Ninety Years of Rose Marie
By Nick Thomas
Director Jason Wise took his time to complete production on “Wait for Your Laugh,” his recent documentary on the life and career of beloved actress, comedian, and singer Rose Marie. But the story was 9 decades in the making.
“It took us about three years to make the film,” wrote Wise in an email. “Ninety years of American entertainment into less than 90 minutes takes some work!”
A young director whose parents and grandparents were more likely to be familiar with her work, Wise was still determined to make the documentary.
“I love history and how it affects today,” he explained. “I have always wanted to do a film about the history of entertainment and every second I worked with Rose Marie, I realized how lucky we all are to have a single person to take us from Vaudeville to computer animation. She covers every important social topic and every delivery device for entertainment. This woman is a miracle.”
The film will be screened in select theaters in California and New York throughout November and beyond (see http://www.rosemariemovie.com for locations and dates).
“I’m so excited about ‘Wait for Your Laugh’ which chronicles my 9 decades in show business,” said Rose Marie, who turned 94 in August. “All the ups and downs!”
Best remembered for her role as Sally Rogers in the 60s CBS sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” she began performing at an age when most children would still be potty-training. Initially, it was her phenomenal singing voice that rocketed her to childhood fame overnight (see http://www.missrosemarie.com).
“I have no idea where that voice came from, I think God just gave me a wonderful gift,” said Rose Marie in a 2014 interview with the author. “When I was three, I won an amateur contest, and my family took me to Atlantic City. We saw a showgirl named Evelyn Nesbit perform and I started singing along. She invited me up on stage to sing with her, then people began throwing money.”
Backstage, Nesbit suggested adopting the stage name of Baby Rose Marie and her career soon took off. “I had my own radio show coast to coast on NBC when I was five.”
But there were also doubters.
“Unlike other child singers, I sang adult songs with adult phrasing and mannerisms. People would write to the station in disbelief saying that no child could sing like that and I must have been a midget. So NBC sent me out to play theaters to prove I was a child.”
As her fame grew, the famous wanted to meet her. President Franklin Roosevelt invited her to the White House when she was just six. “After I sang for him, we played tiddlywinks with some poker chips I found in his office.”
She caught the attention of the infamous, too. While working with Milton Berle in Chicago, a visitor came backstage.
“It was Al Capone and he wanted to invite me to dinner!” she laughed. “He picked me up the next day and we went out to eat with all the mob.”
Years later, as a young adult in 1946, she was invited to perform at the opening of the Flamingo Hotel, in Las Vegas, along with Jimmy Durante, bandleader Xavier Cugat, and other stars of the day. The invitation came from notorious mobster and hotel owner, Bugsy Siegel.
“We became close friends and he was very good to me. I just didn’t think of those guys as gangsters.”
At age ten, she met Morey Amsterdam, who would become an important influence in her career and, later, her co-star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
“He was a popular writer for comedians like Fanny Brice and Fred Allen and became a comic himself,” she recalled. “We met when I guest-starred on a radio program. He also wrote most of my nightclub material and become a life-long friend. I actually got him the Dick Van Dyke Show job.”
As for Dick Van Dyke, she says it was a joy to work with someone so talented, and has only fond memories of Dick and the cast. “We were a close group and genuinely liked working together. Everyone came to work happy, and oh did we laugh!”
Speaking from his Malibu home, Van Dyke recalled meeting Rose Marie for the first time.
“I knew she had been in show business since she was three, but never met her until the first reading of the script,” he said. “She just knocked me over. She probably had the most razor-sharp sense of timing of anybody I ever worked with. She was a delight and still is.”
“I truly think people will be amazed to realize how big a star she was at the age of five, before Shirley Temple was born,” adds Wise. “She could be the last person alive who intimately knew Al Capone, and probably the only one who knew Bugsy Siegel as well!”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 650 magazines and newspapers. See http://www.tinseltowntalks.com