She was never really “an actress.”  Her movie acting credits number less than 20, and all of them are in musical contexts.

Rosemary Clooney (perhaps best known today as George’s aunt) was a superb singer, though, with career parallels to another marginal actor, the immensely gifted vocalist by the name of Bing Crosby.

Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to tell you that Rosemary’s legacy as a singer — and in perhaps one instance as an actress — lives on nicely today.

She is still a remarkably “contemporary” singer to have come out of the gimmicky musical decade that was the 1950’s.  (Can the same be said of Frankie Laine?)

Rosemary grew up in the Southern Ohio-Kentucky area, and began professionally singing with younger sister Betty on Cincinnati radio station WLW in 1941 at the age of 13. After  high school, she sang with various bands including that of Tony Pastor’s.

Those of you of a certain age will immediately recall her hit solo recordings of the early-to-mid Fifties: Come On A My House (which Clooney not-so-privately disliked), Half As Much, Hey There and This Old House.

Her musical popularity was such that Paramount Pictures rushed her into a trio of movies including The Stars Are Singing and Here Come The Girls (with Bob Hope and Tony Martin) in 1953 and a musical western titled Red Garters a year later (Rosemary getting top-of-title star billing) with Jack Carson.

At about this time, Clooney married actor-director Jose Ferrer, the first of their two marriages (1953 to 1962 the first time; 1963 to 1967 the second).  The couple had five children.

It was 1954’s White Christmas opposite Crosby that remains Clooney’s movie signature. She and Vera-Ellen play sisters who get involved with Army buddies Crosby (and Danny Kaye) in a remote winter resort.  The director was Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and Paramount used the occasion to unveil its VistaVision wide screen presentation.

Clooney was always in awe of Crosby, 25 years her senior.  Both vocalists in their own ways were aware that their musical interests and abilities were not confined to Hollywood musicals or period pop tunes. Their best work was found most often in jazz contexts, when both could unbutton and let loose.

Crosby, for example, recorded a lusty, unforgettable St. Louis Blues with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1930’s. (No The Bells of St. Mary’s sanctimony here.) Ellington always had immense respect for Crosby’s abilities. He also knew that Clooney was pretty good in her own right.

So it wasn’t coincidental that she found herself in a Los Angeles studio recording Blue Rose: Rosemary Clooney and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra for Columbia Records in 1956.  The process was interesting in that the Ellington band had earlier laid down instrumental tracks in a New York studio, while Clooney later performed to the pre-recordings on the West Coast (Clooney’s and Ellington’s schedules did not mesh, obviously).

It’s not a stretch to say that listening to the completed album, as Frank does often, will provide a Clooney as you’ve never heard her before. The songs, almost all Ellington compositions, are incomparable. Clooney sings them with greatest ease and assurance.

According to the album’s original liner notes (contained in the current CD reissue), Clooney was the perfect choice to sing the Ellington songs the way Duke likes them sung. Her long experience as a band singer, her admiration for Ellington and his music, and the special sort of supercharged satin in her voice all qualified her more than any other singer to make this unusual album.

Blue Rose: Rosemary Clooney and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra — seek it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

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