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 115th Birthday, Annette Hanshaw!

Cladrite sweetheart Annette Hanshaw was born Catherine Annette Hanshaw 115 years ago in Manhattan. For us, she’s the gold standard for songbirds of the late 1920s and early ’30s; we think she’s keen. Here are 10 AH Did-You-Knows:

  • Hanshaw came from something of a show biz family. Her father, Frank Wayne Hanshaw, loved the business so much he ran off to join the circus (he thought better of it and returned), and her aunt, Nellie McCoy, and cousin, Bob “Uke” Hanshaw, were popular and successful vaudeville performers.
  • Hanshaw grew up loving to sing—she performed for the guests at a series of very small hotels her father operated for a time and demo’d sheet music at a Mount Kisco music shop owned by her family—but she dreamed of making her mark as a painter, not a singer, even studying at the National School of Design for a year.
  • Hanshaw made her first professional recordings in 1926, recording a demo of six popular songs of the day for the Pathé label before recording her first commercial recordings—Black Bottom and Six Feet of Papa—in September of that year. She recorded for many labels and under many pseudonyms, including Gay Ellis, Dot Dare, and Patsy Young. She also sang in variety of styles, delivering sentimental songs in a more straightforward fashion and, when appropriate, jazzing peppy songs up a bit. She even did Helen Kane impersonations (on whom Betty Boop‘s vocal stylings were clearly based) on a number of recordings.
  • Hanshaw began to appear on the radio in 1929 and soon was a huge hit. As the twenties gave way to the thirties, she began to sing with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, and from 1932-34, she was featured on the very popular program Maxwell House Show Boat, which aired every Thursday evening, and she later did 39 weeks on Camel Caravan. Her success on radio did little to alleviate her anxiety about performing over the airwaves. “I’m so afraid I’ll fail, not sing my best,” she said before agreeing to appear on radio. “Suppose I should have to cough. Suppose I didn’t get just the right pitch. And all those people listening.”
  • At the height of her fame, Hanshaw was known as “The Personality Girl” and her trademark was ending each recorded performance with a winsome “That’s all!”
  • Hanshaw loved singing but was not at all confident of her voice and was, at best, a reluctant star. In her later years, when asked to assess the recordings she’d made during her prime, she had not a positive word to offer. She was her own worst critic, and it may have been this tendency that led to her (extremely) premature exit from show business. “I disliked all of [my records] intensely,” she said during a 1972 interview with radio host Jack Cullen. “I was most unhappy when they were released. I just often cried because I thought they were so poor, mostly because of my work, but a great deal, I suppose, because of the recording.”
  • Hanshaw’s favorites singers of the day were Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, Ruth Etting, Ethel Waters, and Connee Boswell.
  • Hanshaw composed two songs—Sweet One and Till Your Happiness Comes Along—but it’s unclear if either was ever published or recorded.
  • Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Hanshaw retired from show business in 1937 at the age of 36. She considered a return in the 1950s, recording a pair of private demos to test the waters, but, alas, no comeback was forthcoming.
  • The 2008 animated film Sita Sings the Blues, which retells the Indian epic poem The Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, used Annette Hanshaw’s recordings as its soundtrack. In 2010, her 1929 recording of Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home was used in the video game BioShock 2.

Happy birthday, dear Annette, wherever you may be!

Annette Hanshaw

Sweet nothings, tenderly crooned

Though the greatest pleasure we take from the wonderful music we share with you on Cladrite Radio stems from the memorable melodies and toe-tapping rhythms, we also revel in the romantic imagery and well-turned phrases found in the lyrics of the day.

The lyrics Samuel M. Lewis wrote to accompany Abel Baer’s lovely melody in their 1934 song “Am I to Blame?” recently gave us reason to smile. They’re pleasing on the page, but when sung, they really come to life.

Am I to Blame?
Am I to blame for worshipping you
After so many goodbyes?
If I’m to blame for worshipping you,
Why was I born with two eyes?

Am I to blame for clinging to you,
Begging to share all your charms?
If I’m to blame for clinging to you,
Why was I born with two arms?

Sighing, sighing brings regret;
Every day is like the day before.
Trying, trying to forget
Only makes me want you more.

So am I to blame for loving you, dear?
I’m only playing my part.
If I’m to blame for loving you, dear,
Why was I born with a heart?

Lyrics by Sam M. Lewis/music by Abel Baer

“Am I to Blame?” was recorded by artists such as Ruth Etting, Greta Keller, and Victor Young and His Orchestra, but we’re offering Hal Kemp and His Orchestra‘s take on the song. Bob Allen handles the vocals.

Hal Kemp and His Orchestra, feat. Bob Allen—“Am I to Blame?”

As seen on TV

The internet can foster oddly serendipitous partnerships. Who’d have thought a cruise line’s ad campaign would be driving traffic to Cladrite Radio?

As regular readers and listeners may have noticed, we usually feature the lyrics to a seasonally appropriate song at the bottom of each page of our site. We generally try to choose a lesser-known song, one with which the average visitor to the site might not be familiar.

We’ve no idea how many folks notice those lyrics, but we’re of the opinion that it’s the little things that set a site apart, and we try to provide regular visitors to Cladrite Radio little bonuses that repay their loyalty.

Currently, the lyrics at the bottom of the page, penned by Arthur Freed, are from a 1932 song called “It’s Winter Again,” for which Al Hoffman and Al Goodhart wrote the melody. It’s not a song that might be considered a standard, as it’s only been recorded by a few performers over the years—Hal Kemp, Isham Jones, and Ruth Etting, among them—but it’s a catchy little tune with pleasing lyrics. Still, you could ask 100 people on the street if they’d ever heard it, and chances are, you’d get 100 negative responses.

But Royal Caribbean, the cruise line, is currently running a television commercial featuring the Hal Kemp recording of the song (with Skinnay Ennis handling the vocals), and people are turning to the internet to do a search on the lyrics.

Which brings many of them here to Cladrite Radio.

Funny how that happens, no? We feature the lyrics of an obscure ode to wintertime romance, and it ends up increasing traffic to our site.

So welcome to all you Googlers and Bingers who have found your way here. We hope you pay us the occasional return visit.

And just to show you how welcome you are, we’re sharing both the Hal Kemp and Isham Jones recordings of “It’s Winter Again” for your listening pleasure (that’s Frank Sylvano on the vocals on the Jones recording).

Hal Kemp and His Orchestra, feat. Skinnay Ennis—“It’s Winter Again”

Isham Jones and His Orchestra, feat. Frank Sylvano—“It’s Winter Again”

Snapshot in Prose: Ruth Etting

This prose snapshot of songbird Ruth Etting might fairly be said to be a doctored “photo”—or at the very least retouched. For this profile, from the April 1935 issue of Popular Songs, makes no mention of Martin “Moe the Gimp” Snyder, a gangster to whom young Ruth was wed in 1922 and who had a major impact on her career.

After achieving huge success in radio, Broadway, recordings, and movies, Etting divorced Snyder in 1937, having fallen in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who was nearly ten years her junior.

That old saying “Heaven has no fury like a mobster scorned” applies here, as Snyder soon plugged Alderman with a bullet, spending a year in jail before being released on appeal.

The surrounding scandal seems to have pulled the plug on Etting’s career, alas, though she would go on to marry Alderman and, one hopes, live happily ever after.

Nebraska to New York

HEN Ruth left her happy home on a Nebraska farm to go down to Chicago to study art, she hadn’t a thought in the world about cabaret entertaining, torch songs, crooners, radio broadcasting, Broadway song and dance shows, Florence Ziegfeld or Hollywood—yet all of these have played important parts in her eventual life.
She was only 17 years old, a sweet young fraulein with flaxen hair, big blue eyes and a yen to become a commercial illustrator. There was a war going on at the time and things were pretty dull in the little German settlement up in David City, in the heart of the Nebraska wheat fields. Ruth had grown up there, in a hamlet populated almost entirely by the Etting cousins and uncles and aunts.
She wasn’t particularly concerned with the thought of being alone in a big strange city. Even if she had been, she would have gone anyway, for she had plenty of determination.
Not so very long after her arrival in Chicago she landed a job designing costumes for a girl show in a cabaret. Her costume designing was all that could be desired and everyone was enthusiastic over her work, but the manager and, what is more remarkable, the manager’s wife noticed that Ruth was the type he liked for his showgirls.
She was a blonde and much thinner than most of the chorines who seemed to get so much fun out of life and the glamour of the spotlight. When the manager offered her a job in “the line,” she accepted it.
The following weeks were hard on Ruth and harder on the manager. She had never danced before and all she knew about the stage was what she had picked up in the course of delivering costume designs and sketching the girls.
Determined not to disappoint her friend and his wife, she worked long and hard to master the intricate steps of the chorus routines. Again her persistence came to her rescue and in a little while she was dancing like the co-ordinated unit that good chorus girls become.
The singing part was a cinch. All of the Ettings sang, although none of them were professional singers. They sang with the naturalness of all outdoors, aided by their correct postures and the lack of nervousness which comes from a life of carefree comradeship in a small village.
Back in David City, Ruth had had the additional advantage of a few lessons from the local voice teacher, but her aunt stopped them when she found that Ruth’s voice was so low that she couldn’t hit high-C. That didn’t bother Ruth at all, at the time because her she wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a singer for she had her heart set on being an artist.
Now those few early lessons were a big help. The cabaret in which Ruth danced also had a vocal chorus and she was one of the singers. It was a big chorus, with an orchestra and a baritone whom they paid $125 a week to sing solos. After Ruth was added to the singing ensemble the manager of the place noticed that the chorus, and one voice in the chorus in particular, kept drowning out the baritone soloist.
Yes, Ruth was the guilty one, so the shrewd manager fired the baritone and advanced Miss Etting to the soloist’s job. However, she was not a real baritone, so her salary was only $50 a week, but it was a lot of money in those days to the little girl from Nebraska.
Ruth become one of the singers who went to the restaurant early in the evening and sang solo, duet, trio and quartet until the last cash customer went home and the box on the piano was “broken” to divide the tips of the evening. Singing quietly, with her voice pitched low, she had excellent opportunities to become proficient as a crooner.
One evening Thomas G. Rockwell, then recording manager for the Columbia Phonograph Company, heard her sing, “What Can I Say, Dear, After I Say I’m Sorry?” at the College Inn, Chicago. He thought she was swell and signed her to a long term contract. Soon the Ruth Etting records were among the biggest sellers in the country. The same Tom Rockwell is still her manager today.
Irving Berlin and Florenz Ziegfeld listened to her recording of “Blue Skies” one night and the next day Zeigfeld’s general manager was on his way to Chicago to sign her up for the “Ziegfeld Follies” of 1927. She came to New York and stayed for the “Follies” of 1928, “Whoopee”, “Simple Simon” and the “Follies” of 1930 and 1931.
Often, since then, Ruth Etting has been chosen in national radio polls as the best singer of popular songs on the air and has starred in a number of moving pictures and on several commercial radio programs. Currently she is featured on a National Broadcasting Company coast-to-coast hook-up each Thursday evening.