Rose Marie, Showbiz Veteran and ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ Star, Dies at 94
By ALISON J. PETERSONDEC. 28, 2017
Rose Marie in 2001 at a ceremony honoring her with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Rose Prouser/Reuters
Rose Marie, who became a radio star as a toddler in the 1920s and a television star on the hit sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the 1960s — and who continued performing into the 21st century — died on Thursday in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles. She was 94.
Her death was announced on her website and confirmed by her longtime publicist, B. Harlan Boll.
Originally known as Baby Rose Marie, she is probably best remembered for her “Dick Van Dyke Show” role as Sally Rogers, one of three comedy writers — the others were Rob Petrie (Mr. Van Dyke) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) — who worked for the fictional series-within-a-series, “The Alan Brady Show.”
Sally was witty, wisecracking and independent-minded, but she was also perpetually on the hunt for a husband; though tough as nails, she was not immune to romantic misadventures. Her main significance, though, was that she worked as a comedy writer, a rarity for women at the time. (One inspiration for the role was said to be Selma Diamond, who had written for Sid Caesar in the 1950s.)
The action on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” seen on CBS from 1961 to 1966, mostly alternated between the team’s Manhattan office and Rob’s home in New Rochelle, where his wife, Laura, was played by Mary Tyler Moore, who died in January. Created by Carl Reiner (who based it on his own experience writing for Mr. Caesar and played the part of Alan Brady), it was widely praised for its smart writing and its gifted ensemble, of which Rose Marie was an integral part. It consistently shows up on lists of television’s best comedies ever.
Rose Marie was nominated for three Emmy Awards for her work on the show, which itself was nominated for a total of 25 and won 15.
Rose Marie in 1961 on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with Morey Amsterdam and Dick Van Dyke. CBS Photo Archive, via Getty Images
After “The Dick Van Dyke Show” ended, she had a recurring role on the second and third seasons of the sitcom “The Doris Day Show,” playing Ms. Day’s friend and co-worker, and appeared on “The Love Boat,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Murphy Brown,” “Wings,” “Suddenly Susan” and many other shows.
She was also seen frequently — from the first episode, in 1966, to the last, in 1980 — on the original version of “Hollywood Squares,” the game show on which celebrities answered questions (and made jokes) to help contestants score X’s or O’s on a giant tick-tack-toe board. There, with her trademark bow in her hair, she flaunted the persona she had perfected: a feisty, witty, outspoken spinster (although she was actually a widow) who refused to grow old without a fight.
Rose Marie Mazzetta was born on Aug. 15, 1923, in Manhattan, the first of two children of Frank Mazzetta, a vaudeville performer known professionally as Frank Curley, who later appointed himself her manager, and Stella Gluscak. Her parents never married; according to her memoir, “Hold the Roses” (2003), her father was married to another woman when she was born.
Shortly after winning a talent contest at age 3 at the Mecca Theater in Manhattan, she began her professional career as Baby Rose Marie. By the time she was 4 she was starring on a local radio show, and within a year after that she had her own national show on NBC.
Her initial success was met with some skepticism: Baby Rose Marie belted her songs (some of them with very grown-up lyrics) in a mature, bluesy voice, and many listeners did not believe she was a child. To prove that she was indeed a young girl and not a petite adult, NBC organized a national tour for her. She sang at RKO movie theaters across the country, trying to dodge child labor laws as she went. In her memoir, she said her father was arrested more than 100 times for breaking such laws.
Baby Rose Marie in 1930, the year she turned 7. She began performing under that name after winning a talent competition at age 3 and became an NBC radio star two years later. NBC
In 1929 she performed three songs in an early sound film, the eight-minute Vitaphone short “Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder.” In 1933 she appeared in the movie “International House,” whose all-star cast also included W. C. Fields and the team of George Burns and Gracie Allen.
In this first phase of her career, she performed with Rudy Vallee, Benny Goodman and Milton Berle, among many others. She had at least one famous friend outside show business as well: Through her father she met Al Capone, who took an interest in her career, often driving her to and from shows. She referred to him as “Uncle Al” in her memoir and quoted him saying, “If you ever need me for anything, tell your father to call me.”
She continued to perform as Baby Rose Marie until she was a teenager, when she took a brief break from show business to finish high school. She then began working as both a singer and a comedian in nightclubs across the country, billed as just plain Rose Marie.
She was on the all-star bill at the opening night of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1946. She appeared on Broadway in the Phil Silvers musical “Top Banana” in 1951. And then came television.
Appearances on numerous variety shows, as well as recurring roles on the sitcoms “My Sister Eileen” and “The Bob Cummings Show” and even the occasional dramatic part, established her as a familiar presence on the small screen. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” made her a star all over again.
In 1946 Rose Marie married Bobby Guy, a trumpeter with Kay Kyser’s big band who went on to work with the NBC orchestra. He died in 1964, and she never remarried. They had one daughter, Georgiana Guy, who survives her.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Rose Marie toured the country alongside the singers Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Connell and Margaret Whiting with an act called “4 Girls 4.” Reviewing it in The New York Times in 1979, John S. Wilson described her as “primarily a comedienne, shooting out one-liners as she sprawls over a piano and shouting out a few lines of song in a husky, gravel-edged voice.”
She never stopped working. Among her later credits was a return to the role of Sally Rogers on the hourlong special “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited” in 2004.
Last month, she was the subject of a documentary, “Wait for Your Laugh,” directed by Jason Wise. Reviewing it for The New York Times, Jason Zinoman wrote, “In between the successes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, Rose Marie, this movie argues, was one of the most important female comic voices in America.”
Throughout her career, Rose Marie’s fellow performers marveled at how hard she worked to win over an audience — and how consistently she succeeded.
In a 2011 interview with the show business historian Kliph Nesteroff, she talked about being visited backstage in Las Vegas, after a typically triumphant performance, by Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas, who were so impressed that they ended up hiring her for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which they were producing.
“They said, ‘Don’t you ever bomb?’” she recalled. “I said, ‘I try not to.’”