Rosemary Clooney: The Star of Maysville
Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the daughter of Marie Frances (née Guilfoyle) and Andrew Joseph Clooney. She was one of five children. Her father was of Irish and German descent, and her mother was of English and Irish ancestry. She was raised Catholic. When Clooney was 15, her mother and brother Nick moved to California. She and her sister Betty remained with their father. The family resided in the John Brett Richeson House in the late 1940s.
Rosemary and Betty became entertainers, whereas Nick became a newsman and television broadcaster (some of her children, including Miguel Ferrer and Rafael Ferrer, and her nephew, George Clooney, also became respected actors and entertainers). In 1945, the Clooney sisters won a spot on Cincinnati's radio station WLW as singers. Rosemary and Betty sang in a duo for much of Rosemary’s early career.
Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on TV's The Colgate Comedy Hour, 1952
Clooney signed with Columbia and cut her first record with Tony Pastor's big band in 1947, "I'm Sorry I Didn't Say Sorry" b/w "The Lady From Twenty-Nine Palms." She cut 14 sides with the Pastor band before making her solo recording debut in mid-1949 with "Bargain Day" b/w "Cabaret." In 1950–51, she was a regular on the radio and television versions of Songs For Sale on CBS. In early 1951, she had a minor hit with "Beautiful Brown Eyes", but her record of "Come On-a My House" four months later, produced by Mitch Miller, became her first big chart hit.
Clooney recounted in her memoir that she despised the song, but pop singers in that era seldom had a choice in the material they recorded and she risked being dropped from Columbia if she refused to record it. Clooney recorded several duets with Marlene Dietrich and appeared in the early 1950s on Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town series on CBS. She also did several guest appearances on the Arthur Godfrey radio show, when it was sponsored by Lipton Tea. They did duets as he played his ukulele, and other times, she would sing one of her latest hits.
Clooney in White Christmas
In 1954, she starred, along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen, in the movie White Christmas. She starred, in 1956, in a half-hour syndicated television musical-variety show, The Rosemary Clooney Show, which featured The Hi-Lo's singing group and Nelson Riddle's orchestra. The following year, the show moved to NBC prime time as The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney, but lasted only one season. The new show featured the singing group The Modernaires and Frank DeVol's orchestra. In later years, Clooney often appeared with Bing Crosby on television, such as in the 1957 special The Edsel Show, and the two friends made a concert tour of Ireland together. On November 21, 1957, she appeared on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, a frequent entry in the "Top 20" and featuring a musical group called "The Top Twenty". In 1960, Clooney and Crosby co-starred in a 20-minute CBS radio program that aired before the midday news each weekday.
The last major chart hit Clooney had was "I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face", released in May 1956, at which point rock-and-roll was quickly driving established pop singers from the charts.
Clooney left Columbia Records in 1958, doing a number of recordings for MGM Records and then some for Coral Records. Finally, toward the end of 1958, she signed with RCA Victor, where she recorded until 1963. In 1964, she was signed to Reprise Records, and in 1965 to Dot Records.
In 1976, Clooney signed with United Artists Records for two albums. Beginning in 1977, she recorded an album every year for the Concord Jazz record label, a schedule which continued until her death. This was in contrast to most of her generation of singers, who had long since stopped recording regularly by then. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Clooney did television commercials for Coronet brand paper towels, during which she sang a memorable jingle that went, "Extra value is what you get, when you buy Coro-net." Clooney sang a duet with Wild Man Fischer on "It's a Hard Business" in 1986, and in 1994, she sang a duet of Green Eyes with Barry Manilow in his 1994 album, Singin' with the Big Bands.
In 1995, Clooney guest-starred in the NBC television medical drama ER (starring her nephew, George Clooney); for her performance, she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. On January 27, 1996, Clooney appeared on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio program. She sang "When October Goes"—lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Barry Manilow (after Mercer's death)—from Manilow's 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe, and discussed the excellence of Manilow the musician.
Clooney was also awarded Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. In 1999, she founded the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, held annually in Maysville, her hometown. She performed at the festival every year until her death. Proceeds benefit the restoration of the Russell Theatre in Maysville, where Clooney's first film, The Stars Are Singing, premiered in 1953.
She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
World Premiere of "The Stars Are Singing" at The Russell Theatre
On the night of Wednesday, January 28, 1953 at 7:30pm, the Russell Theatre hosted a screening of Maysville's own Rosemary Cooney in "The Stars Are Singing."
That morning Rosemary arrived from Cincinnati and spent time with family. As afternoon approached, she went to Aberdeen, OH to board the car for the grand entrance to Maysville for the festivities. Arriving via convertible over the Simon Kenton Bridge, Rosemary was accompanied in the car
by driver Dallas Queen, her grandmother Mrs. Ada Guilfoyle, and longtime friend, Blanche Mae Chambers. Rosemary then attended the Maysville Jaycees March of Dimes Tobacco Auction at Burley Tobacco Warehouse. A large parade with 20,000 onlookers followed the auction beginning at Bridge Street, following Second Street and on to the dedication of Rosemary Clooney Street. Here the street sign marker was christened with a bottle of Kentucky Limestone water.
A reception for press followed until the ceremony in front of the theatre at 7pm. Rosemary greeted guests in the lobby until show time. After all were seated in a packed house, she and Blanche Mae
snuck onto the main floor and sat in seats in the middle back section along the left aisle with Rosemary taking the aisle seat.