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 125th Birthday, William Demarest!

The gruff but lovable William Demarest was born 125 years ago today in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here are 10 WD Did-You-Knows:

  • If Demarest doesn’t strike one as the typical Minnesotan, that’s probably because his family moved to New Jersey when he was a baby, a state that better gibes with his irascible persona. His father was a second-hand furniture dealer.
  • Demarest was a veteran of World War I, serving as a sergeant in the United States Army.
  • Demarest’s performing career began when he was a very young; he played cello in an act with his two older brothers that played resort hotels in New Jersey. He then work as a dancer and comedian in cabarets and worked two seasons with the Alcazar Theatre Stock Company in Stockton, California.
  • Demarest had a brief boxing career, fighting under the name “Battling McGovern,” but he preferred not to discuss that period in his life in his later years.
  • Demarest later played vaudeville, first as a solo act and later teaming with his first wife, Estelle Collette (her real name was Esther Zychlin).
  • Demarest received his first screen test for Warner Brothers in 1926. “We filmed in L.A.,” he later said, “and you could have smelled it in New York. It was just awful.” Nonetheless, he signed a five-year contract with Warners the next year, appearing in a dozen silent pictures.
  • Though he went uncredited, Demarest can be spotted in the role of Buster Billings opposite Al Jolson in the first talking feature, The Jazz Singer.
  • Demarest was a member of Preston Sturges‘ stock company. His facility with physical comedy suited the director’s style particularly well.
  • Demarest made over 100 pictures and received one Oscar nomination, for his supporting role in the 1946 biopic The Jolson Story.
  • Demarest is best remembered today for his work on television, particularly for the role of Uncle Charley O’Casey on My Three Sons. He replaced William Frawley, who was in frail health, on tha popular sitcom. Demarest received one Emmy nomination for his work on the show, on which he appeared from 1965 to 1972.

Happy birthday, William Demarest, wherever you may be!

William Demarest

Happy 130th Birthday, Al Jolson!

Al Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in what is now Seredzius, Lithuania, 130 years ago today. Here are 10 Jolson trivia tidbits:

  • Al Jolson began his career paired with his brother in a vaudeville act. He moved on to partner with other performers as well, but it was as a solo act that he finally found success.
  • As with his character in The Jazz Singer (1927), Jolson’s father was a cantor, at the Talmud Torah Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
  • Though his early work in blackface is considered offensive today, the view of many African-Americans at the time was that Al Jolson was helping to introduce African-American music—jazz, blues, and ragtime—to a white audience. He also was a strong advocate in the 1910s and ’20s in the fight discrimination on Broadway against black performers.
  • At 35, Jolson was the youngest man in American history to have a theatre—Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre, across from Central Park—named after him.
  • Al Jolson wrote the campaign song for the Warren G. HardingCalvin Coolidge ticket in the 1920 presidential campaign: Harding, You’re the Man for Us!
  • Jolson was the first musical artist to sell more than 10 million records.
  • Al Jolson owned the rights to the play Penny Arcade by Marie Baumer and insisted that the two actors who played the leads in the Broadway production be brought west to appear in Sinners’ Holiday (1930), the movie adaption of the play. Those actors? James Cagney and Joan Blondell.
  • NYC’s 51st Street, as it passes by the Winter Garden Theatre, home to many Jolson’s greatest successes, was, on August 11, 2006, renamed Al Jolson Way.
  • Many stars of the rock ‘n’ roll era—Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson and David Lee Roth, among them—cited Al Jolson as one of their greatest influences.
  • As a lark, Jolson once entered a sound-alike contest, singing as a sound-alike of himself. He placed third.

Happy birthday, Mr. Jolson, wherever you may be!

Al Jolson

Happy birthday, Rose Marie

Rose MarieMost folks over the age of thirty surely know the actress Rose Marie, who turns 89 years old today.

After all, she starred as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the most acclaimed sit-coms of all time. She was a regular on the original Hollywood Squares, sitting just atop Paul Lynde in the center top square. And she appeared such later shows as Murphy Brown and Wings.

But did you know she was a hugely popular child star? It’s true. In 1926, at the age of three, she began performing as Baby Rose Marie. She had a brassy singing voice one doesn’t often find in someone so young, and by the age of five she had her own radio show on NBC.

She also worked the vaudeville circuits and made a number of appearances in movies, including a Vitaphone short that was on the bill with the first talking feature, The Jazz Singer. She even appeared at the White House three times, performing for Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

By her teens, she dropped the “Baby” and began the transition to a career as a singer. She made a go of it, continuing to work in nightclubs and acting on radio, in theatre and in pictures, but it was in the 1960s that her career really took off again.

We wish the happiest of birthdays to Ms. Marie, and we invite you to help us celebrate the occasion by watching this video from her days as a child star. This is a scene from 1933’s International House. Rose was 10 years old.

Times Square Tintypes: Al Jolson

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the Singing Fool, Al Jolson.
 

AL’S HERE

MAMMY!!! AL JOLSON. He drinks a bucket of bromo-seltzer every day.
Caricature of Al JolsonIs very superstitious. He is always knocking wood.
His real name is Asa Yoelson. Got the name Jolson when he was the singing mascot for a regiment in the Spanish-American war. A soldier asked him what his name was. He replied “Yoelson.” The soldier said: “That’s a Swedish name—you’re no Swede. Your name’s Jolson only you don’t know how to pronounce it.” From then on Jolson was his name.
Although he has been married three times women play a small part in his life.
He owns part of the St. Louis National Baseball Club.
His first appearance at the Winter Garden was in the show that opened that theater, Little Miss Innocence. It would be great to record that he made a big hit. The truth of the matter is that he made his first appearance on the stage after midnight and that no one paid any attention to him.
Likes to be patted on the back and is always surrounded by “Yes-men.” It was Walter Winchell who asked: “How many yes-men make a Jolson?”
Is not on speaking terms with his brother Harry. He wishes his brother wouldn’t use his name.
He has to read something in order to fall asleep.
Once started work in a D. W. Griffith picture. Then went to court in order to break the contract. On the witness stand he said: “I knew I was terrible and would never make a hit in pictures.” He was released from the contract. Today he has revolutionized the motion picture industry.
He cracks his knuckles when he is nervous.
His big passion in life is applause. Let an audience encourage him and he’ll break a vocal chord.
As a kid he sang on the streets of Washington and in the backroom of saloons. His boyhood pal at the time was Bill Robinson.
He is known as the second best verse writer in Tin Pan Alley. He doesn’t keep the profits on his songs but donates them to a tuberculosis camp.
Hates cold weather. So much so that one frosty night in Chicago he returned to his hotel room after the evening’s performance of Bombo. While undressing he noticed a sign across the street blinking: “It’s June in Miami. It’s June in Miami.” The next morning he was on his way to Miami, leaving the show cold.
He beams with happiness if anyone compliments him on his ballroom dancing.
Never took a singing lesson until he was past thirty-five. Then stopped after the sixth lesson because he thought they were hurting his voice.
He’s as sentimental as his songs.
Is a great showman and never misses an opportunity. When he arrived in Hollywood to make The Jazz Singer the entire town was at the station to meet him. He sang: “California, Here I Come.”
Mark Hellinger is now writing his life story. Hellinger got all his data when he accompanied the singing fool on his honeymoon abroad. Mark was the odd man.
His favorite word is “baby.”
He bet as much as $100,000 on a horse race and lost.
Never laughs at a joke except to be polite. If the joke really amuses him he says with a serious face, “That’s very funny.”
He knows a kosher restaurant in almost every important town.
Was a personal friend of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. One evening he had dinner with President Harding at the white House. Pork chops was the dish and every time he picked one up the President’s dog, Laddie Boy, would jump and grab it. This wouldn’t have happened if Jolson had been using his knife and fork.
He likes to drive a car fast.
If he ever has a son he wants him to be like Buddy De Sylva.
His favorite game is Hearts. If he loses he makes alibis. If he wins he gloats over the victory.

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