Rose Marie: 90 Years a Trouper

Rose MarieVery few performers have ever managed to carve out a nine-decade career in show business, but that’s just what Rose Marie (Baby Rose Marie, to Cladrite Radio listeners) has done—and she’s still going strong. Since launching her career at the ripe old age of four (she had a weekly radio program that was broadcast nationally before Shirley Temple was even born), Rose Marie has enjoyed success in vaudeville, radio, records, motion pictures, Broadway, and television.

A delightful new documentary, Wait for Your Laugh, documents Rose Marie’s amazing life and career, and we’re delighted to share a very lightly edited transcript of a telephone conversation we recently had the pleasure of enjoying with her. Buckle your seat belts; it’s a delightfully wild ride. As you’ll soon see, Rose Marie is as sharp and as funny as ever.

Cladrite Radio:  I have a lot of things I’d like to talk to you about.

Rose Marie:  First of all, let me ask you a question.

Cladrite Radio:  Sure.

Rose Marie:  Did you see the movie [Wait for Your Laugh]?

Cladrite Radio:  I did!

Rose Marie:  What’d you think of it?

Cladrite Radio:  I loved it. I thought it was great.

Rose Marie:  What’d you like about it?

Cladrite Radio:  I’m very interested in the popular culture of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, in addition to …

Rose Marie:  That’s my era.

Cladrite Radio:  It sure is. I have an online radio station that features music of that era. I play some of your records on the station.

Rose Marie:  Oh, nice.

Cladrite Radio:  When I got the chance to interview you, I was so excited. I’m a fan of your music, and I grew up with you on TV as well.

Rose Marie:  I know, everybody says that. It makes me feel so old.

Cladrite Radio:  Oh, well, I’m not so young myself.

Rose Marie:  I’m 94, wanna bet?

Cladrite Radio:  You’re doing great. You’re probably doing better at 94 than I am at 59.

Rose Marie:  Okay.

Cladrite Radio:  I wanted to ask you about the documentary. Whose idea…

Rose Marie:  I’m very happy to tell you. I’m very proud of it. I love it. I’m so proud of [director] Jason Wise, I can’t stand it. I think he’s a genius. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest men in the business in a couple years. I think this will introduce him to everybody. I think he’ll even be bigger than Steven Spielberg.

Cladrite Radio:  I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind that a bit.

Rose Marie:  Oh, he’s wonderful. You have no idea. You don’t know how particular he is. When we decided to do this thing, I kept everything from the time I was three years old. Postcards, pictures, film, anything I had, I kept. When he talked about doing the documentary, he says, “Let’s talk.” I said, “I have everything in scrapbooks. Why don’t you just go through everything?” I emptied out my house, and I mean he cleaned me out of everything. He put it in that documentary. Just a genius.

Cladrite Radio:  All the materials that we see in the documentary, the film clips we see and some of the programs and promotional materials and various things that are included in it…

Rose Marie:  All mine. All mine that he dug up out of my house.
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Happy 112th Birthday, Charles Lane!

We don’t have so many regrets, really, and certainly nothing major. But we continue to kick ourselves for not writing a fan letter to (or perhaps even trying to arrange an interview with) character actor extraordinaire Charles Lane, born Charles Gerstle Levison 112 years ago today in San Francisco, California, before he passed on in 2007.

Think of it: Here was a man who started acting in pictures in 1930 at the age of 25 and was still with us a mere decade ago. And all reports have it that he was still very sharp at age 102. Think of the stories he had to tell!

Here are 10 CL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lane’s first career was in insurance sales, but director Irving Pichel recommended he take up acting and he did, working in stage productions at the famed Pasadena Playhouse.
  • Lane’s movie debut was a brief appearance in Smart Money (1931) as a hotel desk clerk. His first credited role, as Charles Levinson, was as a switchboard operator in Looking for Trouble (1934). It was his 22nd movie.
  • Between 1930 and 1952, Lane had appeared in more than 200 features, generally playing characters who were at the very least officious, if not downright sourpusses. This typecasting was frustrating to Lane, who continued to work in live theatre throughout his career to counteract his cinematic pigeonholing. “You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good,” he would later say. “That pedigreed you in that type of part, which I thought was stupid, and unfair, too. It didn’t give me a chance, but it made casting easier for the studio.”
  • Lane’s movie appearances were generally brief but usually memorable, and he appeared in more than his share of pictures that are today considered classics, among them 42nd Street (1933), Twentieth Century (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), among others.
  • Lane was a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild. “[The studios] work you until midnight and get you back at seven in the morning,” he said. “The actors were taking a terrible licking physically. Generally, as the case with any union, you form it because people are abused.” The Guild named January 30th, 2005, as Charles Lane Day.
  • Lane was friends with Lucille Ball going back to her days as a Hollywood starlet, and when she became a huge success on television, she cast him frequently on her sitcoms.
  • Lane appeared in 10 films helmed by Frank Capra, and in a letter the director once sent to Lane, Capra wrote, “I am sure that everyone has someone that he can lean on and use as a crutch whenever stories and scenes threaten to fall apart. Well, Charlie, you’ve been my No. 1 crutch.”
  • Born in San Francisco in 1905, Lane was one of the last survivors of that city’s 1906 earthquake.
  • Lane was a strong horseman and regretted that in all the pictures he appeared in, he never got to ride a horse. He claimed that he had, in fact, trained some of the western actors in horseback riding.
  • Beginning with a 1951 appearance on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Lane was as familiar a face on television as he was on the silver screen, appearing on many dozens of programs over the next four-plus decades. Lane would play a client for McMahon and Tate on Bewitched no fewer than 8 times.

Happy birthday, Charles Lane, wherever you may be!

Charles Lane

A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios!

We recently came across this 1934 pamphlet/game board. It was a handout from WCCO, a Minnesota radio station that began operation in 1922 as WLAG (the call letters were changed to WCCO in 1924). But the pamphlet appears to have been issued by the CBS network, not an individual station. It’s our bet that this was distributed by CBS-affiliated stations across the country.

In 1934, CBS was headquartered in New York City (much of their programming originated from Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan), and we can only guess that it’s that facility that’s depicted here (but we encourage more astute radio historians than we are to chime in if we’ve got that wrong—Edit: A more astute radio historian did chime in; see the comments below).

Among the famous (and perhaps now not-so-famous) faces you’ll see on your stroll through the studios are crooner Dick Powell, theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Irving Kaufman (in his Lazy Dan, the Minstrel Man mode—really? Blackface on the radio?), Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Isham Jones, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, among others.

Click below to see a higher-res version of the image, or to view or download an even larger, higher-res version, click here.

A Trip Through Columbia Networks Studios

Happy 125th, Harpo!

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great Harpo Marx.

Born Adolph—he later changed his name to Arthur—Harpo was said by all who knew him to be the kindest and gentlest of men. When we first became fans of the Marx Brothers, it was Groucho to whom we were drawn, but over the years, the delightful film work of Harpo—and the very endearing stories of his life and career—have made Harpo a very close second favorite. If Groucho stills leads, it’s only by a nose.

There are a couple of stories from Harpo’s life that we like to share.

There’s the time that Harpo, after a run-in with the manager of a vaudeville theatre in the midwest, proclaimed, as the brothers departed the town via train, “Good-bye, Mr. Wells. Here’s hoping your lousy theatre burns down!”

That night, Mr. Wells’ theatre was indeed reduced to ashes.

Another tale we’ll let Harpo himself tell. What follows is an except from Harpo’s delightful 1961 memoir, Harpo Speaks!

One of the passionate hungers of my early life (I had many but none so fierce) was for black jelly beans. In the penny assortment they sold in those days there was never more than one of licorice, and eating one black jelly bean at a time only intensified my hunger. Penny assortments were few and far between, for me. Candy counters on the East Side were as thief-proof as bank vaults. Candy was one item I couldn’t hustle. No penny in hand, no merchandise.
I told myself I should always save such a delicacy as a black jelly bean for last, like dessert, but I never could. It was like being addicted to peanuts, cigarettes or the opium pipe. One was never enough. The first thing I would do when I got rich, I promised myself, would be to buy all the black jelly beans I could eat.
When I did start making good money, this boyhood hung had somehow become dormant. I forgot all about it. I forgot about it, that is, until one night about fifteen years ago.
My wife Susan and I were going to the movies with Gracie and George Burns in Beverly Hills. On the way to the theatre from the parking lot, we passed a candy shop, the ultra-modern kind that sells old-fashioned candies in glass apothecary jars. I stopped in my tracks. I broke into a cold sweat. I was having a seizure. My old hunger for black jelly beans had suddenly returned, after forty-five years. I excused myself and went into the shop.
I came out with thirty dollars’ worth. Susan and the Burnses gave me queer looks but made no comment. They waited to see what the gag was. How could I explain to them that this was no gag, but the satisfaction of a lifetime?
And what a satisfaction! Sweet, aromatic, chewy, delectable black jelly beans—a handful at a time, and always more where the last handful came from! I shall have to let my friend George finish the story because I fell asleep in the middle of my orgy.
I must warn you that George Burns is not above a little exaggeration now and then, but here’s how he tells it:
“So there’s Harpo, in the middle of the picture in a crowded theatre, fast asleep. He’s got a smile on his face like a happy drunk and on his lap a bag of jelly beans big as a peck of potatoes which he’s passed out already from eating only a couple of dozen of. Suddenly he twitches in his sleep. The bag splits. Thirty dollars’ worth of black jelly beans explodes—flying all over the joint. Do you know how many jelly beans you can buy for thirty dollars? My God, what a scene! The audience doesn’t know what’s happening, only that it’s some kind of disaster. People are yelling and clutching their children and putting up umbrellas. They stampede for the exits and skid on the jelly beans rolling down the aisles and fall into heaps like dead Indians. I tell you, it was worse than the Johnstown flood. finally they stop the picture and turn on the lights, and the manager gets the panic stopped while the ushers shovel up the debris.
“And Harpo? Harpo slept through it all. Fast asleep with the drunken smile on his face. When the movie is over, Susan wakes him up and when he sees his jelly beans are gone he turns on me and says he ought to slug me one for such a dirty, sneaky trick. Eating all his black jelly beans while he wasn’t looking!
“Then he softened up—it being impossible for Harpo to stay sore at anybody, even me—and he patted me on the shoulder. ‘That’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ll forgive you, George—I had enough anyway.’
“I try to tell him what happened, but he won’t believe me, just keeps saying, ‘Forget it, George—I forgive you.’ To this day he thinks I ate up his whole damn bag of black jelly beans.”
I will only say that this part of the story is true: I ready had enough, for once in my life. I don’t care what happened to the rest of the thirty dollars’ worth. That’s one old hunger that will never bother me again.