The Reliable Rosemary DeCamp

An appreciation today for a terrifically solid actress/performer/light comedienne with an impressive body of work you may have seen without “seeing”, Rosemary DeCamp (1910-2001).

I don’t know why the human mind works the way it does. I had seen DeCamp perhaps hundreds of times in quite prominent places, but she didn’t register to the extent that I finally took note until recently, when I saw her in old episodes of The Bob Cummngs Show (1955-59). I said to myself, “I know her from somewhere.” And then, like you do, I quickly realized I knew her from everywhere. Without a doubt the first place I saw her was as Marlo Thomas’s mother in That Girl (1966-70) reruns. But she’s also in dozens of movies, the most important of which to my mind is Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), in which she played Nellie Cohan (though she was almost a dozen years older than James Cagney, who played her son George M.). DeCamp was in many movies of that type, musicals and musical bio-pics, like This is the Army (1943), Rhapsody in Blue (1945), Two Guys from Milwaukee (1945), Look for the Silver Lining (1949), On Moonlight Bay (1951), and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953). And let’s not forget her prominent casting in the William Castle horror classic 13 Ghosts (1960)!

While most of DeCamp’s movies were pretty minor, the likable actress was a familiar face on television for four decades. In addition to the two programs we’ve already mentioned, she was a regular on The Life of Riley (1949-50), had recurring roles on Petticoat Junction (1964-68), The Partridge Family (1970-73), The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1980) and BJ and the Bear (1981), and guested on such programs as Hazel, Here Come the Brides, Love American Style, Marcus Welby MD, The Rockford Files, Petrocelli, Police Story, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Quincy M.E., and St. Elsewhere. Her last credit was a 1989 episode of Murder She Wrote. 

Originally from Prescott, Arizona, DeCamp first came to fame on radio in the late ’30s on the shows Dr. Christian and The Career of Alice Blair. An interesting side note: DeCamp’s house was one of those Howard Hughes smashed into when he crashed his experimental airplane in Beverly Hills in 1946.

For more on show business history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,