Clooney, Rosemary (1928—)

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Clooney, Rosemary (1928—)

American singer and actress. Born on May 23, 1928, in Maysville, Kentucky; one of four children, three girls and a boy, of Andrew Clooney (a house painter) and Frances (Guilfoyle) Clooney; sister of Betty Clooney (a singer who died of a brain aneurysm in August 1976) and Nick Clooney (an actor and television host); aunt of George Clooney (an actor); attended Lady of Mercy Academy, Cincinnati, Ohio; married José Ferrer (an actor-producer-director), on July 13, 1953 (divorced); children: Miguel (b. 1955); Maria Ferrer ; Gabriel; Monsita Ferrer (b. 1960); Rafael.


The Stars Are Singing (1953); Here Come the Girls (1953); Red Garters (1954); White Christmas (1954); Deep in My Heart (1954).

Radio series: "Songs for Sale" (1950–51); "The Rosemary Clooney Show" (1954–55); "The FordRoad Show with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney" (1958–1962).

Television: "Songs for Sale" (1950–51); "The Johnny Johnston Show" (1951); "The Rosemary Clooney Show" (1956–57); "The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney" (1957–58); "Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story" (1982, voice only); "Sister Margaret and the Saturday Night Ladies" (1987).

Album discography: (with Duke Ellington) Blue Rose; Children's Favorites; Clap Hands, Here Comes Rosie; (with Betty Clooney) The Clooney Sisters; Clooney Tunes; Come on-a My House; Country Hits from the Heart; (with Benny Goodman) A Date with the King; Deep in My Heart; Everything's Coming up Rosie; Fancy Meeting You Here; (with José Ferrer) The Ferrers Sing Selections from "Oh Captain!"; Greatest Hits; Here's to My Lady; (with Harry James) Hollywood Hits; (with Harry James) Hollywood's Best; Hymns from the Heart; Look My Way; Love; Mixed Emotions; (with The Hi-Los) Now Hear This; Red Garters; (with Bing Crosby) Rendezvous; (with The Hi-Los) Ring Around Rosie; Rosemary Clooney and Dick Haymes; Rosemary Clooney in High Fidelity; Rosemary Clooney on Stage; Rosemary Clooney

Sings Ballads; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Lyrics of Ira Gershwin; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Lyrics of Johnny Mercer; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Cole Porter; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Harold Arlen; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Irving Berlin; Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Jimmy Van Heusen; Rosemary Clooney Swings Softly; Rosie Sings Bing; Rosie Solves the Swingin' Riddle; Rosie's Greatest Hits; Show Tunes; Songs for Children; The Story of Celeste; Leo the Lion; Swing Around Rosie; Jasmine; Tenderly; Thanks for Nothing; (with Bing Crosby) That Travelin' Two Beat; (with Perez Prado) A Touch of Tabasco; The Uncollected Rosemary Clooney; While We're Young; White Christmas; With Love; Young at Heart.

One of America's leading popular singers of the 1950s, Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, Kentucky, one of four children of Andrew and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney . Andrew was a house painter and heavy drinker. Through a series of parental separations and reconciliations, the children were farmed out to various relatives and shunted from school to school. At an early age, music came to be the only constant in Rosemary's life. While living with her paternal grandfather Andrew J. Clooney, the mayor of Maysville, she and her younger sister Betty Clooney frequently sang at his political rallies. Later, at their maternal grandparents in Cincinnati, Ohio, they made their professional debut on the local radio station WLW. The Clooney Sisters continued to sing at the station for two years, then were hired by Cincinnati bandleader Barney Rapp to appear with his group. In 1945, still teenagers, the girls signed on with Tony Pastor and embarked on a cross-country tour with his band, accompanied by their uncle George Guilfoyle who acted as chaperon. Rosemary made her first recording with the Pastor group, an unlikely tune titled "I'm Sorry I didn't Say I'm Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night," which was considered "revolutionary" by the disc jockeys because of Rosemary's soft, whispery style. She later attributed the whisper to sheer terror.

By 1949, Betty had wearied of the grueling road schedule and went home to pursue a more normal life. Refining and polishing her style and gaining confidence, Rosemary left Pastor and went out on her own later that same year. Through Joe Shribman, who later left Pastor to become her manager, she brokered a contract with Columbia Records and produced a series of soft, sentimental recordings, including "Beautiful Brown Eyes" and a duet with Guy Mitchell of "You're Just in Love." Between recording dates, Clooney made night club and television appearances. In 1950, after winning first place on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," she was hired for "Songs for Sale," a showcase for aspiring songwriters that was simulcast on radio and television.

Clooney's break came when Columbia's Mitch Miller urged her to record a novelty number called "Come on-a My House," adapted from an old Armenian folk song by William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian. Thinking the song ill-suited to her style, Clooney initially refused, but Miller was persistent. After some bickering back and forth, she gave in. The tune flew off the charts, selling a million copies and paving the way for subsequent novelty numbers like "Botcha Me," "Mangos," "Mambo Italiano," "This Ole House," and a duet with Marlene Dietrich : "Too Old to Cut the Mustard." "I always wanted to sing sad ballads, but I didn't get many opportunities," she later recalled. "At the same time, you can't quarrel with success. If it hadn't been for 'Come On-a My House,' I probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere."

In 1953, Clooney married actor-producer-director José Ferrer, whom she had met on a television talk show in 1950, when he was separated, but not yet divorced, from actress Phyllis Hill . Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Bing Crosby, Clooney had been tested by Paramount and placed under contract, thus launching what appeared to be a promising second career in films. She first appeared in The Stars Are Singing (1953), followed by four more movies including the perennial favorite White Christmas (1954). Clooney's slightly wooden film persona, however, never matched the warmth of her singing voice, and after giving birth to her first child in February 1955 she gave up the screen to concentrate on her recording career. She was also a frequent guest on the television variety show circuit and successfully played the London Palladium and the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. In January 1956, Clooney was contracted to star in the syndicated half-hour television program "The Rosemary Clooney Show," featuring the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and The Hi-Los, who would later join Clooney on some popular recordings. It lasted a season and segued into a new half-hour variety series, "The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney," which was on the air from 1957 to 1958.

As radio became a dying medium and rock 'n' roll started to take over the pop charts, Clooney's career began to slip, severely unnerving her. There were additional emotional upheavals that would plague the singer throughout the '60s. In 1961, a year after the birth of her fifth child, her marriage began an agonizing five-year decline: she and Ferrer divorced, remarried, and divorced again. Although Clooney continued to make guest appearances on television and to perform on the nightclub circuit, an increased reliance on drugs and alcohol made her erratic and often incoherent on stage. In 1968, following the break-up of a two-year romantic relationship, and the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy, she had a nervous breakdown. At a performance in Reno, she lost control, lashing out hysterically at the audience and later tearing up her hotel room. She was taken to a local hospital and later flown to Los Angeles, where friends and relatives convinced her to get help. Confined to a mental hospital for weeks, she then underwent years of extensive therapy on an outpatient basis. "I learned to cook and put in a vegetable garden in the yard of my home," she says of her recovery. "I went through analysis and group therapy. I was lucky I survived." Clooney rounded out her therapy with a no-holds-barred autobiography, This for Remembrance, written with Raymond Strait. "It turned out to be the best thing I could do," she said. "Tell all and learn to live with it." The book became the basis for a television film "Escape from Madness" (1978).

A healthy but heavier Clooney emerged professionally again in the 1970s, helped immensely by her friend Bing Crosby, who made several tours with her (including the London Palladium), before his death in October 1977. In 1982, the singer undertook a tour in "Four Girls Four," a revue that alternately featured oldtimers Margaret Whiting, Helen O'Connell, Rose Marie, Martha Raye , and Kay Starr , and that same year she provided the soundtrack singing voices for her character and that of her sister in a television film "Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story," with Sondra Locke in the title role. Clooney appeared in another television film in 1987, "Sister Margaret and the Saturday Night Ladies," and continued to make television guest appearances when not on tour.

In later years, Clooney's voice was thought to be better than ever, more resonant, with a new-found depth of emotion. Always known for her impeccable phrasing, she was compared to Ella Fitzgerald , Frank Sinatra, and Mel Tormé in their prime. In her second go-around, she became more selective about recording choices; her later albums include a series of jazz tributes to such composers as Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, and Jimmy Van Heusen. But Clooney still includes "Come On-a My House" in her concert and nightclub performances. "Maybe I'm getting sentimental," she says, "but I'm actually fond of that song now."


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography 1957. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1957.

Hemming, Roy, and David Hajdu. Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop. NY: Newmarket, 1991.

Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. NY: Garland, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts