Goodbye, Rose Marie

“O, c’mon, smile a little smile for me, Rose Marie, where’s the use in cryin’?”
— a popular song by The Flying Machine, 1969

Old geezers — older than me — talk of the golden age of television, a black-and-white world where dramas were broadcast live in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But the real golden age had to be 1961 through 1966. That’s when “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Andy Griffith Show” both had a new episode every week. The shows live forever in syndication.

Mayberry was pastorally whimsical, but “The Dick Van Dyke” show seemed real to me. Comedy writers for a variety show. I was a wise guy, and I loved the idea that I might make a living out of smarting off.

And there was Rose Marie, or Sally Rogers as she was called on the show. She was not the kind of lady you developed a crush for, so it was nothing like that. But she made a kid feel comfortable. Funny, great singer, big mouth and big heart, she was that rare thing — an adult a kid could talk to and have fun with. I imagined going with her for hot dogs.

Rose Marie died at the end of December. She was 94. It was a tough year for the cast of the show. Mary Tyler Moore, who starred as the wife and mom, died in January 2017. Dick Van Dyke’s younger brother, Jerry — in real life and on the show — died this January. Dick is still with us at 92.

One thing I always tried to do when I was a kid was to find out if someone I admired was Catholic. Whether a defensive back with the New York Giants or a favorite on a TV show, I felt a real connection if they were baptized Catholics.

I wanted Sally Rogers — and Rose Marie — to be Catholic. The show gave no hints, of course. Back in those days on television, characters were a kind of everyman, mainstream Protestant. The Catholics were a priest if necessary for plot development, or an over-the-top stereotypical Italian.

But Sally Rogers looked Catholic. She acted Catholic. She seemed Catholic. And I always thought if anyone was Catholic on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” it was Sally. Or Rose Marie in real life.

When she died and I read her obit in The New York Times, my early impression began to make sense. She was born Rose Marie Mazzetta. Her father was Frank Mazzetta. Her mother, Stella Gluscak. Good, ethnic Catholic. But they never married.

She began her career at age 3 as a singer, Baby Rose Marie. She soon had her own radio show, performed with W.C. Fields and for the Chicago mobster Al Capone. When she was too old for Baby, she began a successful adult career. She performed at the opening of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1946. She married that year — her only marriage — and she had one daughter, who survives. Her husband died in 1964. It was as Sally Rogers that Rose Marie became a favorite of a new generation. Mine. She continued in television long after Sally, and in singing, theatre and comedy.

A friend passed me this notice from Rose Marie’s daughter:

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“My mother, like her own mother, loved and respected the rites and rituals of the Catholic Church. Her favorite quote ... was ‘God first, others second, and I’m third.’ In keeping with our family tradition, a Mass of Christian Burial at St. Charles Borromeo Church will be said for her. The Mass will be open to those who wish to honor her, as we thank God for her amazing life.”

Sure. Nothing there says she was practicing. But I’m thinking Baptism of Desire. God bless her. And welcome.

Smile a little smile for me, Rose Marie.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.