When a star passes away at the age of 94 people are usually quick to remark, “Really? I thought they died years ago.”
Not so of Rose Marie, the feisty comedienne who after working her way into our hearts as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show never left. She was recently on the promotional trail with Jason Wise’s Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary glimpse into the life of an entertainer whose showbiz career spanned 90 years.
There was talk of the Angelika Film Center playing the film and with it an interview opportunity. Some things aren’t meant to be. Here’s hoping the folks at the Angelika decide to bring this entertaining film to town.
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She began performing at age three and by five was an established superstar. A sensation on radio, Rose Marie soon made the transition to talkies in a series of Vitaphone shorts. The title of her first short subject told all. Baby Rose Marie: The Child Wonder (1929) finds our young star parked before a microphone belting out a tune in a style that in her words owed more to Sophie Tucker than Shirley Temple. You’d have sworn the kid had a pack of Luckys in the womb with her.
In preparation for the interview, I began tracking down as many copies of Rose Marie’s movie appearances as possible. Her first feature, International House, finds Baby Rose billed alongside such luminaries as W.C. Fields, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Bela Lugosi, and Cab Calloway. A gathering of screwballs converge in China to bid on the rights to manufacture televisions, and the Child Wonder is one of the first test subjects to hit the airwaves.
Movies proved not to be a good fit for Rose’s talents. Twenty years separated International House and her next feature, the dismal Top Banana starring Phil Silvers. The show was a huge Broadway hit, so big that while the show was wrapping up its run in Los Angeles, movie producer Albert “Touch of Evil” Zugsmith was asked to create a canned version of the show to screen across the country.
The cast and crew relocated to a Hollywood, where they transformed a soundstage into a proscenium arch and filmed the play. Although she receives second-banana billing, Rose Marie doesn’t come into the picture until over 30 minutes in. Download a copy here, if you dare!
Her role on The Dick Van Dyke Show was as iconic as it was uncharacteristic. Sally not only held her own with fellow Alan Brady Show writers Rob and Buddy, the actress who played her took home the same money as the boys. And career-woman Sally did it without a husband or regular boyfriend by her side. (Fey stick-in-the-mud Herman Glimscher doesn’t count!)
A graduate of the Claudette Colbert and Jane Wyman College of Changeless Coiffures, once Rose grew out of her Moe Howard sugar bowl bangs and became Sally Rogers, she adopted a “bow on the left” bouffant and never once looked back. Of the eternal fashion accessory, Vincent Price observed, “It’s nailed into her head.” The reasoning behind the single black bow was a better kept secret than the formula for Coca-Cola or Jerry Lewis’s choice of muscular dystrophy as his pet disease.
Rose Marie had a brief flirtation as a recording artist. Here is a link to her 1955 album, Show Stoppers. I’m sure you’ll agree that her lively rendition of Chena A Luna is authentic enough to turn Louis Prima green with envy.
She never took a second husband after her marriage to Bobby Guy ended in the trumpeter’s death in 1964. For what it’s worth, she deserved better, like Carol Burnett’s career. Thanks for the great run, Rose!