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.
Read More »

Happy Birthday, Claudette Colbert!

We’ve had the good fortune to meet a few stars from the Cladrite Era—Esther Williams, Gloria Stuart, Margaret Whiting, Cab Calloway, Kitty Carlisle—and we’ve enjoyed relatively close encounters (but not personal meetings) with others, among them Benny Goodman, Richard Widmark, Fay Wray, Dickie Moore, Jane Powell, Farley Granger and Francis Dee.

Our greatest regret in this area involves Claudette Colbert, who was born 112 years ago today. In 1985, we got see Ms. Colbert, costarring with Rex Harrison, in a Broadway revival of Frederick Lonsdale‘s 1923 drawing-room comedy Aren’t We All? It was an enjoyable production, and Ms. Colbert, whom we greatly admire, was delightful. So what was the issue?

For some reason, we didn’t wait by the stage door following the show to meet Ms. Colbert. As we said, we’re big fans, and we honestly don’t know what we were thinking in passing up that opportunity, but we’ve regretted it ever since, and ever more so as we became more and more immersed in the cinema of the 1930s and ’40s, when Ms. Colbert was in her glorious prime.

Perhaps in the next life, Ms. Williams or Ms. Carlisle will help us to rectify this misstep and introduce us to Ms. Colbert. But in the meantime, we’re thinking of Claudette Colbert on her birthday. Here’s hoping it’s a happy one, wherever she may be.

Claudette Colbert quote

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”

Happy 88th, Ms. Whiting!

Songbird Margaret Whiting is 88 years old today.

Whiting, the daughter of successful songwriter Richard A. Whiting—he wrote “Hooray for Hollywood,” “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze,” and “Too Marvelous for Words,” among many others—signed a deal as a young woman with family friend Johnny Mercer, who had just launched Capitol Records. Mercer’s gamble, if it can fairly characterized as such, paid off royally, as Whiting went on to have numerous hits in throughout the 1940s and ’50s.

We encountered Ms. Whiting a few times in the 1980s. She occasionally patronized a restaurant on Central Park South where we were tending bar and waiting tables in those days. As a customer, she was amiable enough, but she seemed a bit private, keeping largely to herself, so we have no stories to share of our encounters.

Ms. Whiting was long involved with Jack Stillman, better known as Jack Wrangler, renowned gay porn star. Though Stillman, twenty years Whiting’s junior, insisted he was gay, not bisexual, the pair obviously forged a lasting connection, as they were together from the late 1970s through his death in 2009. The two were married for the final 15 years of their time together.

We hope this birthday finds Ms. Whiting in happy spirits and good health. We’re celebrating the occasion by sharing with the Cladrite Clan her first hit, recorded as the vocalist for Freddie Slack and His Orchestra, That Old Black Magic.

Margaret Whiting with the Freddie Slack Orchestra—“That Old Black Magic”

The Karen Files, pt. 7

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

It’s easy, sometimes, to think of our parents as somehow older than they are. We too often were guilty of thinking of Karen as being of the Greatest Generation, of imagining her listening and dancing to the big bands during the height of the Swing Era.

But she was born in 1933. She was just a child when Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and the rest were flying high. Heck, she was just 11 when Glenn Miller died.

She remembered and enjoyed that music, sure, much as we remember and enjoy the pop music of the 1960s, when we were kids. But it wasn’t the music of her adolescence and young adulthood. She grew into young womanhood during the post-big band era, when the focus moved to vocalists. Big bands were still around, sure, but they weren’t the dominant force they had been.

Hers was the era of pre-rock ‘n’ roll vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat “King” Cole, Patti Page, and Margaret Whiting.

For that matter, Karen wasn’t so old when rock ‘n’ roll began to capture the nation’s attention. She was 21 when Bill Haley and the Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 and 23 when Elvis Presley‘s recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” became a No. 1 hit in 1956. She wasn’t likely to be found among the squealing teens at a Presley performance, but she wasn’t necessarily old enough to view the young rock-n-roller with the alarmed disapproval so many of her elders did. Presley was, after all, less than two years younger than Karen.

Similarly, we’re often a bit surprised to be reminded that Karen was just a kid during World War II and the events that preceded the United States’ involvement in it. This was brought home to me by the documents that make up this week’s installment of The Karen Files, which we found while sorting through the thousands of snapshots and documents Karen left behind.

The documents accompanying this text are pages from ration books. Until coming across these, we had no idea that children received ration booklets, too. It makes sense, though; obviously, a family of ten would have greater needs than a family of three, so assigning each child their own ration books (to be used, no doubt, by their parents) seems the ideal way to assure that each family gets what’s coming to it.

We’ve scanned and posted all the pages of the ration books for your consideration here. Perhaps many of you have seen ration books before—after all, every American had one, and of those millions of books, surely not a few got stashed when they were no longer needed, for later generations to come across, as we did, in dusty cartons long stowed away in attics or basements.

We learned a few not terribly weighty details about Karen’s life in May, 1942, from these documents. She lived at 509 South 4th Street in Okemah, Oklahoma (we knew she had grown up in a different house than the one where we visited our grandparents, but we didn’t know where it was). She was nine years old, stood four feet and one-half inches tall, and weighed 68 pounds. Her eyes were blue then, as always, and her hair was listed as blonde (light brown, we’d have to call it). Again, these details have no real import, but small things can have an impact when you’re trying to imagine loved ones at particular points in their lives.

We wish we’d thought to ask Karen what the heck she thought of Elvis Presley when he hit the national stage or how it felt to be a child during World War II. There are so many questions that we don’t think to ask our folks, even when we spend a lot of time thinking about the old days. Then a loved one’s mind grows feeble, due to illness or advanced age, or a life comes unexpectedly to an end, and it’s too late to ask.

View all this week’s Karen Files images.