A&U mourns the passing of Rose Marie. Here is our November 2004 interview with the legendary entertainer.
Lifelong entertainer, Rose Marie, opens her heart to A&U’s Dann Dulin about her career, her beliefs, and the business of AIDS
She’s done it all…radio, television, Broadway, nightclubs, commercials, recordings, movies, game shows, even cartoons—and she’s been at it since the age of three. Rose Marie has worked with nearly every show biz legend, but most of us know her best as the strong-willed, outspoken, raspy-voiced Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show—where she was just one of the boys. She earned three Emmy nominations for her portrayal. Thank heaven for TV Land; new generations can now discover her magic.
Baby Rose Marie started singing professionally at the age of three and by age five she had her own radio show. “Before that, I was just hangin’ around,” kids Rose Marie with a nod. At ten, she appeared in a W.C. Fields film. When Baby Rose grew up, she opened Bugsy Siegel’s Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel along with Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat. After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, she landed a new series playing yet another pal to Doris Day on that longtime AIDS supporter’s eponymous show. For fourteen years she was a regular on the original Hollywood Squares, and her extensive stage career has included an eight-year tour with Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Connell, and Margaret Whiting in the revue, 4 Girls 4. More recently, Rose Marie received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she was inducted into the Las Vegas Casino Legends Hall of Fame. Her memoir, Hold The Roses, was published in 2002. Earlier this year, she re-teamed with cast members for The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, which scored an Emmy nomination. This wasn’t a return, though—she’s been busy, appearing on shows such as The Hughleys and Andy Richter Controls the Universe.
Rose Marie has tirelessly devoted herself over the years to battling the AIDS epidemic, working closely with such organizations as AIDS Project Los Angeles, Aid for AIDS, and the now-defunct Sacramento AIDS Foundation. In the eighties, when her 4 Girls 4 show toured the country, the cast did many benefit performances for AIDS charities.
I recently sat down with Rose Marie at her home in the San Fernando Valley, where she has lived for the past forty-some years. At eighty-one, this witty gal still possesses that signature feistiness. She’s headstrong, yet charming and gracious.
Dann Dulin: Rose Marie, you’ve done many AIDS benefits—
Rose Marie: [She interrupts] When they call, I go.
What a spirit! What comes to mind when I say the word “AIDS”?
Oh, God [she frets and stumbles for words]—agony and pain.
You are a huge advocate for HIV/AIDS education. How do you feel about the distribution of condoms in the schools as part of a comprehensive safer sex education program?
It’s very important. The kids are going to have sex anyway, so they might as well be protected.
Has anyone been taken from you by this disease?
Yes, I’ve lost friends.
And in 1964, you lost your husband of twenty years, trumpeter and composer Bobby Guy. He was only forty-eight. At that time, you were in production with The Dick Van Dyke Show. In your book, you wrote that you wore black for a year, which was your way of showing respect for Bobby.
[She eases back in the kitchen chair and folds her arms.] All of a sudden he got sick. It’s strange because he had an unusual blood infection. To this day I don’t think they knew what it was. I sometimes think it might have been AIDS; that he might have gotten it from a transfusion. He was a very healthy man—didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, wasn’t a coffee drinker.
That’s very strange. Tell me how you responded to what was going on.
Well, Morey [Amsterdam, who played Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show] told me to call Jerry Lewis. He turned us on to the best doctor in the world, Dr. Levy. He and Jerry sent my husband’s blood practically all over the world to find out what was wrong, and nobody knew. They still don’t.
This must have hit you hard. How did you deal with Bobby’s death?
[She laughs.] Forgive me for saying this, but that’s a very foolish question. You either deal with it, or you don’t. I had a daughter to bring up and a career to worry about. I had a mother in [New] Jersey who I had to take care of. It wasn’t a choice for me. I couldn’t give up. I had to go on!
Indeed, you did! After Bobby died, you wanted to leave The Dick Van Dyke Show but director John Rich convinced you to stay. Your daughter Noopy became an accomplished equestrian, and you cared for your mother until her death at the age of ninety. You’ve done all right in this life, Kiddo, so what’s your take on the next life?
Sometimes I believe in it and sometimes I don’t. It’s like when you’re born you don’t know you’re born. I do believe you pick your parents, and that a book is born with you. It’s written in that book everything that is going to happen to you, no matter what you do or say, no matter what decisions you make.
You mean, predestination, where our lives are already mapped out for us.
Yes. And I also realize that no matter who you are, the biggest to the smallest, everyone has some tragedy in their life. Take Marlon Brando for instance. He was worth two hundred million dollars. Look at the tragedies he had to face: he’s got fifteen kids flyin around, one son killed his sister’s husband, and the sister eventually committed suicide. Nobody has the perfect life. [She takes a moment, looks out through a window at her free-shaped backyard pool that Bobby built. Near the steps, musical notes are written: ‘Rose Marie, I love you.’ She sighs.] Life is not easy.
You can say that again. Do you think any good will come out of the AIDS epidemic?
I think in time we will have a cure. You and I may not be here, though. But look at polio, or small pox, or measles—we got around those diseases. With all the money Jerry Lewis has collected for muscular dystrophy, I think that [disease] will come to an end soon. The man has raised millions and millions for research and some good has got to come out of that! They have made improvements…[she stops a second and shifts gears] but, to be very blunt about it, you’ve got to also think about the fact that if they find a cure no more money will come in. When a cure for polio was discovered, the March of Dimes had to change its goals. What will happen when AIDS is cured?
Let me think. For one, many jobs will be obliterated. I see what you mean. Definitely something to ponder. What other charitable interests do you have?
I’m involved with several animal organizations, as well as leukemia, heart, and cancer.
What drives you to be such an activist?
That’s a silly question because God put us on this earth to help one another, not to hurt one another. I try to give as much as I can. If it helps others, it makes me feel good.
Rose Marie, since around the age of fifteen, you’ve always worn a bow in your hair….
[She doesn’t even let me finish the question, as this is often asked of her.] Yeah, and you’re not going to know why!
There is a reason, true?
Are you ever going to reveal?
No. The Smithsonian wants it, and, when I give it to them, maybe then I’ll give out the secret.
Indeed, your character on The Dick Van Dyke Show has become part of American pop culture. I mean two friends of mine, a couple, even named their cats, Sally and Buddy! Have you stayed in touch with the cast members from this show?
Morey, and Richard Deacon [who played Mel Cooley] and I were very, very close. I am also close with the director, John Rich. Mary [Tyler Moore] lives in New York and I see her when she comes out [to California]. Dick I see at functions. He lives in Malibu, and is content to stay home and play with his computer. Once in a while, I see Carl [Reiner]. He just wrote a book also and we were both on book tours at the same time.
Give me a little backstory from The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Well, we were always changing lines, even right up to the very minute of going on the air. If something didn’t work, it didn’t work. Sometimes guest stars would panic because they weren’t use to this. We were a tight-knit, hard-working crew. I couldn’t wait to get to the set each day.
It’s great to be in a creative atmosphere with team players. Any thoughts about performing on The Doris Day Show?
Oh, that’s the doll of all time. What a pro, and she’s very underrated as an actor. She makes it look so easy. I stay in touch with her, though I don’t see her so often. She always says, ‘Your room is ready. When ya comin up?’ She lives on a beautiful estate in Carmel with twenty-six dogs and thirteen cats. When we started filming, we were both widows. We looked at one another and acknowledged that we were both starting off on the same foot.
Any difference between shooting on The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Doris Day Show?
No, not really, except we had no live audience for The Doris Day Show.
How about some juicy gossip from taping The Hollywood Squares.
We did five shows in one day. We’d do three shows, break for dinner, then do the last two shows. Paul [Lynde] drank a lot, and would often have white wine during dinner. I remember he came in one day and said, ‘Boy, did I get in trouble last night.’ He proceeded to tell us that after the taping he drove home and was stopped by a cop because he was driving on the sidewalk. In California, when a cop stops you, you are not allowed to get out of your car. You have to wait till the policeman comes to you. So Paul sat in his car, policeman came over with ticket book ready to write when Paul looked out the window and said, ‘I’ll have a cheeseburger, hold the fries.’ The cop laughed and said, ‘I’ll escort ya home, Mr. Lynde.’ And he drove Paul home.
What a character he was! What’s up for you in the future?
I taped the new Hollywood Squares, though now it’s been cancelled. Peter Marshall [the original host] wants to do a smaller version of Squares in Las Vegas, where I’ve recently had two slot machines named after me. I performed on a Tracey Ullman show, and they want me to do another one. I’m also up for a series.
You’ve given us so many laughs. I’m glad you’re still active, not only in show business but as a pal to the HIV/AIDS community, as well.
Thank you, and I wish you and your magazine a lot of luck. [Then with a wave of her hand, she backtracks] That’s what I was put on this earth to do—to entertain and help others forget their troubles.
ROSE (MARIE) BLOSSOMS
She never smoke or drank.
One evening at the home of Betty White and husband Allen Ludden, she danced with Fred Astaire.
She called Rock Hudson “Sam” because she didn’t like his name.
While working in Cleveland, she discovered Tim Conway.
Sylvia Miles, who later played a hooker in the film, Midnight Cowboy, did The Dick Van Dyke Show pilot.
Her real name is Rose Marie Mazzetta. She was born out of wedlock.
She was born on the day the Broadway musical Rose-Marie opened, but she was not named after the show.
While singing on a beach in Atlantic City, she was discovered by a talent scout.
She made over twenty appearances on The Tonight Show.
Quite the Chef, she has thrown many memorable celeb-fested parties in her home, teasingly calling herself, “The Perle Mesta of the San Fernando Valley.”
ROSE (MARIE) PETALS
Rose Marie gives a pithy reaction to those who have touched her life
Dick Van Dyke: A love, and a great talent
Frank Sinatra: Filled with love
Bing Crosby: Dear friend
Mary Tyler Moore: Very likeable
Lucille Ball: [She gasps] The epitome of comedy; close friend
Paul Lynde: Not bosom buddies but he always sent me flowers on my birthday
Doris Day: Most wonderful person to work with; a true friend
Jackie Gleason: My all time favorite [Tears well up as she speaks.]
Dean Martin: An old friend
Bugsy Siegel: A gentleman; he treated me royally
Rose Marie describes herself in one word: Timing
Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U.