LOS ANGELES – Rose Marie, the wisecracking Sally Rogers of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and a show business lifer who began as a bobbed-hair child star in vaudeville and worked for nearly a century in theater, radio, TV and movies, died Thursday. She was 94.
Marie had been resting in bed at her Los Angeles-area home when a caretaker found she had stopped breathing, said family spokesman Harlan Boll.
“Heaven just got a whole lot funnier” was the tribute posted atop a photo of Marie on her website.
She was a child star of the 1920s and 1930s who endeared herself to TV fans on the classic ’60s sitcom that featured Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
The subject of the 2017 documentary “Wait for Your Laugh,” Marie often claimed she had the longest career in entertainment history. It spanned some 90 years, with co-stars ranging from W.C. Fields to Garfield the cat, and the highlight for many was “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
The sitcom was widely loved for its sophisticated writing, inspired casting and insightful view of the inner workings of the then-new medium of television. Van Dyke starred as Rob Petrie, head writer for a hit comedy-variety show and Mary Tyler Moore, in her first major role, played his wife Laura.
The blonde, raspy-voiced Marie teamed with her pal Morey Amsterdam as assistant writers.
Drawing on his experiences on Sid Caesar’s shows, Carl Reiner created the series, wrote and directed many episodes and made occasional appearances as the surly star, Alan Brady. After an uncertain beginning in 1961, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” caught on with TV viewers, was still popular when it ended in 1966 and remained a favorite for decades in reruns.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” not only was an ideal vehicle for Marie’s comic gifts, but was a showcase for her singing, with Sally belting out “Come Rain or Come Shine” and other old favorites during nightclub and party scenes.
Marie was especially proud of playing a woman defined by her work, a rare sitcom character at the time who wasn’t “a wife, mother, or housekeeper,” she tweeted in 2017.
The actress did have conflicts with Reiner, resenting that Moore was given more prominence than her on the show. Reiner, speaking in “Wait for Your Laugh,” bluntly pushed back. “I used real strong language,” he recalled. “I said, ‘You both have beautiful legs. They wanna look at her legs.’”
Nominated three times for Emmys, Rose Marie had yet to turn 40 when she joined the Van Dyke cast, but had been an entertainer for more than 30 years.
She was born Rose Marie Mazetta of Italian-Polish parentage in New York City on Aug. 15, 1923. When she was 3, her mother entered her in an amateur talent contest in Atlantic City as Baby Rose Marie.
“My mother was terrified,” she recalled in a 1992 interview with The Associated Press. “But I went out and sang ‘What Can I Say, Dear, After I Say I’m Sorry?’ and won the contest.”
She began singing on radio and was a hit on “The Rudy Vallee Hour.” NBC gave her a seven-year contract and her own show, 15 minutes on Sunday. Her powerful voice gave rise to rumors.
“Stories went around that I was really a 45-year-old midget,” she remarked in 1992. “So they sent me on a year-round personal appearance tour of theaters across the country to prove that I was a child.”
Marie sang in a series of movie shorts including “Baby Rose Marie, the Child Wonder” in 1929 and appeared on most of the vaudeville circuits until vaudeville’s demise. Among her friends was one of the country’s most notorious gangsters.
“My father worked as an arsonist for Al Capone,” Marie told People magazine in 2016. “He used to burn down your warehouse if things weren’t going the right way, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was a child star and to me Al was my ‘Uncle Al,’ my mother used to cook for all these guys. Years later when I was working Vegas with (casino owner and known mobster) Bugsy Siegel, I cooked for that generation, I guess I knew then.”
In 1946 she married Bobby Guy, a trumpeter in Kay Kyser’s band and later on top NBC radio shows in Hollywood. (They had a daughter, Georgiana). Bobby Guy was just 48 when he died suddenly of a blood infection, in 1964, a loss so devastating Marie wore black for a year and hesitated to take on work beyond “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
One of her first outside performances was on “The Dean Martin Show,” when she performed the melancholy ballad “Little Girl Blue.”
“Then Dean sang ‘(Smile),’ to me and I couldn’t help it, the tears began pouring down,” she recalled in her memoir “Hold the Roses,” published in 2003. “Then Dean kissed me and held me in his arms. It was quite a memorable moment.”
Marie joined with Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Connell and Margaret Whiting in the late 1970s to tour in a successful nightclub act titled “4 Girls 40.”
As Rose Marie (she never used a last name professionally), she enjoyed new fame on television. Her quick, surefire timing made her ideal casting as a supporting player. She appeared on “The Doris Day Show,” as the irreverent secretary to the star, and as Frank Fontana’s mother on “Murphy Brown.” For years she was a regular on the “Hollywood Squares” quiz show.
She also appeared in films including “International House” (as Baby Rose Marie in 1933, co-starring with W.C. Fields) and “Big Beat.”
She starred in the Broadway musical “Top Banana” with Phil Silvers, but her experience on the film version resonated decades later in the aftermath of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.
A producer suggested that she would get more screen time if she had sex with him.
“And in front of everybody, I go, ‘You couldn’t get it up if a flag went by,“’ Marie, interviewed for “Wait for Your Laugh,” recalled saying. “Which didn’t sit too well with him. All my numbers were cut in the picture.”
She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001. In 2017, she extended her reach to social media, her Twitter feed quickly attracting more than 100,000 followers.
“I was asked what I wanted my legacy to be,” she wrote in one tweet. “My answer, ‘That I was good at my job & loved every minute of it.’ I wish that for everyone.”
Marie is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Steven Rodrigues.
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