Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 16, 1999


Clooney still going strong

By Tim Ryan


IT'S fair to say Rosemary Clooney has pretty much done it all, been everywhere, sung the best with the best, stood on top, and scraped from the bottom.

And on this sunny and blue sky Waikiki morning, Clooney, 70, sits in her Halekulani suite watching waves roll in below Diamond Head, not minding when a reporter calls an hour earlier than scheduled.

"Oh, how hard is this really," she says in her warm, husky voice instantly recognizable. "I have this incredible view from a great hotel talking to someone who's interested in me. You could probably wake me up at midnight for this."

Clooney will be the headliner tonight and Saturday night in performances with the Honolulu Symphony Pops at the Blaisdell Concert Hall under the direction of Matt Catingub, Pops conductor.

Feeling nostalgic, Clooney recalls her first visit to Hawaii some 48 years ago just after the release of perhaps her most recognizable hit, "Come On-a My House."

"After I checked in at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel I started getting all these gifts: like caviar, and the biggest bouquet of orchids I'd ever seen."

The presents were from Paul Koy, who Clooney didn't remember. It turns out Koy had lots to be grateful for: He had written "Rose of the Mountain" which appeared on the reverse side of "Come On-a My House."

"That meant every time 'Come on ...' sold, so did his song," Clooney said. "Both writers split the percentage down the middle; who's to say people weren't buying the record 'Rose'?

"Paul had bought lots of Waikiki land with his profits so he was very pleased."

Clooney never wanted to record "Come On-a My House" because she thought it was demeaning. But Mitch Miller, reigning monarch of Columbia Records, "persuaded" the rising star to do it.

"He put it this this way: 'If you don't show up at 9 a.m. tomorrow, you're fired.' I understood that very quickly.

"See, what happens with young people when they have even a small measure of success is you get very pompous and think your true calling is to show the real drama of something, not do ditties," Clooney said. "For me, that philosophy lasted about three months until I recorded a terrible song and it bit the dust quickly."

Clooney's career started in 1945 at age 16, singing duets with her sister Betty for WLW Radio in Cincinnati, before appearing with local bands. That brought the duo to the attention of bandleader Tony Pastor who was passing through Ohio.

They joined the Pastor band in 1947 as the Clooney Sisters, debuting at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City. But after two years on the road, Betty returned to Cincinnati while Rosemary struck out on her own. She headed for New York and quickly was signed to a recording contract by Columbia Records.

The timing could not have been better as the big band era was coming to a close and the "girl singers" -- Doris Day, Kay Starr and Peggy Lee -- were emerging as recording stars. Two years later "Come On-a My House" catapulted Clooney, then 22, to stardom.

But success always has a price, Clooney said.

Her life story is well-known, documented in a 1982 TV movie "Rosie, the Rosemary Clooney Story," based on her autobiography. She was a '50s pop princess; had a stormy marriage to actor Jose Ferrer; went through a mid-'60s decline fed by alcohol and painkiller addiction; followed by a stint in a Los Angeles rehabilitation hospital. She recovered with the help of pal Bing Crosby and made a comeback from playing hotel lounges to headlining prestigious cabaret and pops venues.

Clooney's performances today show an artist who has mellowed and matured. Accolades, awards and gold records aside, Clooney says she has been strengthened by her triumphs over personal traumas that all led her back to her real joy: singing and making music.

After her much publicized nervous breakdown in 1968, and another eight years of psychotherapy, Clooney had to start "from scratch" to get engagements.

"But the only thing I knew how to do was sing and I was a single mother with five kids. So I sang."

That first gig after rehab was at the Holiday Inn in Ventura, Calif.

"You have to remind yourself that what you are is a working singer," she said. "You work your best no matter whether it's the Honolulu Symphony or the Holiday Inn.

"I could get jobs at Holiday Inn, so I did. I wasn't ashamed but disappointed that I missed places like the Hollywood Bowl. I never thought the possibility would occur again."


Bullet What: Rosemary Clooney with the Honolulu Symphony Pops; Matt Catingub conducting
Bullet When: Tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Bullet Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Cost: $15-$50
Bullet Call:: 538-8863

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