Show Business Mourns the Loss of Rosemary Clooney and Dolores Gray
Though Rosemary Clooney never appeared in a musical on Broadway (or anywhere else), she was a beloved fixture at such upscale cabaret clubs as Rainbow & Stars, and she gloriously held forth in concert venues from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl to the Kennedy Center.
Clooney, who died on Saturday evening at age 74, had a marvelously irreverent sense of humor. Of her early hit records of such songs as "Come On-A My House," "Botch-a-Me," and "Mambo Italiano," Clooney would often joke during her cabaret performances that "They made me sing crap." Then she would swing her way through one or more of the tunes in question and bring down the house. (At least one of these recordings has had staying power: Clooney's rendition of "Come On-A My House" was most recently heard in a TV commercial for the Corcoran real estate group.)
During the final phase of her career, Clooney had been performing in sold-out engagements at Feinstein's at the Regency; her last show there was in March-April 2001. Having moved beyond a troubled marriage to the actor and director José Ferrer--not to mention substance abuse issues and a mental breakdown in the late 1960s--Clooney seemed to have found great happiness through her marriage to Dante DiPaolo, a former dancer whom she had known for decades.
Her recent gigs were marked by a great joy in singing, of which she spoke when this writer interviewed her in 1998 just prior to her 70th birthday engagement at Rainbow & Stars. Referencing the fact that Sylvia Syms--whom Clooney called "the godmother of all cabaret singers"--had died during a performance in the midst of doing what she loved best, Clooney remarked: "I'm sure a lot of us will go the same way!" She noted that "I had kind of a serious illness the last time I was in town. I was in Lennox Hill and I was told to stay very quiet for a couple of months. Then I met with my manager and he said, 'Do you want to retire?' It shocked me. I said, 'Singing is the only constant in my life: I don't think I can retire.' He said, 'Well, but can we make it easier for you?' I said, 'Sure, as long as I can keep looking and working toward the next date.'"
Clooney was always honest about her abuse of alcohol and drugs, and about her mental health issues. "It was the lesser of many evils," she said. "So many people had wondered about what was going on with me, I decided to be honest and say that I was off my rocker. I was hospitalized for a certain amount of time and I spent eight years in analysis, but I'm pretty okay now. I think a little help along the way in therapy is just the best thing in the world."
One of the biggest hits of Clooney's career was her recording of "Hey, There" from the Broadway musical The Pajama Game. And she recorded many other show songs, most notably on her favorite of all her albums: Love, created in collaboration with the brilliant arranger Nelson Riddle, Clooney's one-time lover. Asked why she never appeared in a stage musical, given the wonderfully natural acting ability she demonstrated in such films as White Christmas, Clooney was as forthright as always: "I was too afraid to do it," she said. "When I was married to Joe [Ferrer], he wanted me to do Broadway on one or two occasions, but I didn't think I could keep my performance fresh. I like to take my work under my hat and not be dependent on anybody else except the finest musicians that I can find."
Her colleagues have been quick to praise Clooney in the wake of her death from complications of lung cancer. Margaret Whiting, with whom she performed as part of the group "4 Girls 4" beginning in the '70s, told TheaterMania that Clooney was "probably the best female singer I've ever heard. She thrilled me more than anybody else when she sang, and she thrilled me as a great friend." The singer Mary Cleere Haran said "I especially loved Rosemary's Christmas shows because she was so deeply funny and irreverent about Christmas--yet she was the one you wanted to hear sing those songs because she also had that beautiful, healing, maternal quality. She was a very straightforward kind of singer, yet she always made me cry every time I saw her. Her voice had a smoothness and warmth but there was a little 'ping' in it that made her stand out. After Frank [Sinatra] died, I thought she was the best American singer around. She could really embody a song." Both Whiting and Haran gave Clooney high marks for being a great mother to her children despite her enormously problematic relationship with their father. Michael Feinstein, for his part, told Reuters that Clooney "made an incalculable contribution to American popular song by her extraordinary and wise interpretations of these classics. She will always live in my heart--because she sang from the heart. The world will never be quite the same without her."
In addition to DiPaolo, Clooney is survived by her five children by Ferrer: Miguel, Maria, Gabriel, Monsita Teresa, and Rafael. Another survivor is her nephew, the television and film star George Clooney. Asked by this writer if her nephew sang, Clooney replied: "Badly. But with that face, he doesn't have to, does he?"
In contrast to Clooney, Dolores Gray made many musical theater appearances during the course of her colorful career. Gray, who died on Wednesday, June 26 at 78, scored her first big success in the title role of Annie Get Your Gun in London; that production opened in 1947 and ran for nearly three years, with Gray remaining for the entire engagement.
Her Broadway debut had come in 1944 in Seven Lively Arts with Beatrice Lillie and Bert Lahr. She later co-starred with Lahr in Two on the Aisle in 1951. And Gray won a 1954 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for the Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke tuner Carnival in Flanders; though the show was a tremendous flop, one of Gray's songs--the gorgeous "Here's That Rainy Day"--became something of a standard.
Following that heady experience, Gray signed a contract with M-G-M and went on to give attention-grabbing performances in such films as Kismet, It's Always Fair Weather, The Opposite Sex (a musical version of The Women), and Designing Woman. When her film career began to wane along with M-G-M's fortunes, Gray returned to the stage, both on Broadway and in London. One of her biggest hits was Destry Rides Again, which starred Andy Griffith. Her West End credits in later years included revivals of Gypsy and Follies.
A singer with a strong, rich, low voice who projected a bygone style of glamour and sexual allure typical of the 1940s and '50s, Gray was born in Chicago in 1924. She moved with her mother to Hollywood and began performing in clubs there at the tender age of 14. By the time she was 15, she was singing on Rudy Vallee's nationally broadcast radio show.
Aside from her theater and film credits, Gray recorded an album titled Warm Brandy for Capitol and appeared frequently on the most popular television variety shows of the day, hosted by the likes of Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, and Perry Como.