After 90+ Years in Show Business, Rose Marie Gets Her Due in the New Documentary, Wait for Your Laugh

By MARILYN LESTER**** Rose Marie has New York City in her blood. She had her roots here in the East until love claimed her and fate saw to it she’d spend the rest of her life in California. But on November 3, 2017, Rose Marie’s legacy was immortalized in the city of her birth with a caricature unveiling at Sardi’s, some 66 years overdue. Many of the people Rose Marie worked with hang on those walls in portraiture, yet she was never so honored despite a life in show business and two turns on Broadway. Rose Marie opened in Top Banana on November 2, 1951. But it was co-star Phil Silvers who got the attention, the press and ultimately a Tony Award. (It wasn’t until January 1972 that Rose Marie came back to the Great White Way in the comedy, Fun City.)

Rose Marie wasn’t able to be at the unveiling. She’s 94 and doesn’t get around much anymore, but she was well represented by a crew of colleagues, friends and notables that included Peter Marshall, her daughter Georgiana Guy Rodrigues (known as Noopy), and filmmakers Jason and Christina Wise. Kathy Brown, the lead event coordinator and jack-of-all-trades promoter/publicist/producer, phoned Rose Marie in, and her strong presence in the room as more than a voice was happily felt by all.

The Sardi’s caricature unveiling was synced to the New York premiere of the documentary Wait for Your Laugh, which has been scoring rave reviews since its initial release on October 5, 2017 on the West Coast. Wait for Your Laugh is the superlative work of the Wises, who were drawn to Rose Marie’s story as an under appreciated talent and as an artist whose incredible 90-year career mirrors the history of show business. Both Wises wrote the film, with Jason directing and editing with Rodner Carr. The result is an engrossing and compelling story, with Rose Marie front and center in on-camera interviews. The lady’s physicality isn’t what it used to be, but her mind continues as sharp as a tack, with quick-witted comedic chops intact. The title of the film comes from Rose Marie’s advice on comic timing, which is not to rush, but wait for your laugh.

The Wises have not only captured a slice of history, but have brought to long overdue attention the accomplishments of a woman whose career, as Jason Wise puts it, “was a lot more than five years on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Fortunately, Rose Marie saved everything – everything. Her penchant for rat-packing presented the Wises with a treasure trove of material with which to work. All of this bounty, contributing to the telling of a remarkable life story, provokes a genuine, “who knew?” reaction. Rose Marie was, and is, quite something.

Rose Marie misses no trick. She is the first to point out she went by only one name long before there was a Cher or Rhianna or Madonna. “First of all, I was ‘Baby Rose Marie,’” she says. “As I grew older, into the awkward age, I became ‘Miss Rose Marie.’ And, as I got older, I said, ‘The hell with ‘Miss’… just make it ‘Rose Marie!’” She was born Rose Marie Mazetta in 1923, to a small-time gangster father, Frank Curley, who never married her mother (and who had a second family stashed somewhere). She loved to sing and perform from the start, becoming a radio sensation in 1926, billed as Baby Rose Marie. Her fame grew quickly. Baby Rose Marie achieved a level of fame that rivaled Shirley Temple’s, the darling of cinema who hadn’t even been born yet.

With a grown-up, gravelly voice, no one thought she was a child, so her producers sent her on a vaudeville tour to prove it. On the road, she was performing at Chicago’s Palace Theatre with comedian Milton Berle, when she was summoned to the stage door. There she found the notorious crime boss Al Capone waiting for her. She learned about her father’s gangster connections then, at age 10. Rose Marie was invited to a dinner with “the boys.” They loved her, of course, and Capone promised she would always “be taken care of.” That promise was made good when Bugsy Siegel asked her to open the new Flamingo Hotel with comedian Jimmy Durante in Las Vegas. The year was 1946 and Las Vegas was then just a little cow town in the Nevada desert.

By the time Rose Marie was hired for “The Dick Van Dyke Show” she’d honed her comedic talents. She was also by nature and nurture an independent and forthright, “brassy broad” – one of those women who paved the way for other women in a man’s world. Rose Marie refused to be subordinated – and she had no trouble putting sexual predators in their place, even knowing the consequences to her career. In that alone she deserves homage as a role model for young women everywhere. But her strengths of self-confidence and integrity were also possibly her undoing in attaining full recognition. Rose Marie always worked (the film makes much of hers as the longest career in show business) but her success on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” through “The Hollywood Squares,” appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and as a constant presence in the business never brought her the level of fame she deserved. By all accounts the Wises believe Rose Marie should have garnered the same fame and status that Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett achieved.

In her fifties, when many women in Hollywood struggle for work, Rose Marie toured the country with Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting, and Helen O’Connell, in 4 Girls 4, a song-and-comedy act. She recalls that in the beginning, before the group travelled by plane, a young nephew of Clooney’s, named George, drove their bus. Rose Marie bonded most closely with Margaret Whiting, and to this day keeps up with the Whiting clan through “Maggie’s” daughter, Debbi Bush Whiting, the keeper of the family legacy.

The Wises, with Rose Marie on screen at frequent intervals, plus narration by Peter Marshall and interviews with luminaries and contemporaries such as Marshall, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and Tim Conway, plus original footage and some clever and seamlessly done recreations, have painted a complete portrait of an astounding woman. There’s quite a bit too about Rose Marie’s 18 years of marriage to trumpet player Bobby Guy, the love of her life (he died at age 48 in 1964, of an undiagnosable blood disease). Thereafter she never remarried and her trademark hair bows were always black. The sum total of Wait for Your Laugh is not only a living history lesson, but a compelling and moving portrait hitting all the emotional notes. Even for those too young to remember her, Wait for Your Laugh is superb story telling. This is a film that elevates the documentary genre and deserves to be seen. There are already those who can’t wait for the DVD release, which will reveal even more footage of the life and times of the remarkable Rose Marie.

Wait for You Laugh is now playing at the Landmark 57 and Angelica Film Center, and is set to open in San Francisco and Los Angeles imminently.