From Hollywood’s Blue Rose to Downward Spiral

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Rosemary Clooney was Hollywood's blue roseRosemary Clooney was Hollywood's blue rose

Rosemary Clooney was a famous pop and jazz musician of her time, and yes— she was actor George Clooney’s aunt. Her unique charisma, voice, diction, musical knowledge, and aura stood out among her peers, and she was sought after by fans and celebrities in the ‘50s.

Behind the scenes of her glamorous life, Rosemary had her share of troubles, having lived a scandalous life and having to deal with being abandoned by her parents as a teenager. She worked her way up to fame and got her big break in 1951 with her single, “Come On-a My House.”

Humble beginnings

Rosemary ClooneyRosemary Clooney
THE STARS ARE SINGING, Rosemary Clooney, 1953

Rosemary was the oldest of Andrew and Marie Frances’ three children, and she mostly spent time at relatives’ homes due to her parents’ absence. At 15, Rosemary watched her mother leave for California with her brother, leaving her and her little sister Betty with their alcoholic father.

Born to be famous, Rosemary did her first performance as a toddler in a downtown movie theater called Russell House, where she sang, “When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver (I Will Love You Just the Same).” Rosemary’s career began after her dad disappeared, leaving her behind with her thirteen-year-old sister. They both worked at the WLW local radio station, where they sang every day to earn $20 per week.

Working her way up

Rosemary and her sister juggled school with radio until they landed a place in Barney Rapp’s band, joining them to sing at big clubs and meeting more groups to work with through Rapp. At 18, she and Betty landed a contract after auditioning with Tony Pastor, and their uncle, George Guilfoyle, soon joined them as chaperone as they traveled with the band.

Rosemary ClooneyRosemary Clooney
HERE COME THE GIRLS, Rosemary Clooney, 1953

Her first solo recording with Pastor’s band won fan’s hearts and became a hit. Her rendition of “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Say Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night” was ironically perfect because her stage fright made her sing it in an endearing whispery style instead of loudly. At 21, she left the band and joined Columbia Records as a solo artist.

Her first song, “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” sold over 400,000 thousand copies, followed by her famous hit, which she nearly did not record because she thought it silly and “cheap” and did not want to do the fake Italian accent it required. A representative at Columbia Records, Mitch Miller, convinced her to release “Come On-a My House,” and it turned out to be one of her most popular songs.

Personal life and triumphs

Rumors of a romantic relationship between Rosemary and her dance tutor, Dante Di Paolo, were circulating. However, she met Jose Ferrer while he was away and married in 1953— the news reportedly shattered Dante. Luckily for Dante, he married her in 1997 at St. Patrick’s Church in Maysville after her marriage to Jose crumbled for the second time.

Rosemary ClooneyRosemary Clooney
RED GARTERS, Rosemary Clooney, 1954

Beyond being an actress, Rosemary was the author of two autobiographies— This for Remembrance: The Autobiography of Rosemary Clooney, an Irish-American Singer in 1977, and her second release, Girl Singer: An Autobiography. She owned property in Beverly Hills, California, and bought a house in Augusta, Kentucky, which became “The Rosemary Clooney House,” known to have the biggest White Christmas memorabilia in the world.

White Christmas was one of her biggest hit movies and marked the start of a beautiful friendship with Bing Crosby. Many years later, she would co-star alongside her nephew, George, in ER and earn a Primetime Emmy award for her role as an Alzheimer’s patient in the series. After a successful career marked with milestones and well-deserved recognition, Rosemary died of lung cancer in June 2002— nearly three decades after her sister and partner, Betty, passed away.

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