Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'Hold the Roses,' by Rose Marie

This review appeared in The Metro Herald, a weekly newspaper published in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 28, 2003.

ROSE MARIE'S MEMOIRS: FASCINATING, FLAWED, ENTERTAINING
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Hold the Roses, by Rose Marie. University Press of Kentucky, 2003. 296 pages, $25, cloth.


Hold the Roses—a chatty memoir by radio, TV, Broadway, and nightclub star Rose Marie—is fascinating but flawed.

The book is fascinating because, in a career that has spanned eight decades—and Rose Marie celebrates her 80th birthday on August 15 of this year!—the author has seemingly met everybody need who is Somebody in the world of show business and beyond. Not a page is turned without a famous name being dropped.

Starting as a child singer billed as “Baby Rose Marie,” her co-stars have ranged from Dick Powell to Dick Van Dyke, Margaret O’Brien to Brooke Shields, Phil Silvers to David Hasselhoff. She attended “professional children’s school’ in Los Angeles with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Her husband, Bobby Guy, was one of Hollywood’s top trumpeters. Her daughter went on to be a producer for Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show on NBC-TV. A typical event from the book: an impromptu post-performance cocktail party in a Washington, D.C., hotel room hosted by Ethel Merman with guests Jason Robards, Maureen Stapleton, and George Grizzard.

Rose Marie’s father—who never married her mother and in fact had another family in Brooklyn while Rose Marie, her brother Frank, and their mother lived in New Jersey—had mob connections, and as a child she called a family friend in Chicago “Uncle Al.” Uncle Al Capone, that is. The book is studded with references to friendly, protective mob bosses in cities from New York to Miami to Cleveland to St. Louis to San Diego. And Rose Marie headlined the bill that opened Bugsy Siegel’s Frontier Hotel and Casino on December 28, 1946, a date that most historians agree marks the beginning of modern Las Vegas.

So it’s no wonder that Hold the Roses is a breezy, an entertaining, and an intriguing glimpse at one star’s successes and setbacks. At the same time, however, it is deeply flawed. An easy read for the nondiscerning reader, for anyone with a depth of knowledge of the era and the business of which Rose Marie writes (or a concern for consistency), the book can be irritating.

First of all, it is clear that Rose Marie did not “write” this book so much as dictate it into a tape recorder. Hold the Roses is essentially a series of reminiscences, much like what one would encounter sitting in Rose Marie’s living room, asking, “And then what happened?” Generally in chronological order, the subsequently transcribed narrative tends to jump around haphazardly, and it has errors that could have been easily eliminated.

The book needed to be edited, and I mean it needs more than simple copy editing. It is flabby and repetitious, and it begs for a fact-checker. Even the sharpest septuagenarian’s memory has lapses, and some of the mistakes in this book could have been corrected simply by “looking it up.” For instance, Rose Marie says she remembers singing for President Roosevelt at the White House when she was about six years old. But Franklin Roosevelt did not become President until 1933, when Baby Rose Marie was ten years old.

A second or third set of eyes could have caught other errors. A reference to comedian Joe E. Lewis is changed one paragraph later to Jack E. Leonard. A celebrity is driven to a party by someone named “Eddie,” but no significance is attached to that fact, and “Eddie” drops out of sight without further reference. A section of the book that discusses Rose Marie’s career in 1949 suddenly veers off into descriptions of appearances on Gunsmoke (in 1957) and with horse-averse guest star Joan Collins on The Virginian (a 1960s Western series).

Moreover, there is little sense of proportion in the book. A series of nightclub appearances in the 1940s is treated with the same emphasis as Rose Marie’s most memorable work, her five years on The Dick Van Dyke Show. (Her role as Sally Rodgers is probably what will prompt most people to consider buying and reading the book in the first place, since that show is still seen, as she says, twice a day on cable’s TV Land network and few are alive today who remember Baby Rose Marie’s triumph on early network radio.) A chapter on Rose Marie’s two-year stint as co-star of The Doris Day Show never mentions the role she played on that show. Stories about auditions for movies for which she didn’t get the part get more space than all the movies Rose Marie actually appeared in. Practically every person the author meets and likes becomes “my closest” or “my best” friend for years.

A basic question needs to be asked: Why was this book published by an academic press, the University Press of Kentucky? Popular culture deserves attention by serious scholars, to be sure, but this book shows no signs of academic discipline. There are no footnotes, no bibliography, no sense of authentication by anyone other than the autobiographer herself. The fact that the publisher provided little or no editorial assistance to the author reflects badly on the University Press of Kentucky. That it allowed such shoddy work to pass through its vetting process casts doubt on the quality of other, more truly “scholarly” works published under its imprint.

All that said, Rose Marie tells great anecdotes. Hold the Roses is full of amusing tidbits about vaudeville, radio days, life in post-war Hollywood, and television’s first 50 years. Serious researchers who need to supplement their work on these subjects can mine this book for illustrative material, but because of its lack of documentation, they will have to take it all with a rather large grain of salt. For Rose Marie’s fans—who are many—this book will provide a couple of smile-filled afternoons at poolside or a few hours of diversion while commuting on the subway.

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