Greetings again from the darkness. Rose Marie. There is a fear that her name and legacy are unknown to many these days, and director Jason Wise (SOMM, 2012) sets out to ensure that this giant of entertainment receives her due. Not many are famous at age 4 and go on to have an 87 year career singing and making people laugh. In fact, she’s likely the only one.
A big chunk of the film has 94 year old Rose Marie in the place where she is most comfortable – under the lights, looking directly into the camera. She shares some remarkable stories of her life, and walks us through a time line of the history of entertainment. It’s a history in which she played a significant role. We learn about her singing Sophie Tucker songs on stage in 1923 at age 4 (as Baby Rose Marie), and we hear her final credit as a voice actor on “Garfield” in 2013. In between, she received an NBC radio contract at age 5, and proceeded to star in Vaudeville, Radio, Broadway, Las Vegas, the nightclub circuit, and of course, Television. She was often referred to as “one of the boys”, but the reality is, she was a trailblazer for women performers.
In addition to Rose Marie’s own words, there is insight from Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Peter Marshall, her daughter Georgana Rodrigues, a long-time close friend, and many others. We learn that her “Uncle Al” was actually what Al Capone suggested she call him, and the other mobsters of the era were just “the boys”, all whom “were wonderful” to her. In 1944, during WWII, she met the love of her life. Bobby Guy was the lead trumpet for “The Bing Crosby Show”, and an extremely successful musician who played live in big bands, as well as on albums and film soundtracks.
The fascinating stories come fast and furious, and director Wise uses reenactments for some segments and actual photos and clips for others. Rose Marie working opening night with Jimmy Durante at Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo in Las Vegas is particularly compelling, as Mr. Siegel’s career and life didn’t last much longer than opening weekend. Familiarity strikes once we reach the 1950’s boom era for television. A rare clip of Rose Marie’s first episode of “Gunsmoke” transitions into her wildly popular run on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66). On the movie side, should you find yourself watching Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO, you’ll now impress your friends with the knowledge that Rose Marie voiced Norman’s mother in that remake.
If this sounds like a recap of her career, you should know this barely scratches the surface, and half the fun is in feeling like she is telling her story directly to us. A 14 year run on “Hollywood Squares” is further testament to her comedic skills and quick wit. Rose Marie is comparable to Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett in both talent and impact, and deserves to be respected as such.
This is a well-made and important documentary about the history of entertainment, one remarkable woman’s career, her wonderful and tragic love story, and above all, a lesson in perseverance. At age 94, Rose Marie’s mind is razor-sharp despite the failings of her physical body. As she waits for her next job, she proves she can still tell a joke … and that even today, she never has to wait long for the laugh.