Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rose Marie from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW

This is the absolute, my hand on a Bible, truth about how Rose Marie became my mentor.  Immediate family and a few friends will confirm it.  Back in the 1970s, when I pretty fresh out of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had landed my first full-time broadcast job in that same city, I had some great luck after I met a star of a classic TV sitcom.  There I was, a native of Los Angeles, getting close encounters with stars -- not in Hollywood -- but in Milwaukee after my college graduation.  I was the new morning show news reporter and reader on a popular FM rock radio station.  Stars came through Milwaukee while on tour and I was lucky enough to get soundbites from some of them to play during my newscasts.  I got radio soundbites from Bette Davis, Carol Channing, Paul Lynde and Rose Marie, to name a few.  Our radio audience was full of (then) young baby boomer who grew up loving her on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  I was one of those kids who loved watching it every single week -- first run episodes and repeats.  Rose Marie was the only lady comedy writer on Rob Petrie's team for "The Alan Brady Show."  Her role as Sally Rogers is still relevant because women today still push for gender inclusion on the writing staffs of comedy shows.  Rose Marie's character was a groundbreaker.

When I was new at the station -- and it's only African American on-air employee -- I was a serious newsreader.  I hadn't really let my personality out because I was new.  Then...a music and comedy revue called 4 GIRLS 4 did a week in Milwaukee during its tour.  Rose Marie, singers Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and Helen O'Connell were the four girls.  Milwaukee loved the show and it played at the plush 2500 hundred seat theater that was just as good as some Broadway theaters.  Before my broadcast job, I was an usher at that theater.  My news director boss gave me the assignment of going to the press conference after the 4 GIRLS 4 opening night.  "Get a couple of soundbites from Rose Marie.  See if she'll say anything about THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW."  Rose Marie, of course, graciously did.
After the press conference, there was a buffet and press was invited to eat.  The show had a great band and the musicians were there too.  We all ate and I started chatting with a few of the totally cool musicians and telling them how I was from South Central L.A. and trying to make it in Milwaukee where I often felt like the new sheriff in BLAZING SADDLES.

They're laughing.  Rose Marie was also seated at the table. She was listening to some of our conversation.  She motioned me over and wanted to know if I talk on the radio they way did with the boys in the band.  I told her that I didn't.  I just read the news in a pretty straight fashion.  She practically ordered me to start letting my personality out on the air.  She predicted, "It will change your career."  She then wrote down her home address and told me to keep in touch.  She was serious about that.  I kept all the letters with advice from her.  She suggested I try to write a few gags for her to use in other cities during her 4 GIRLS 4 tour.  She was upfront and frank in her criticisms.  Comedy was serious business for her.  I can't remember the joke now but one I wrote got this response from her in a letter:  "It died in Cleveland but they loved it in New York."  That's when I knew I could set my sights on a career in Manhattan.  And she paid me for the joke!
In a story too long to go into here, there is direct line from Rose Marie's advice in Milwaukee to the prime time weeknight celebrity talk show I got on VH1 in New York City in the late 1980s.  Carl Reiner was a guest on one of my VH1 shows.  He loved hearing that I'd been discovered by Rose Marie, his former cast mate from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.  He told me that she had a great eye for talent and that she'd discovered Tim Conway.  After VH1, I was contacted by Jay Redack to host a game show pilot for him.  Jay Redack was producer and creator of THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.  Another Rose Marie connection.

This wonderful woman and great entertainer has been at it since she was a little girl who could belt a song.  She was known as "Baby Rose Marie."  A documentary about Rose Marie is opening -- and she is absolutely thrilled about it.  She's in her 90s.  She's been promoting it.  And I can't wait to see it.  The documentary is called WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH.

WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH opens November 1st at The Landmark Theatre on W. 57th Street in New York City:  www.landmarktheatres.com.  I will be going to church to say all kinds of prayers that WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH gets an Oscar nomination.

By the way, a dear mutual friend mentioned me to Rose Marie at a wedding reception last year.  She got my number and gave me a call!  The voice now even huskier and the spirit still lively.  It was terrific to be able to thank her again for helping me early in my career.  I will always be grateful.  I let my personality out on local radio, as she instructed me to do.  It changed my career immediately and led to me getting tapped to start a career entertaining on TV.  That was a dream come true.

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