“I remember something that Jo Stafford said to me,” Rosemary Clooney recalls. “She said, ‘You will never sing better than when you are pregnant.’”
The science may be inconclusive, but Stafford had a point. Clooney’s phenomenal wave of success had begun just a few years earlier with Come On-A My House. But the middle and late 1950s—the years covered by this second volume of Bear Family’s anthology of Clooney’s complete recordings—finds the singer not only at the height of her powers, but with a blossoming domestic life centered on her new husband, Jose Ferrer, and the arrival of their five children. This set begins appropriately with the Al Hoffman-Bob Merrill song, Where Will The Dimple Be, from a January, 1955 session. Less than a month later, Miguel Jose Ferrer was born, and Rosemary’s children would then come about a year apart through the end of the decade.
The Ferrers had settled into their Roxbury Drive home in Beverly Hills, a house inhabited by the Gershwin brothers at the end of George’s life, where they’d written Love Is Here To Stay. Ira now lived next door with his wife Leonore. For Rosemary, it was a time when everything in her life seemed to come together. The uncertainties of her own childhood in Maysville, Kentucky, when she and her sister Betty were shuttled between relatives for their care, now gave way to the security and joy of having her own family around her. Joe Ferrer divided his energies between motion pictures and maintaining his prolific acting and directing schedule on Broadway. The house was endlessly filled with the couple’s friends from the musical, theatrical and literary establishments, who spent long California days swimming in the pool, playing tennis and debating the affairs of the world over drinks and dinner.
At the same time, Rosemary’s career remained in high gear. Mitch Miller’s tutelage at Columbia had transformed her from Tony Pastor’s ex-girl singer into an international star with number-one chart records one after the other over the last four years. ‘White Christmas’, the hallmark of her film career at Paramount, had just been released in 1954, cementing her identification in the public mind with her co-star and mentor, Bing Crosby. As a new mother, she maintained a hectic agenda of radio, television and personal appearances, along with continuing her prodigious recording schedule for Columbia. Rarely, now, were the sessions conducted in New York, as they had often been in the early days under Miller’s eye. With Rosemary ever-more ensconced in California, distance was added to the already existing tensions between the singer and Columbia’s A&R wizard, and as the ‘50s wore on, Miller’s influence over Clooney’s recording career--from style to choice of material--lessened drastically.
In the summer of 1955, with baby and nanny in tow, Mr. and Mrs. Ferrer left for an extended stay in England. While Ferrer was there to finish filming ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ with Trevor Howard, Rosemary would make her debut at the London Palladium for a two week engagement. They took an old mill house in the country on the Cone River, up against one of England’s interior canals, and with a lake on the property. They had an Italian couple cooking for them, and picked up a basset hound named George (it was Rosemary and Betty’s Uncle George Guilfoyle, recently home from the war, who’d been the teenagers’ chaperone when they went on the road with the Pastor band).
“England was a very happy time, a very fun time,” Rosemary remembers, “because we were close to friends in the country, and we had people around every Sunday. I remember Dietrich came over and wanted to go fishing. So we found some rods there, and she found some worms. And she was talking to the worms, as she’s putting them on the hook: ‘Now, this isn’t going to hurt you…’”
Clooney put the Palladium job in the hands of Buddy Cole, whom she knew through her work with Bing Crosby on the radio. (In fact, just before the trip she and Cole had done a radio broadcast that produced exceptional recordings of Learnin’ The Blues, Cherry Pink, and a luscious Ebb Tide.)
They traveled to Glasgow before the July 19 London opening in order to break in the show. “The Palladium was very important to me,” Rosemary says. There was a two-a-day policy, with a six o’clock show catering to the working man, and a gallery that liked to talk back. “I remember in Glasgow, while I was singing, hearing ‘Roooooosemarrie!’ I finally stopped and said, ‘What do you want?’ ‘He said, ‘Come On-A My House!’…”
Although Clooney was accustomed to making personal appearances (it actually hadn’t been all that long since her bandsinger days), the back-and-forth with an audience was still not that comfortable for her, and it would be years before touring with Crosby taught her to feel significant ease before a crowd. Even so, the live record of her unscripted Palladium patter gives us an early glimpse of the easy, ad-libbing humor and straight-ahead personality for which she would eventually become legendary.
With Cole at the piano before the Skyrockets Orchestra, the show largely featured a sampling of Clooney’s signature hits to date, including Tenderly, This Ole House, Mambo Italiano, Botch-A-Me and of course, Come On-A My House. To the mix, she added Cole Porter’s From This Moment On and It’s Delovely, Irving Berlin’s tailor-made Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me from ‘White Christmas’, You Make Me Feel So Young, Where Will The Dimple Be, The Brahms Lullaby, and always proud of her Irish heritage, Danny Boy—all of which created a sensation with a hysterically enthusiastic British audience. Both the man on the street and area luminaries (including Dietrich, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh) arrived nightly in droves, and their cheers produced a wall of sound that caused her to involuntarily flinch the first time it hit her.
The program, with its accumulated chart-topping songs of the past few years, affirmed the solidity of Clooney’s international stardom. At the same time, there is something retrospective about it, in that musically she was about to embark on a new chapter in her development as an artist. From that time forward, the nature of Clooney’s recorded work started to change. The rest of the ‘50s saw not only the singer in blissful vocal shape, but reaching beyond the novelty songs imposed on her by Miller and Columbia in the early years to deepen her range of material. Her growing maturity as a woman and a singer exerted itself not only in her more confident pursuit of what she felt was right for her, but carried over to a more consistent sophistication of arrangements and overall sound. Columbia’s commercial priorities, which (apart from Tenderlys) had planted Clooney firmly in the path of the kitschy and the kooky, now afforded her room for some significant explorations.
Benny Goodman and Rosemary were strangers when they were teamed to cut three records in November of 1955. A fan, she was well acquainted with his reputation as a musical perfectionist often difficult to work with. She also knew about The Ray – the legendary withering glare he would fix on any musician to have incurred his displeasure.“I liked him fine,” she says. “He was weird, but I liked him.” They were to record three of his signature tunes: Cole Porter’s It’s Bad For Me and Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye with the sextet, and the Andy Razaf-Eubie Blake Memories Of You with the trio, the record would reach number 20 on the charts.
Their first rehearsal was held at the Ferrer apartment on West 57th Street, next to Carnegie Hall. It was the nanny’s day off, and Rosemary was looking after baby Miguel while waiting for the musicians, who included Aaron Bell on bass, Bobby Donaldson on drums, Dick Hyman on piano, Urbie Green on trombone and Buck Clayton on trumpet. Goodman arrived before the others. “I put Miguel in the playpen,” she recalls, “and I said ‘I didn’t have anyone to take care of him, so if you don’t mind, he’ll just play in the playpen—he wouldn’t be any trouble.’ So Benny put his clarinet together, and did a run up and down. And Miguel had never heard a sound like that before, and he started to cry. And Benny—very seriously—looked at Miguel, and said, ‘He doesn’t like the way I play.’ And I started to laugh. Then I realized that he was not kidding.”