Well do I remember singer Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002), for she passed away when I was in my late ’30s. I’d known her all my life as a stout older woman in glasses who appeared occasionally on television, and she was a favorite of my mom’s. What I didn’t know, and I’ll wager most folks don’t, is that she started out in a sister act with her younger sibling Betty Clooney (1931-1976).
The Clooneys were from Maysville, Kentucky, where their grandfather was the mayor, and they later moved to Cincinnati. There, they became popular on radio station WLW in the early ’40s. By the middle of the decade they were touring and recording with Tony Pastor’s big band, playing venues like the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and appearing with the orchestra in a 1947 film short. The pair split in 1948, when Rosemary was 20 and Betty 17.
While both sisters remained in show business, Rosemary’s was the greater success. She has 17 top 20 hits through 1956, including signature songs like “Come On-a My House” (1951), two faux Italian numbers “Botch-a Me” (1952) and “Mambo Italiano” (1954), “This Ole House” (1954), and a #1 cover of Hank Williams’ “Half as Much” (1951). She had roles in four Hollywood films: The Stars Are Singing (1953), Here Come the Girls (1953), Red Garters (1954), and most famously, White Christmas (1954), with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen.
Rosemary Clooneyt seems to have worked most heavily in television, with appearances on variety programs like The Morey Amsterdam Show, The Milton Berle Show, Paul Whiteman’s Goodyear Revue, The Ken Murray Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Ed Sullivan Show, Val Parnell’s Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The George Gobel Show, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Bob Hope Show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, The Frances Langford Show, The Garry Moore Show, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Hollywood Palace, and numerous others. Most notably she starred on her own The Rosemary Clooney Show (1956-58) and was hostess of The Lux Show (1957-58). I found some great pictures of Clooney cutting up with celebrities, like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour:
And vaudeville vet Ken Murray:
Meanwhile, Betty Clooney forged ahead with her own career, and achieved a certain amount of success in her own right. In the mid ’50s she was a regular on The Robert Q. Lewis Show and The Jack Paar Show. She had her own radio show on the Mutual Broadcasting System. She recorded and sang in nightclubs, including prestige gigs like the Starlight Roof at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. She also made several appearances on CBS’s show The Stork Club, broadcast from the eponymous venue. She was married to Cuban-American nightclub singer Pupi Campo (1920-2011). Betty Clooney was only 45 when she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
In later years Rosemary appeared on the talk shows of Merv, Mike Douglas, and Dinah Shore, and in TV specials of Bob Hope and Andy Williams and others, and those were the kinds of places I would have seen her perform as a kid. In 1982, Sondra Locke portrayed her in the made for TV bio-pic Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story!
She also returned to acting, in movies like the Radioland Murders (1994), and TV shows like Hardcastle and McCormick, Frasier, and ER, which starred her nephew George Clooney, son of her brother Nick, a longtime local television news broadcast and game show host.
Nick Clooney’s one burst of national fame came as the host of the ABC game show The Money Maze (1974-75). I am astounded to learn this morning that Nick Clooney, born 1934, still lives!
And, as they say on game shows: Wait! There’s more!
Rosemary Clooney was married to one of my favorite actors Jose Ferrer, from 1953 to 1961 and again from 1964 to 1967. They were the parents of another of my favorite actors Miguel Ferrer (1955-2017). Her second child Gabriel Ferrer, married Pat Boone’s daughter (and Red Foley’s granddaughter) Debby Boone, singer of the #1 1977 hit “You Light Up My Life”. And THEIR daughter Tessa Ferrer was a long time regular on Grey’s Anatomy. And I’m sure the story doesn’t end there. And obviously there are yards more to discuss on the topic of George Clooney, but truly, his fame requires no amplification here. For more on the family, though, you might want to visit The Rosemary Clooney Palladium.
For more on show biz history, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,