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 107th Birthday, Johnny Mercer!

Lyricist, composer and singer Johnny Mercer, one of the greatest lyricists to contribute to the Great American Songbook, was born John Herndon Mercer 107 years ago today in Savannah, Georgia. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:

  • Mercer’s father was an attorney; his mother was his father’s secretary before she became his second wife.
  • Mercer was exposed to a wide range of African-American music as a child. His aunt took him to minstrel and vaudeville shows, and he spent time with many black playmates (and his family’s servants). He also was drawn to Savannah’s black fishermen and street vendors, as well as African-American church services. As a teenager, he collected records by black artists such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.
  • Mercer was singing in church choirs by age six, and within a few years, had demonstrated a penchant for memorizing all the popular songs of the day.
  • His family frequently escaped Savannah’s heat at a mountain retreat near Ashville, North Carolina, and it was there that young Mercer learned to dance from none other than Arthur Murray himself.
  • Mercer moved to NYC in 1928, taking bit parts as an actor and continuing to work on the songwriting he’d begun to experiment with back in Savannah. He took a job at a brokerage house to pay the bills, and began to sing around town. He once pitched a song to Eddie Cantor, and though Cantor didn’t buy the song, he was very encouraging to Mercer.
  • Mercer preferred writing standalone songs to writing for musicals, where the lyrics had to fit the show, so when the revue format gave way to book musicals on Broadway, he moved to Los Angeles and took a job with RKO.
  • Mercer founded Capitol Records with songwriter Buddy G. DeSylva and businessman Glenn Wallichs in 1942, investing $25,000. In 1955, he sold his share in the company for $20 million.
  • Mercer was married to Ginger Mehan from 1931 until his death in 1976, but he had an on-and-off affair with Judy Garland.
  • A fan once wrote Mercer, suggesting the song title I Wanna Be Around (to Pick Up the Pieces When Somebody Breaks Your Heart). Mercer quickly wrote a song by that title, and when it became a hit, he gave the fan half his royalties.
  • Mercer was a distant cousin of Gen. George S. Patton.

Happy birthday, Johnny Mercer, wherever you may be!

Johnny Mercer

Happy Birthday, Johnny Mercer!

In his 66 years, lyricist, songwriter and singer Johnny Mercer, born 106 years ago today in Savannah, Georgia, managed an astonishing number of achievements.

Mercer founded Capitol Records. He wrote lyrics for more than fifteen hundred songs. He was nominated for 19 Oscars (he won four). The USPS placed his portrait on a stamp. The man was a true legend. Very few songwriters have more entries in the Great American Songbook than does Mercer.

Johnny Mercer quote

The list of classic songs for which he wrote the words, the music or both is amazing: Lazy Bones, Hooray For Hollywood,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “And the Angels Sing,” “Fools Rush In,” “I Remember You,” “Skylark,” “That Old Black Magic,” “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road), “Laura,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Satin Doll,” “Moon River,” “Summer Wind,”—and that’s leaving out literally dozens of memorable songs.

Happy birthday, Mr. Mercer, wherever you may be.

A tip o’ the top hat to Fred Astaire

“As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.”—Irving Berlin

Today marks Fred Astaire‘s 113th birthday. He’s been gone nearly 25 years (he died on June 22, 1987), and if you wanted to make a list of the things that are wrong with the world today, the fact that Mr. Astaire no longer walks—nay, glides—among us would be on that list.

Astaire had a down-to-earth elegance that is all too rare, and, in addition to his legendary talents as a hoofer, he was an icon of classic style, a darned good singer, and, from all accounts, a fine gentleman, to boot.

This world’s just a little poorer for the 25 years we’ve been muddling through without Fred Astaire, but his film work reminds us of what we once had.

The clip below finds our Fred paired with the lovely (to put it mildly) Rita Hayworth in 1942’s You Were Never Lovelier, performing a Jerome KernJohnny Mercer song that could well serve as the Cladrite Radio theme song, “I’m Old-Fashioned.”

Happy birthday, Fred, wherever you are. And say hello to Ginger for us.

For more on Astaire, we recommend Trav S. D.’s overview of his life and career.

Goodbye to another glorious gal

Popular recording artist Margaret Whiting, the daughter of songwriter Richard Whiting (“Hooray for Hollywood,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” and many, many more), has passed at age 86. Whiting, who was mentored early in her career by the great Johnny Mercer, recorded more than 700 songs and earned a dozen gold records.

Whiting led an interesting later life as well, as she would cohabitate with and eventually wed John Robert Stillman, a prominent porn star whose stage name was Jack Wrangler; the two were married for 15 years until his death in 2009.

We encountered Ms. Whiting a few times some years back, over the course of our employment as a waiter and bartender at a popular Central Park South eatery. Ms. Whiting, as we understood it, lived upstairs in the building that housed the restaurant, so she was a fairly frequent patron. Though a pleasant enough sort, she wasn’t terribly outgoing, so we have no memorable tales to tell, but she was accompanied on occasion by Mr. Stillman.

Whiting’s greatest success came in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the big bands gave way to a focus on individual singers, in advance of the rise of rock ‘n’ roll.

We hope Ms. Whiting’s final years were peacerul and happy ones, may she rest in peace, and we’re happy to be able to pay tribute to her by sharing a pair of our favorites among her recordings and a video of a live television performance from 1952.

Margaret Whiting — “It Might as Well Be Spring”

Margaret Whiting — “Moonlight in Vermont”