Skip to main content

Rosemary Clooney Returns to Fresh Air.

We feature an interview with singer/Hollywood legend Rosemary Clooney. She will talk about her life as a singer and performer. We will also listen to songs from throughout her career. Her new autobiography, called Girl Singer, reads like a who's who from the golden age of Hollywood. She has also released a CD companion to the book. Its called Songs from the Girl Singer.

49:24

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 21, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122101np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "Girl Singer: An Interview with Rosemary Clooney
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY," ROSEMARY CLOONEY")

It's very clear
Our love is here
To stay.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney has a new autobiography and a new companion CD. On today's FRESH AIR, we'll listen back with Clooney to records that span her career, starting with her first recorded solo performance when she was 17 in 1946. We're listening now to her favorite Gershwin song, which was written in her living room back in the days when the house she now lives in was rented by the Gershwins.

Rosemary Clooney, coming up on FRESH AIR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY," ROSEMARY CLOONEY")

And in time may go.

But oh, my dear,
Our love is here
To stay.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: First, the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Rosemary Clooney has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer" and a new companion CD. So we invited her back to FRESH AIR to play some recordings and talk about her life.

Many people know her best from her pop hits of the '50s, like "Come On-a My House" and "Hey, There," and from her 1954 film, "White Christmas." In the '80s and '90s, she's made a great series of jazz recordings on the Concord label featuring many of her favorites from the "American Popular Song Book."

Let's get started with the first solo recording Rosemary Clooney made, a radio transcription from 1946 when she was 17. It's featured on the new CD, "Songs from the Girl Singer."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

Sooner or later, you're gonna be comin' around,
I'll betcha.
I'll betcha that I'll getcha,
You will see.

Sooner or later, you'll wanna be hangin' around,
I'll betcha.
I'll betcha if I let you,
You'll baby me.

You're gonna knock on my door,
You did it before.
Matter of factly,
I don't know exactly when.

But sooner or later you're gonna come hangin' around,
And want my lovin' again.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: That was Rosemary Clooney with bandleader Tony Pastor. She started her career singing duets on the radio with her sister, Betty, in 1945 at WLW in Cincinnati. Rosemary was 16, Betty was 13.

Before we hear the recording of their audition. let's hear what was going through Rosemary Clooney's mind then.

ROSEMARY CLOONEY, "GIRL SINGER": I had my sister with me, and that made all the difference in the world. We really supported each other. So I wasn't afraid. She was very brave. She had the courage in the family, I'm absolutely sure of that.

So I wasn't afraid. But it was all so new and so unexpected. So there was a little edge, and it sounds kind of childlike because we were kids.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is Rosemary Clooney and her sister, Betty, recorded in 1945.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, ROSEMARY CLOONEY AND BETTY CLOONEY)

Oh, a buzzard took a monkey for a ride in the air.
The monkey thought that everything was on the square.
The buzzard try to throw the monkey off his back,
But the monkey grabbed ahold and said, Now, listen, Jack,

Doo doo doo, straighten up and fly right,
Doo doo doo, straighten up and fly right.
Doo doo doo, straighten up and fly right,
Cool down, Pop, oh, don't you blow your top.

So, oh, what's the use in diving?...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Well, did you hope to become kind of like the Boswell sisters or the Andrews sisters?

CLOONEY: I think that we had no hope except to get a job. I think that's really what our ambition was at that moment, and didn't think much further than just a paycheck from WLW, would have been just fine. And then -- and indeed, we did.

GROSS: So you sang on the radio station WLW, and then you and your sister started singing with the Tony Pastor band, a big band. When did it become clear that you were going to be the soloist, and that your sister was going to leave show business?

CLOONEY: That was three years later when Betty left. But the reason that I started singing the solos is because when we joined Tony's band, an awful lot of music was in a key that was too high for Betty. And so I was singing the songs that the girl singer that had left had been -- you know, they'd been arranged for her. So that was my job.

So I sang a little bit higher than Betty, so that's why I had the solos. That's the way it started. And the way it continued was just the fact that I think that I wanted it very much. Betty was three years younger, as I said, and so she was very young when she started. And at one point three years into our job, she said, "I'd really like to be on the other side of the bandstand for a while. I'd like to see what it's like to go to a dance instead of being up here on the bandstand watching other people have all the fun."

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney. She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer" and a new companion CD of the same name.

I want to play something else from the companion CD, and this is a duet that you made with Frank Sinatra. But there's lots of Sinatra stories, I think, to tell, before we -- (laughs) before we get to this CD.

First of all, you say that you learned a lot about enunciation in singing from listening to Sinatra. What do you think you learned about diction from listening to him?

CLOONEY: He finished words. He finished words. There were -- he would -- he could hold as note for as long as he wanted to, but it wasn't kind of left out there in the air. He would finish the word. There would be a consonant, you could hear it.

And it seemed to me that that demanded attention, the way that he did that.

GROSS: You made a duet with Sinatra in 1950 called "Peachtree Street"...

CLOONEY: Yes.

GROSS: ... which I'm sure most of our listeners have not heard. (laughs)

CLOONEY: I'm sure, I'm sure.

GROSS: How did you get to be the singer on this?

CLOONEY: Well, Dinah Shore was scheduled to do it, and she listened to the song and hated it. And it was Frank's publishing company that published the song, and therefore he wanted to do it. And I believe, if I'm not mistaken, his name is one -- is on one of the -- on the record as one of the writers, which I find difficult to believe. But I'm not sure.

In any event, Dinah said no, and so Frank was talking to Manny Sachs (ph), who was then A&R, the head of the A&R at Columbia. And he said, "All right, who is the last person that you signed? Who's the last female that you signed on the label? I want -- I'll record it with her, and it'll be a big hit."

So I was it. I'm not sure I was it, but Manny was a friend of mine and of my manager, so that's how I got the job.

GROSS: Did you like the song?

CLOONEY: No. But I liked Frank Sinatra. (laughs)

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the song, and then we'll talk about the song and Sinatra some more. This is "Peachtree Street," Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra, recorded in -- do you remember what year this is?

CLOONEY: No.

GROSS: Oh, I see, it's 1950 it was originally released.

CLOONEY: OK.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "PEACHTREE STREET," ROSEMARY CLOONEY AND FRANK SINATRA)

CLOONEY: Say, Frank, you want to take a walk?

FRANK SINATRA: Well, sure, sweetie, just pick a street.

CLOONEY: Picadilly Circus.

SINATRA (fake British accent): Oh, I'd rather not.

CLOONEY: Champs-Elysees?

SINATRA: Mais non.

CLOONEY: Times Square!

SINATRA: Naaah.

(singing): 'Cause there's nothin' can compare with
Strolling along Peachtree Street
With my baby on my arm.
I got the sweetest peach in Georgia
And she just came off the farm.

CLOONEY: Strolling along Peachtree Street,
I'm happy as can be.
I've got to thank the state of Georgia
For my baby's family tree.

SINATRA and CLOONEY: Everybody in Atlanta
Knows what a treasure I've found.

SINATRA: I'm gonna set my gem
Upon the main stem.

SINATRA and CLOONEY: We'll spread a lot of little peaches
All around.

SINATRA: I feel like a new millionaire...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney with Frank Sinatra, recorded in 1950.

Well, you both sound really good, but I have to agree with your judgment and Dinah Shore's judgment, not a very hit song. And it didn't sell very well either, did it?

CLOONEY: No, no, no. Dinah was right.

GROSS: So meanwhile, Frank Sinatra started dating your sister, Betty. When -- when -- when did he start seeing her?

CLOONEY: Well, it was in between -- I believe it was before he married Ava, and there was a wonderful restaurant in New York. And the reason that I absolutely bring it up and mention the name is because the sweet man who owned it, Patsy, ran a tab for me one whole summer when I couldn't afford to pay for the bill. And so I have never forgotten it. It's still right there on 56th Street, and the family still owns it, so it's lovely.

Anyway, we were in that restaurant, and my sister had borrowed a dress of mine that was pretty good-looking, actually. It was kind of a georgette coat and a white collar and cuffs, so that it looked kind of like a choirgirl, except you could see through it, so it was -- you know, it told a couple of stories.

In any event, my sister was just, you know, talking to me, and very animated, and there was a booth in the back that had frosted glass. And I never -- you only passed it if you were going, like, to the ladies' room or something. So I didn't know who was there. But it was Frank Sinatra, who came over and said, "Well, how are you, Rosemary?" I said, "Fine. This is my sister, Betty. This is, you know, my manager," and so on.

And he called the next day and asked her out.

So I said to Betty, "Look, I kind of -- can't I go with you?" And she said, "Well, I don't know whether you can or not." I said, "Well, can't I go with you for, like, a part of the evening?" And so she -- (laughs) I guess she asked him, and he took me too. But I remember being dropped off rather early on in the evening.

GROSS: You said that there was one time that he sang to her. He was on stage, and he looked into her eyes as he sang the song.

CLOONEY: He was -- we went to the Astor Roof, because the Tommy Dorsey band was there. And so he had been -- not been with the Tommy Dorsey band for a very long time -- not very long, but long enough so that it was quite a thing for Sinatra to show up, you know, at this -- at the roof to hear the band.

And so he said to my sister, he said, "Would you like to hear me sing with the band?" And so he sang, "I'll Never Smile Again." And I just -- I'll never get over that as long as I live, the two of us, you know, sitting there at a table listening to Frank Sinatra sing, and the people in the place being so surprised and so excited by the fact that he was singing. It was wonderful.

GROSS: What really surprised me in this Sinatra chapter is that he once said something insulting about you while he was on stage in Vegas. What...

CLOONEY: Oh, yes.

GROSS: What did he say?

CLOONEY: Well, the way that I heard about it was that there was a wonderful editor of "The Las Vegas Sun," whose name escapes me right now. This is one of those 70s moments, Terry, excuse me, but maybe I'll think of it a little bit later.

GROSS: Yes, OK.

CLOONEY: He wrote an editorial on the front page of the paper and said, "Please excuse Frank Sinatra's bad manners, Miss Clooney." And then proceeded to write about the fact that he was saying the reason music was not, you know, not doing very well, and the golden era of music was over, and just kind of being very, very down about music altogether, is because of songs like "Come On-a My House."

So I was kind of the object of his long speech about the way that music was deteriorating. So I found it interesting, because Ava Gardner was a friend of mine. So Ava was with him. And so she would come to my second show every single night, because she wanted to hear one song, a Gershwin song -- I can't think of it now. But there was a Gershwin song that I sang that she liked.

So she would come, listen to that, and talk to me for a while afterwards. I think instead of saying it out loud, she wanted to kind of make up for the fact that he had said some things about me that she didn't particularly like either.

GROSS: Well, I think the dig at "Come On-a My House" might have been more about Mitch Miller than about you, since Mitch was...

CLOONEY: Oh, of course, of course, but (inaudible)...

GROSS: ... was Sinatra's former producer, and...

CLOONEY: Yes.

GROSS: ... Sinatra's (inaudible).

CLOONEY: I think you're right, I think you're right, Terry, that it was at Mitch. That's...

GROSS: How, how, however, he did say about you that you sing the most awful music, the worst thing that's ever happened to music in this country, the worst fake accent that he's ever heard. What accent? What fake accent was he talking about?

CLOONEY: Well, you see, it was an Armenian folk song. I didn't know what an Armenian accent sounded like. So I just did the accent that I learned from the Tony Pastor band, whenever we'd visit anybody's house, it was -- they were usually Italian, and so that's -- that was the fake accent.

GROSS: Oh, OK.

CLOONEY: So I guess he had a right to say that if he felt it.

GROSS: Now, Frank Sinatra, after -- in spite of what he said about you, didn't he later sign you to his record company, Reprise?

CLOONEY: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. (inaudible)...

GROSS: So he might -- he might not have -- he probably did not feel very badly about your voice, after all.

CLOONEY: No, I don't believe that was the case. When Bing did his first television show, Frank and I were the guests, and the three of us did one of those long, long medleys that lasted almost 15 minutes, you know, of bits of songs. And it was quite something.

So, no, I saw him socially, we did things together. And so, no, I'm sure that isn't true.

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney. She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer," and a new companion CD called "Songs from the Girl Singer." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney.

In your new autobiography, "Girl Singer," you write a bit about your movie career, and when you started making movies, you said that your designer was Paramount's top designer, Edith Head, and that she gave you your look. What was the look?

CLOONEY: Well, kind of full skirts, and kind of girl-next-door, except that the girl was really rich, because, you know, there'd be some -- especially for evening clothes, she would have a white georgette skirt that was embroidered in, oh, kind of shiny black thread, so that it would glisten. It was -- it really -- I loved the way that she designed clothes. Just -- and they were always comfortable.

And -- well, not always, I shouldn't say that. Because she'd say, "How does that feel?" And I'd say, "It feels really good." She said, "Fine. Take it in a couple of inches. You shouldn't feel good."

That was Edith. I loved Edith.

GROSS: How did you feel about being the girl next door?

CLOONEY: Well, I thought that was fine, I thought that was fine. It wasn't a bad thing to be. I moved upstairs, I think, when I married Joe, you know, Joe -- Jose Ferrer. But I think for a while, I liked that, I liked that just fine.

GROSS: Did you want to be the glamorous one?

CLOONEY: No, I never did, I never did. I never -- I never thought that, either. I had so many men friends, and friends, just friends, I think maybe that goes with traveling with a band. Right now, you know, it's an interesting thing, because there's a piece being done on Bing Crosby, and they asked Mary Francis, his -- Bing's daughter, about his friends, and he said he -- she said he had many, many men friends and one woman friend, and that was Rosemary Clooney.

So it's interesting, I did have an awful lot of good, good, good friends that lasted a long time.

GROSS: Now, proceeding to the girl next door look, you say that you tried out for the role of Sarah, the Salvation Army girl, in the original production of Frank Loesser's musical "Guys and Dolls." And what did he say to you?

CLOONEY: He said that -- how did he put it? How can I say it? He said I didn't sound like a virgin. I guess that's close enough. (laughs) I think I -- I did when I talked but not when I sang.

GROSS: Right, and I think that's an interesting distinction, that they might have cast you as the girl next door, but you had a very sophisticated style of singing.

CLOONEY: Yes, the singing was different, wasn't it? Yes, that's -- I mean, I think people perceived it in a different way.

GROSS: Let's hear another recording, another one featured on the CD "Girl Singer," a double CD companion to your new autobiography of the same name. And this is a 1951 recording of "Tenderly," which was your theme song, I think, for your TV show.

CLOONEY: Right.

GROSS: How did it become your theme song?

CLOONEY: I think that -- I think probably I was proudest of that record, because it was not an easy song to sing. And it was a song that, in the middle of all the "Mambo Italiano"s and "Come On-a My House" and all the kind of songs that I was singing that summer, one time I had a chance to work with Percy Faith, and Mitch let me sing "Tenderly," because I asked him.

And so that was a -- something that made me happy, because at least I could show one side of my talent that hadn't been seen before, heard before.

GROSS: This is Rosemary Clooney, recorded in 1951.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "TENDERLY," ROSEMARY CLOONEY")

The evening breeze
Caressed the trees
Tenderly.

The trembling trees
Embraced the breeze
Tenderly.

Then you and I
Came wandering by,
And lost in a sigh
Were we.

The shore was kissed
By sea and mist
Tenderly.

I can't forget
How two hearts met
Breathlessly.

Your arms opened wide
And closed me inside.
You took my lips,
You took my love
So tenderly.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: That's Rosemary Clooney, recorded in 1951.

That's a very nice recording.

CLOONEY: Nice arrangement, isn't it?

GROSS: Yes. That's Percy Faith?

CLOONEY: Yes, really good.

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney's new autobiography is called "Girl Singer." The companion CD is called "Music From Girl Singer." She'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "TENDERLY," ROSEMARY CLOONEY")

Your arms opened wide
And closed me inside.
You took my lips,
You took my love
So tenderly.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN," ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

A foggy day
In London town...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Coming up, Rosemary Clooney talks about working with arranger Nelson Riddle. We're listening to a track from her CD, "I Remember Nelson."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN," ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

I viewed the morning
With alarm,
The British Museum
Had lost its charm.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Rosemary Clooney.

She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer," and a companion CD called "Music From the Girl Singer." We'll hear more music from it in a little while.

Now, let's reminisce a little bit what television was like, when you had your TV show in the '50s. You not only did your TV show, you were a guest on a lot of shows of the time.

CLOONEY: Right.

GROSS: What were some of the TV highlights in your memory?

CLOONEY: I think probably Bing's show was one, you know, the first television show that Bing did. And I did so many Hope shows. I did Bob Hope shows that were such fun, because the -- you know, you could break up, and bob would be understanding and funny about it and laugh, and it was just a lot of fun.

I loved doing my own show because I was home, and -- but then I was usually pregnant, so I was always -- not always, but halfway through the series of shows, I would do 39 shows, and halfway through the series, I'd start having to hide behind higher pieces of furniture on the set. I could look at the set and know exactly where my spot was, because the highest piece of furniture was -- I was right behind it.

GROSS: Now, I want to get back to Mitch Miller, who produced "Tenderly" and also produced your novelty hits, like "Come On-a My House" and "Mambo Italiano."

CLOONEY: Right.

GROSS: Which, by the way, you hear these things at Italian restaurants all the time now.

CLOONEY: Oh, do you?

GROSS: Yes. Anyway...

CLOONEY: "Come On-a My... " I hear it, I hear it on -- on -- you know, for ads on -- on -- on -- on television, which I find interesting. They -- they -- they have to get the license from Sony now, I believe. But -- so -- but -- it's funny, I hear it all the time, and my little grandson knows it.

And, yes, he likes for me to sing it. And also corrects me if I make a mistake, which is very liable for me -- I'm liable to do that.

GROSS: Oh, he corrects you.

CLOONEY: Yes, yes.

GROSS: (laughs) OK.

CLOONEY: I said, (singing) "Come on-a my house, I'm gonna give you Easter egg," and he said, "Christmas tree." I said, "Oh, sorry." (laughs)

GROSS: Now, you say that working with Mitch Miller, he wanted his records to sound louder than anybody else's. Why did he want it, and how did he achieve that?

CLOONEY: I don't know how he achieved it. I know that he had, for a certain amount of time, his finger on the pulse of the buying public of the United States, because boy, just -- it was amazing, the amount -- the number of hits that came out of Columbia, Guy Mitchell and me and Johnny Ray and an awful lot of people. There wasn't anything that he could do that didn't...

He also had a very good working relationship with the sales department. So if he said, Ship 300,000 on consignment, then they went out and sold it. He had a very, very good way with all the departments. So -- which was unusual with an A&R man, for an A&R man.

GROSS: I want to play a record from this period with Mitch Miller that I think is -- really holds up as a terrific recording. This is from 1954, and the song is "Hey, There." You're probably really tired of it, but I...

CLOONEY: No, I'm not, no, I'm not, I'm not tired of it.

GROSS: I think this really holds up.

CLOONEY: I think -- yes, I was pregnant with Miguel then, my oldest child, and he was born shortly after this record.

GROSS: Is it hard to sing when you're pregnant, if you're very pregnant?

CLOONEY: No. You know, I asked Jo Stafford that, because she had a couple -- one child when I was pregnant with Miguel. And she said, "No, it's easier, actually." And it seems to me that it was easier for me too. I don't know why, but it was OK.

GROSS: This is "Hey, There," Rosemary Clooney.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "HEY, THERE," ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

Lately when I'm in my room
All by myself,
In the solitary gloom
I call to myself.

Hey, there,
You with the stars in your eyes,
Love never made a fool of you,
You used to be too wise.

Hey, there,
You on that high-flying cloud,
Though he won't throw a crumb to you,
You think someday he'll come to you.

Better forget him,
Him with his nose in the air.
He has you dancing on a string,
Break it, and he won't care.

Won't you take this advice
I hand you like a mother?
Or are you not seeing things too clear,
Are you too much in love to hear?

Is it all going in one ear
And out the other?

Hey, there,
You with the stars in your eyes...

Are you talking to me?

Love never made a fool of you...

Not until now.

You used to be too wise.

Yes, I was, once.

Will you take this advice I hand you
Like a mother?

Or am I not seeing things too clear,

Are you just too far gone to hear?

Is it all going in one ear
And out the other?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney.

I have to tell you, the part where you say, "Are you talking to me?" I always think of Travis Bickel (ph) in "Taxi Driver" when I hear that.

(LAUGHTER)

CLOONEY: Oh, that's funny. It's true, isn't it?

I haven't heard that all the way through for so long.

GROSS: Did it seem corny or adventurous to you...

CLOONEY: No, (inaudible)...

GROSS: ... when you recorded that part?

CLOONEY: Well, you see, I hadn't seen the show, so I didn't know that that was what John Raitt did, you know, in the -- in the Broadway show as well, you know, "Pajama Game." I didn't -- no, I didn't think it was corny. I thought it was OK. I still think it's OK too, I really like it.

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney. She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer," and a new companion CD called "Songs From the Girl Singer." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney.

A CD of yours that you recorded with Duke Ellington was recently reissued called "Blue Rose," and you've already told the story on our show about how you were pregnant when you were recording "Blue Rose," and you couldn't really leave home. So Billy Strayhorn (ph) came to your house in, I guess, it was Los Angeles to work with you on your tracks, and then it was remixed with the Duke Ellington tracks that were recorded in New York.

But you tell some great stories about Strayhorn. And I want to play an excerpt of the piece that Strayhorn wrote for you for the session, the title song, "Blue Rose," and I'd love for you to describe the advice that he gave you before singing this.

CLOONEY: Oh, all right, all right, I will, because it's a wonderful piece of direction. Billy went to -- first came to me and we picked the songs and picked the keys. Then came back to New York and did all of the backgrounds with Duke, wrote them and prerecorded them and came back with all of the tapes. And he was in the booth for the whole album.

Now came the time when the title song, "Blue Rose," was going to come on, and he said, "This isn't a vocal performance, this is -- you've got the radio on on your dressing table, and you're making up to go out on a really special date. So you're looking in the mirror at yourself, but you're listening to the radio, and it's Duke's band. And what you're doing is, that you're just coming your hair and getting ready to look really good, and just listening to the music and singing along with it."

That was his direction.

GROSS: Now, why was that such good advice?

CLOONEY: Because it was not a performance. It was -- it made me kind of in the background, but it also had a point of view. I was looking forward to what was going to happen in a little while, you know, have a wonderful time with somebody that I really liked, and I was listening to Duke Ellington to get in the mood. What could be better?

GROSS: And as an actress, this kind of direction was probably especially useful for you.

CLOONEY: Perfect, just perfect, just perfect.

GROSS: Well, let's hear an excerpt of this recording of "Blue Rose."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "BLUE ROSE," ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, recorded in 1956.

Boy, it must have been great to have Billy Strayhorn write something for you, and then direct you in singing it.

CLOONEY: Oh, he was so wonderful, too, because he was like one of my kids, or one -- you know, or really a close friend, like when I was a kid, because he would -- I gave him the key to the house, you know, so he could come in, because I was sometimes not feeling so hot early in the morning when he wanted to work a little bit.

So he would come up the stairs and knock on the bedroom door and come in and sit on the end of the bed. And he'd say, "Do you feel like anything to eat this morning?" And sometimes I would and sometimes I wouldn't. But he would -- he really became so close to me, and so much a part of my family that it was an important time in my life.

GROSS: In a recent biography of Billy Strayhorn, you know, it was revealed that he was gay, which probably a lot of people in the music world knew, but people outside of it, I think for the most part didn't. I'm wondering if you were aware of that when you were working with him, and if he was...

CLOONEY: I was.

GROSS: ... reasonably open about it.

CLOONEY: I was. We didn't discuss it really. I knew, I just knew, I just knew. It didn't -- it didn't change anything.

GROSS: So did he either -- did he, like, both not hide it and not make an issue of it at the same time?

CLOONEY: Exactly. Exactly, which is the way it should be with friends, I think.

GROSS: In 1961, you recorded an album with Nelson Riddle that wasn't released until a couple of years later. And I want to play a track from that. But first, you and Nelson Riddle were actually in love with each other when you recorded this album, but you were both married at the time.

CLOONEY: Yes.

GROSS: So you couldn't really be together in the way that you wanted to.

CLOONEY: No.

GROSS: What did you hear in him musically that brought out things in your singing?

CLOONEY: He was the first arranger -- I can't say the only one, but the first arranger that really read the words to a song and asked me what I thought they meant and what did it mean to me. It didn't take very long, it was just a short little conversation about something. But he really understood my feelings about what I was trying to say or sing.

And so he would advance that, if it was something, Terry, that would be difficult for me to sing, if it was something full out that would be at the top of my range, he would have seven brass under it, so that I would have such support. If there was something that was -- that some point had to be made so that he had to be slowed down so that I would be able to really make this point dramatically, he knew that moment.

I never worked with anyone ever that could feel what you wanted to say to other people.

GROSS: I'm sure many, many people have had the fantasy of singing a beautiful love song accompanied by the man who they loved and who loved them back. And that's something you actually had the privilege of doing...

CLOONEY: I did.

GROSS: ... and yet it couldn't be a public love. No one could no.

CLOONEY: No.

GROSS: So there must have been a lot of kind of feeling that was, like, pent up in these songs that couldn't be expressed in a more overt way in the public.

CLOONEY: Actually, the -- it could be let out in the songs. It was not pent up in the songs, it was...

GROSS: Right.

CLOONEY: ... it was pent up in our everyday lives, perhaps, but not in the music, not ever in the music.

GROSS: Why don't we hear, "How Will I Remember You?" from your CD with Nelson Riddle? What are your thoughts about this song?

CLOONEY: This song was a song that I'd never heard before. The melody was by Walter Gross. I believe the words are by Jay Lawrence (ph), I'm not sure. I really think it's one of the most beautiful songs that I've ever sung, and certainly at this time was absolutely perfect. It was the way that I was feeling, and the way that he was feeling, and so the writing and the music were toward the same end. It was absolutely truthful.

GROSS: I'll say I just looked up the lyric, it's Carl Sigmund (ph).

CLOONEY: Carl Sigmund. Thank you.

GROSS: So this is "How Will I Remember You?" Rosemary Clooney with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE, EXCERPT, "HOW WILL I REMEMBER YOU?" ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

How will I remember you?
By the breathless way you always spoke,
By the welcome in your arms,
And what about this heart you broke?

How will I remember you?
How could I forget a kiss so rare
And a touch that carried me
Away out into space somewhere?

Come back to me,
Come back to me.
We hold the secret of...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney. She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer," and a new companion CD called "Songs From the Girl Singer." We'll talk more in a minute.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Rosemary Clooney. She has a new autobiography called "Girl Singer" and a new companion CD.

Well, I'd be happy spending the day listening to your records, but I'm going to move up to the present and talk about a happy occasion that recently happened in your life. You married Dante De Paolo (ph), who has been a close friend of yours since your early movie days.

CLOONEY: Absolutely, the first movie that I made, he was working at Paramount then, but I didn't meet him until -- well, I suppose I met him then, but I didn't get to know him very well until the Bob Hope picture "Here Come the Girls." And he was working on that picture.

So it was wonderful, because we started going out together, and I could really act my own age, (laughs) which was not too old. And so we did things like water fights and, you know, ridiculous things, driving down Melrose in two cars, you know. It was a teenage picture, for heaven's sake, kind of a bad one.

But he was wonderful, and he was kind, and he helped me an awful lot with the dancing that I had to do, which I have no talent for at all. And he was also very understanding about my family, loved my family, was a good friend of my brother's. And I went off and married somebody else, and that didn't set -- well, of course it didn't set too well with him. And I felt bad, but I didn't want him, and it was not my proudest moment. But I...

GROSS: So how did you reunite?

CLOONEY: Well, we were in two cars. I had a Corvette, after living in a -- after having five children and living in a station wagon for so many years, I went out and bought a blue Corvette, and I just loved it.

And he had, on the other hand, a 1956 T-Bird, which he still has. And he pulled up beside me in Beverly Hills at a stop light and said, "Rosella!" Now, no one had called me that before or since. And I turned around and looked at this man that I hadn't seen for 20 years, and asked him to call me.

And he said, "I don't have your phone number." And so he said he was happy that the dashboard was dusty, because he wrote it in the dust, Crestview whatever, whatever, whatever. And called me, and he never left. Man who came to dinner.

GROSS: So after being together for several years, why at the age of 70 did you decide to actually make it legit?

CLOONEY: Actually, I think it's the grandchildren, because they're -- they don't understand roommates. (laughs) They -- I got by with roommates until they got to be, mm, starting in their teenage years. And then they were kind of looking at me askance. So we went back to my home town, Maysville (ph), Kentucky, back to the church where I was baptized and confirmed and all the rest of it, and people came from miles around.

And Bob and Dolores (ph) Hope flew in, and, you know, my friend Linda Wagner (ph) from here, and I just -- I can't tell you what it meant to me to have such a lovely time.

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney, I have to say that -- and I always say this to people, that you to me always embodied the best about show business values, putting on a good show, seeming to really communicate to your audience and care about them, just giving -- truly giving a lot. The whole show business creed, which a lot of people pay lip service to but really don't -- (laughs) don't really follow through on.

And also you don't -- I don't know, there's a lot of people who've become really famous over the years and who either become caricatures of the talent that they had, or just become really spoiled and obnoxious. And it seems very hard in America to be famous and gifted and not be somehow wounded by that.

Now, I know you were wounded, I mean, in the sense that you had a drug habit that you had to get over and everything. But your singing and your art seems to have remained really pretty pure. And I'm not sure that there is a question here, (laughs) but I guess the question is about how you manage to kind of keep true to yourself, living in that celebrity world, which strikes me as a very dangerous world.

CLOONEY: I think -- I -- first of all, thank you, thank you, thank you, for saying that, because it's what I want, it's what I want to do.

I really think, more than -- I was a singer when I was a young baby, a child, a 3-year-old child. I was a singer at 70. I've been a mother and a wife and all these other things, but first and foremost and today I am a singer, and that's really what I love to do. And that's what I'll be always.

GROSS: Well, I just want to thank you so much for sharing some of your life with us and for talking to us about your records. I love your singing, as I think you know. And I want to thank you again.

CLOONEY: You're my good friend, Terry, and I depend on you, so hang in there.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Well, take care. It's really been a treat to talk with you again, and I wish you the best with the book and the CD and everything.

CLOONEY: Thank you so much.

Rosemary Clooney's new autobiography is called "Girl Singer." The companion CD is called "Music From the Girl Singer." She'll be performing New Year's Eve at the Convention Center Music Hall in Tucson.

We'll close with a song she sang in the 1954 film "White Christmas."

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Audrey Bentham. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant.

I'm Terry Gross.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WHITE CHRISTMAS," ROSEMARY CLOONEY)

The sun is shining, the grass is green.
The orange and palm trees sway.
I've never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the 24th,
And I am longing to be up north.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the treetops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Rosemary Clooney
High: Singer Rosemary Clooney has a new autobiography and a new companion CD. We listen to records that span her career, starting with her first recorded solo performance when she was 17 in 1946.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; "Girl Singer"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "Girl Singer: An Interview with Rosemary Clooney
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Questlove spins the soundtrack of his life in 'Music is History'

In his new book, Roots co-founder Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson starts in 1971 and moves year-by-year through his life, writing about memories, turning points and the songs he listened to.

42:18

In 'Maid,' a single mother struggles to make it on minimum wage

While raising her young daughter, Stephanie Land cleaned houses to scrape by. It was back-aching work for low pay. Her memoir inspired the Netflix series, Maid. Originally broadcast Jan. 29, 2019.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue