie: Lucille Ball was one of my closest friends. I was doing an act in New York at The Martinique. They came to see the show. Lucille came over to me and said, "I want to talk to you about coming out to California. I want you to call me when you get into town. We've got to do something together." We were going to do a pilot. But we never got around to it. They would come over to my house and we would have dinner and we would have a ball. We were just very, very good friends. Desi Arnaz was a genius business wise and Lucy was the talent. 

She was a helluva gal and he was a helluva business man and, in fact, that's what broke them up. He took care of the business, but she wanted someone to go out with and go around and play. He was always busy with business. You know, I've been in this business since the age of three. I have a lot to tell.


Booksteve said...

Another fun one, sir! I saw Rose Marie in a summer stock version of BUS STOP in the mid-seventies in Dayton, Ohio, The supposed star of the show was her HOLLYWOOD SQUARES co-star Karen Valentine but after the performance, the two came out and just talked with the audience and it was clear that Rose Marie was in charge and just beloved!

Kevin K. said...

I always wondered what Rose Marie did between child stardom and the Dick Van Dyke show.

Oh, and Joe E. Lewis was the real Zelig.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, but it ended abrubtly.

Your Pal Doug said...

Thank you for interviewing and posting Rose Marie! You are a valuable source for entertainment history. Keep on Truckin!

Your Pal,

Michael Powers said...

So fascinating. I'd love to see what she said about the Three Stooges. As with Martin & Lewis, I can't watch them for more than a couple of minutes any more as a rule but I could read about them all day.

Walt Mitchell said...

I have been a collector/researcher of 78 rpm records for about 53 years. "Take a Picture of the Moon" was recorded in New York City on March 10, 1932, the second of two songs she recorded that day. She made 7 released records between 1932 and 1938. Most of them did not sell very well, due to generally poor record sales during the Great Depression. But over some 15 years of searching through many lists of old records for sale by dealers, I was able to acquire all seven of them. One of the great joys of my life was having the opportunity to show all of them to her face-to-face! She was surprised and was delighted to autograph all seven of them for me!

Stu Shea said...

Thanks for this. How great! What a lady.

Ralph Jungheim said...

I caught up with Rose Marie sometime after the Chez Parie in a club called the Blue Danube on North Avenue in Chicago. This around the corner from my High School--about 1946. She was dynamite then, too!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article! I like that it is comprehensive. Ms. Marie is right, we just don't remember anymore.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw a Baby Rose Marie video. I can see why she was so popular. A wonderful treat to view.

Anonymous said...

I just saw "Evil in The Sun" with Sylvia Miles and I'd wanted to look up Rose Marie. Well, her name was in the Sylvia Miles biography and clicked on her name and WOW! She's done a great deal more than I ever knew! I'm glad she's still around and wonder if she'd think of at least a "get together" interview with "Rob and Laura" and Carl Reiner to talk about their careers and meeting up on the Dick Van Dyke show? It'd be Great!

BrettJ said...

Thrilled to find this article about Rose Marie, one of my favorite stars of all time. People should check her out singing "I'm So Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" from about 30+ years back - she was great then too! What astonishes me is she is STILL working - almost a 90 year career, no one will ever top that!

Pat said...

Rose Marie once explained why she wore the black bow in her hair. I have since forgotten why, can anyone remember why?

Anonymous said...

Anyone happen to know what a promotional copy on Marsh Records Richard Deacon titled Martha Washington and Fredrick Chopin might be worth. I've looked and unable to find a price. Thank you