The legendary performer Rose Marie was born Rose Marie Mazetta on August 15, 1923 in New York City, the daughter of an Italian-American father, Frank Mazetta, and Polish-American mother, Stella (Gluszcak). Blessed with a remarkable singing voice for a child that allowed her to belt out jazz songs in the style of Sophie Tucker, she began performing when she was three years old as "Baby Rose Marie." By the time she was five, she had her own radio show on NBC, appearing after "Amos and Andy", the most popular show in the country. Many people could not believe the voice they were hearing actually belonged to a child.
Rose Marie was a legend of show business, with a career stretching 90 years. On film, she debuted as herself in a Vitaphone musical short that appeared on the bill with THE JAZZ SINGER at its premiere in 1927. According to Rose Marie, when she approached Al Jolson at The Wintergarden Theater in New York on the night of the premiere that made movie history and told him, "You were wonderful, Mr. Jolson!", his reply was, "Get away, you little brat!"
Baby Rose Marie made many appearances in short films in the 1930s, but her most famous feature appearance was in INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (1933), a movie about television (called "radioscope" in the film), the medium in which she would win her everlasting fame. In the film, Rose Marie appeared as herself, as one of the acts appearing on the radioscope. One account says that Baby Rose Marie replaced Ruth Etting, who was originally proposed to sing in the film.
The second member from "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to die this year (the other being Mary Tyler Moore) and up there with Mary, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon, Ann Morgan Guilbert and Jerry Paris. She also played Myrna on "The Doris Day Show". R.I.P. Rose Marie.
In 1954, Rose Marie co-starred with Phil Silvers in TOP BANANA, a musical comedy with a book by Hy Kraft, and music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. After it was a smash hit on Broadway during 1952, TOP BANANA went on tour for a year playing in major cities across the country. Phil Silvers and the cast finished their successful run at the Biltmore Theater in downtown Los Angeles on June 27, 1953. During that engagement, Harry Popkin negotiated with producers Albert Zugsmith and Ben Peskay to film TOP BANANA exactly as it had been presented on stage in sold out performances across the country. They packed up the sets and costumes and moved the entire company over to the Motion Picture Center Studios in Hollywood, where the film was photographed.
On July 21, 1953, filming began in widescreen, color and 3-D. The concept was to give the audience a choice seat at a top Broadway show. The producers envisioned this format as a new way to inexpensively film stage shows and present them in theaters across the country (see the tag line on the poster below). They developed a rather complicated tracking shot for the opening of the film. The camera would represent the viewer and approach the box office and buy tickets, enter the lobby and proceed to a fifth row, aisle seat. Lights would dim, the overture would play and the show would begin. (This elaborate opening was abandoned in favor of a static shot of the audience, which then cuts directly into the stage show.)
In the film, Phil Silvers plays egotistical, ex-burlesque comic "Jerry Biffle," now a big hit in television. Jerry attends an autograph-signing session to promote his new book at a department store, where his girl friend, "Sally Peters" (Judy Lynn), works as a model in the gown department. At the store, Jerry meets Sally’s roommate, "Betty Dillon" (Rose Marie). Here is the film's trailer:
Just weeks before her death, Rose Marie commented on the sexual harassment allegations that were sweeping Hollywood, and how she had once been harassed:
"It occurred when I was about to wrap filming on the 1954 musical TOP BANANA. The producer of the film came up to me after I'd run through the song called 'I Fought Every Step of the Way,' which had boxing references, and said that he could show me a few positions. He wasn't referring to boxing.
"I laughed it off, but he said he was serious and that the picture could be mine. Well, in front of everyone onstage, I said, "You son of a bitch, you couldn't get it up if a flag went by." Needless to say, that didn't go over well with him, and all my musical numbers were cut from the film. I had no idea that his reaction to my refusal would be so bad.
"I realized then that the rumors of the casting couch weren't jokes and why some actresses were getting breaks and why others, sometimes way more talented, weren't. Nothing like that ever happened again — maybe because of how self-assured I was or because of how I played things off with my comedy."
The late Fats Domino sang the song that gave THE BIG BEAT its title, as well as his hit "I'm Walkin'." He was joined by more than a dozen other musical acts, including The Diamonds, The Del Vikings, and The Mills Brothers. The story was about a young man (William Reynolds) just out of college who tries to persuade his father (Bill Goodwin), who owns a record company, to start signing up rock 'n' roll acts. Rose Marie played "May Gordon," a neighbor of Reynolds' love interest, "Nikki Collins," played by Andra Martin. Will Cowan directed the 1958 film, which had incidental music by Henry Mancini.
Rose Marie had her first recurring role in television with "My Sister Eileen", a situation comedy based on a series of autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney originally published in The New Yorker, as well as the 1940 play and 1942 and 1955 film adaptations which they inspired. The show focused on "Ruth" (Elaine Stritch) and "Eileen Sherwood" (Shirley Bonne), sisters from Ohio who moved to New York City to pursue their respective careers. Ruth accepts a job with publisher "D. X. Beaumont" (Raymond Bailey) and becomes close with her co-worker, "Bertha" (Rose Marie). The better part of her time, however, is spent supervising Eileen, who has a tendency to fall for every con artist and potential boyfriend who crosses her path.
The series premiered at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS on October 15, 1960. The show was opposite "Hawaiian Eye" on ABC and "Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall" on NBC, both in their second season. While those two shows were renewed, "My Sister Eileen" was not, being cancelled after a single season of 26 episodes.
Rose Marie's most well-known role was as "Sally Rogers," the wise-cracking comedy writer that she played for five years on "The Dick Van Dyke Show". She immediately suggested Morey Amsterdam for the role of "Buddy Sorrell" after she was signed for her part. Mary Tyler Moore's role as "Laura Petrie" wasn't supposed to be the show's female lead. As Rose Marie tells it:
"I'd been told when I was hired that the focus was going to be on the writers' room, where my character, Sally Rogers, was a television writer, and I would be co-starring with Dick. As time went on, I realized that the focus was actually on the home life and on his TV wife, Mary Tyler Moore. I didn't like that. I was disappointed. I wanted to work more. The situation was made more difficult because Mary was younger and prettier than me and, I'll admit it, I was jealous of all the attention she was getting."
"Carl Reiner, the creator of the show and whose life it was based on, says in the November documentary about my showbiz career, WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH, that we both had great legs, but 'they' wanted to look at her legs. I'm not sure who 'they' were. Men in our audience? Women in our audience? Studio execs? Show producers? Advertisers? Whoever it was, I didn't fit their bill."
"Sally was a groundbreaking character in part because it wasn't expected that a woman would be equal to men in a professional setting and make the same salary. At the same time, the 'ideal woman' was still whichever one was younger and prettier."
"I find it interesting that so much of the talk today about our show isn't about either of our legs, but rather what a trailblazing character Sally was. There are so many people, especially writers and comediennes, who were inspired by her. She has had a tremendous impact and even paved the way for the characters in 'That Girl' and Mary's next series, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'"
"I'm always asked if I knew the impact Sally would have, and honestly, I didn't. I just did it. I didn't spend time thinking about the fact that Mary Tyler Moore was playing a character who stayed at home and waited for her husband while I was at the office working with him."
Rose Marie's disappointment with her diminished role on the series put a strain on the relationship between her and Mary Tyler Moore, and while the two ladies got along professionally, they never became close friends.
Rose Marie wanted to leave the show in 1964, when she became a widow after her husband, Bobby Guy, died. But director John Rich talked her out of quitting and she stayed until the series' end in 1966.
"Mr. Henderson," the name given to Sally Rogers' cat, is a possible reference to Fletcher Henderson, a band-leader with whom Rose Marie performed as a child and who accompanied her on her phonograph debut, during her Vaudeville days.
In 1963, it was announced that Morey Amsterdam had written his first screenplay, called DON'T WORRY, WE'LL THINK OF A TITLE, and had persuaded his co-stars from "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Rose Marie and Richard Deacon, to co-star in the film with him. Amsterdam also produced the film and arranged for a number of other television stars to play bit parts. Principal photography began 6 July 1965 at Desilu Studios, during the hiatus between the fourth and fifth seasons of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Rose Marie arrived on set on 17 July 1965. Harmon Jones directed the film, which was released in the early summer of 1966. Richard La Salle provided the unreleased score.
In the film, "Charlie" (Amsterdam), a bumbling cook, and "Annie" (Rose Marie), a wise-cracking waitress, lose their jobs at the Daredevil Diner. They hitchhike to Updike University to help run a bookshop inherited by their friend "Magda" (January Jones), another former waitress at the diner. A review in the 18 May 1966 Variety described the film as “a compendium of wilted gags, tired repartee, and imbecile mishaps.”
Rose Marie had a small part in the 1966 crime comedy DEAD HEAT ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND. She played "Margaret Kirby," a rich woman who is robbed by charming confidence man "Eli Kotch" (James Coburn). Rose Marie's image appeared on the film's poster, but not her name. Bernard Girard directed the film. Stu Phillips' score has not had a release.
Rose Marie co-starred in the second and third seasons (1969–1971) of CBS's "The Doris Day Show" as Doris Martin's friend and coworker, "Myrna Gibbons." The show was known for changing its premise and cast regulars just about every season. Doris went from mother to working girl that kept changing jobs every season.
Here are the show's opening credits for season two:
LUNCH WAGON was a comedy about three women (Pamela Jean Bryant, Rosanne Katon, and Candy Moore) who start a lunch wagon business but run into stiff resistance from their competitor "Mr. Schmeckler" (Rick Podell). Their presence is interfering with some sort of illegal activity he's involved with. Rose Marie plays "Mrs. Schmeckler." Ernest Pintoff directed the 1981 film, which has an unreleased score by Richard Band.