Remembering Rose Marie’s Nine Decades in Show Business

She was a dynamo as Baby Rose Marie in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a pistol as comedy writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s. And in 2017, she reemerged as a voice in the #MeToo movement. Rose Marie, who died Thursday in Van Nuys, California, was one of the last of a generation of entertainers whose career spanned vaudeville, radio, movies, Broadway, television, and social media. (Read her archived tweets here: @RoseMarie4Real.)

The cause of death was undisclosed. She was 94.

Marie was a show-business prodigy. Born Rose Marie Mazzetta on August 15, 1923, she won a talent contest at the age of three; as a prize, NBC gave her her own radio show and a seven-year contract. Because of her brassy voice, she was sent on the road for personal appearances to prove she was, indeed, just a child. She made her screen debut in the 1929 short Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder. Her most memorable film role was as a featured attraction belting out “My Bluebird’s Singing the Blues” in the 1933 W.C. Fields comedy International House.

When she was 10 years old, as she recently told Vanity Fair, Marie was performing at Chicago’s Palace Theatre when she was told that a man wanted to see her. That man was Al Capone, who told her father—one of Capone’s underlings—“The boys want to meet her.” The next evening, following a private performance, Capone “picks me up in his arms and says, ’From now on, you call me Uncle Al.’” Marie recalled.

In the 1940s, she was a fixture in Las Vegas and continued to be the gangsters’ darling. Bugsy Siegel hired her to play the Flamingo with her idol, Jimmy Durante. (Marie’s Durante impression was one of her signature bits; she performed it in the very first episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.)

She is best known for her Emmy-nominated role as Sally Rogers, an unmarried career woman who held her own with fellow comedy writers Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam, whom Marie had known since she was 11 and had recommended for the role). According to The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, when she met with Carl Reiner, the show’s creator, he told her, “I don’t know that much about you, but [producer] Sheldon Leonard said, ‘If you want the best, get Rose Marie.’”

“We didn’t write jokes on The Dick Van Dyke Show,Bill Persky, who with his partner Sam Denoff wrote some of the series’s most beloved episodes, told Vanity Fair Friday. “The laughs came from the humor in the situation—except for Rose and Morey,” both of whom played joke writers. “And when we did, they usually added something that made them even funnier. Rosie was tough. She had seen and heard it all. And if you weren’t straight with her, she would bury you—but in a nice way.”

Earning her respect, Persky said, was a badge of honor. “We came on the show in the third year. When we read the script of the episode ‘October Eve,’ about the nude painting of Laura, for the first time around the table, there were a lot of laughs, especially from her. Midway through, she looked at me and said, ‘You guys can stay.’”

The show ran for five seasons. The signature bow Sally wore in her hair was later donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Following The Dick Van Dyke Show, Marie worked consistently, most notably as a regular on the game show The Hollywood Squares, and as part of the stage revue 4 Girls 4, with Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting, and Barbara McNair. She was a prolific guest star on popular series such as The Love Boat,Caroline in the City (for which she re-teamed with Morey Amsterdam), and Murphy Brown. She also reprised Sally Rogers in the 2004 reunion special The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.

Marie was married to musician Bobby Guy, who died from a bloodstream infection in 1964 at the age of 48. They had been married 18 years, and had a daughter, Georgiana.

Marie held her own not only with gangsters, but with lecherous producers as well. In the 2017 documentary Wait for Your Laugh, she shares an anecdote about dressing down a producer who propositioned her on the set of Top Banana, the screen adaptation of the musical in which Marie appeared on Broadway opposite Phil Silvers in the 1950s. In front of the cast and crew, she said, “You couldn’t get it up if the flag went by.” Her numbers were subsequently cut from the film.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Marie said she wanted to be remembered as “a good performer. A professional . . . who had a great sense of humor.” She certainly will be, particularly by those who celebrate her life by watching any of Dick Van Dyke’s best Sally episodes—especially “Dear Sally Rogers,” in which Sally goes on a late-night talk show to advertise for a husband, threatening her relationship with her punch line of a boyfriend, Herman Glimscher; “The Secret Life of Buddy and Sally,” in which Rob believes Buddy and Sally are having an affair and tracks them to Herbie’s Hiawatha Lodge; and “Sally Is a Girl,” a prescient episode in which Rob is moved to stop treating Sally like “one of the boys.”

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