Rose Marie had one of the longest-running careers in the entertainment industry – more than 90 years in the business. During her career, she was in vaudeville, on the radio, in the movies, performed in live concerts around the country, did some Broadway, and became most famous for her television performances.
Born in 1923 as Rose Marie Mazetta, she won a contest at 3 and began performing as Baby Rose Marie. On her official site, she mentions she was born the same day the Broadway show Rose Marie opened. In 1927 at the age of 4 she was featured in a Vitaphone short that opened with Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer.
By age 5, she had her own national radio show. She worked in vaudeville with Edgar Bergen and Milton Berle. She made several records, and the first one released was with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. By 1933 at age 10, she was starring in her first film, International House. During these years, she performed at the White House three times—for Presidents Coolidge, Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt.
It was during her vaudeville stint that the doorman informed her and her father that a gentleman wanted to see them in the back alley. The “gentleman” was Al Capone who called her father Happy Hank and told them that “the guys” wanted to meet Rose Marie. She was taken to Capone’s house the next day where she performed for about 24 guys. Al gave her a ring with three diamonds which she still had when she passed away. He said they would always take care of her. He was true to his word. Even after he was incarcerated, Rose Marie was met and protected by the mob for her entire career. Decades after the most notorious gangsters were gone, men showed up at her shows checking on her just to make sure she was doing okay, getting work, and not in need of anything. Later she learned that her father, who was an actor by trade, was Capone’s arsonist, the one who burned down buildings of men who disappointed the gangster. There is an article about her meeting with Capone on The Mob Museum’s website. (The Mob Museum is located in Las Vegas.)
As a teenager, Rose Marie transitioned to clubs, touring the United States. In order to make her sets longer, she began to add comedy to her singing acts.
In 1946 she met Bobby Guy who as with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. They were engaged within a week, and he remained the love of her life until he passed away in 1964. They had one child, Georgianna. Guy would become the lead trumpeter on The Tonight Show.
It was also in 1946 that Rose Marie opened the Flamingo with Jimmy Durante. Jimmy Durante mentored her earlier in her career and she loved him. He was always mentioned as one of her favorite people. At that time, the only other hotels in Vegas were the Last Frontier and El Rancho. Bugsy Siegel owned the Flamingo, and Rose Marie received work in clubs from her mob connections. She also had a 40-year friendship with Frank Sinatra that was also probably tied to some of their mob connections.
In 1951, Rose Marie tried her hand at Broadway, appearing in Top Banana with Phil Silvers. She knew Silvers from appearing on his radio show with Alice Faye. She played their daughter and Sheldon Leonard (who would hire her for The Dick Van Dyke Show) played their son.
In 1954, Top Banana was made into a film. Once again Phil Silvers was in it. Rose Marie recorded her musical numbers. The producer tried to manipulate her to have sex with him. She said no in front of several people, and in retaliation he cut all her numbers from the film. In 2017 before her death, she shared the incident on Twitter to help support the women who have been exposing the sexual assault in Hollywood. She appeared in ten movies after that, most of them in the 1980s and 1990s, but she quickly became disillusioned with the film industry.
Tired of the Hollywood politics, Rose Marie embraced the new television culture. She appeared in Gunsmoke in 1957 and would continue to receive roles in the new medium through 2011. During her career, she appeared on 48 different shows.
In the 1950s, she had a recurring role in The Bob Cummings Show as Martha Randolph and she appeared in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The first sitcom she had a permanent role in was My Sister Eileen; she played the sisters’ friend Bertha. The show ran for 24 shows during 1960 and 1961.
In 1961, Sheldon Leonard cast Rose Marie in the role of Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. She recommended Morey Amsterdam for the role of Buddy Sorrel whom she had known since age 9. The show was originally to star the office cast with the home life coming in second; however, as things changed, Mary Tyler Moore became the costar with the home life dominating the scripts and Sally and Buddy were featured less. The show produced 158 episodes and is undoubtedly one of the best written sitcoms ever produced. She and Morey received the same salary despite her being a woman. That sounds only fair today, but at the time it was not the normal practice. She loved working on The Dick Van Dyke Show. When asked about her time on the show, Rose Marie said, “We loved each other, we helped each other . . . We were really very close.”
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Rose Marie took roles on several shows including The Monkees and My Three Sons. In 1969, she received a role as Myrna Gibbons on The Doris Day Show, playing Doris’s friend and coworker.
She showed up in many series during the 1980s and 1990s including The Love Boat, Mr. Belvedere, Suddenly Susan, Wings, and was a cast member in Hardball, about a struggling baseball team.
In the 1990s, Rose Marie would take on the role of Frank Fontana’s mother on Murphy Brown. Later she would appear in S.W.AT. as Hilda providing doughnuts and coffee, as well as comic relief, on the show.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rose Marie transitioned to voice overs for such shows as Hey Arnold and Garfield.
Rose Marie also liked game shows and was a regular on Hollywood Squares through all the different versions.
From 1977-1981, she performed across the country with Helen O’Connell, Rosemary Clooney, and Margaret Whiting. They called the show 4 Girls 4. Rosemary’s nephew, George drove their bus for them. At some point they made enough money to afford airfare, and George Clooney went on to create a little career for himself.
Rose Marie received the 2184th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000. Her baby shoes, along with 40 other items, have become artifacts in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.
Her hobbies included cooking Italian meals, knitting, and reading; she especially loved Stephen King novels.
When she first appeared as Baby Rose Marie, someone handed her a bouquet of roses, but she needed to take her bow, so she handed them off and said, “Hold the Roses.” That became the title of her autobiography that was published in 2002.
She was the subject of a documentary Wait For Your Laugh in 2017. Dick Van Dyke said that was her catchphrase, and whenever they were anywhere something funny happened, even a waiter dropping a tray full of food, she always repeated the phrase.
She accomplished so much in her career you wonder how she could have had any regrets, but she was denied two accomplishments. She received three Emmy nominations for her role as Sally Rogers but never won an Emmy. She also wanted to direct and never had an opportunity to do so.
Sadly, Rose Marie passed away in December. Happily, she left an amazing legacy of performances in a variety of mediums for us to remember her by. While she was so much more than a television star, Sally Rogers will always be one of my favorite characters. Thank you Rose Marie for so many fond memories.