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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Harpo, Hepburn and happy soldiers

image-Stage Door Canteen posterThis week’s Cladrite Clip is taken from Stage Door Canteen, an enjoyable piece propagandistic fluff from 1943 that features the slimmest of plots and literally dozens of cameos from stars of film and Broadway.

To be honest, we prefer its follow-up, Hollywood Canteen, which came out a year later — the celebrity cameos in that picture appealed to us more — but both are entertaining in their way.

To give credit where it’s due, Stage Door Canteen does boast a nice lineup of Cladrite Radio-worthy orchestras. Count Basie, Xavier Cugat, Benny Goodman, Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo, and Freddy Martin are all on hand to contribute their considerable talents.

In Stage Door Canteen, we follow the adventures of a quartet of soliders (nicknamed, from west to east, California, Texas, Dakota, and Jersey). Though our fighting young men are given a brief furlough in NYC before they ship off to fight in World War II, they spend the majority of their time not taking in the sights of the Big Apple, but trying, each in his own way, to make time with the cute gals volunteering at the titular canteen.

Tex (Sunset Carson) quickly pairs up with Ella Sue (Margaret Early), an Alabama gal whose interactions with Yankee soldiers have left her pining for a Southern gentleman. Jersey’s engaged and manages to get married mid-movie, and California, the callowest of youth, is awarded his first kiss by his canteen hostess, Jean (Marjorie Riordan) — which is expressly against canteen rules, but what the heck — just before he heads off to fight for his country.

It’s around Dakota (William Terry) and his rocky romance with haughty actress/canteen hostess Eileen (Cheryl Walker) that the wispy plot mostly revolves, and it will surprise no one that, in the end, Eileen is fully reformed. She not only falls in love with Dakota, but she gets her big break on Broadway when she’s cast in a play opposite Paul Muni.

But one doesn’t watch either of the Canteen movies for the plot. It’s the musical performances, the patriotism (though it can be heavy-handed at times), and the star cameos that appeal.

image-Hollywood Canteen posterWhich picture one might wish to start with will depend on one’s tastes in entertainment. Each has its share of movie stars, but if the names Katharine Cornell, Lynn Fontanne, and Helen Hayes make your heart go pitty-pat — if, in short, you’re something of a Broadway baby — Stage Door Canteen is probably the movie for you.

If you’re a movie buff, you’ll want to see both (after all, even Stage Door Canteen boasts cameos by such Hollywood luminaries as Harpo Marx, Ray Bolger, and Katherine Hepburn), but I would suggest seeing Hollywood Canteen first. Its cameos pack a bigger cinematic wallop.