An Interview With The Legendary Rose Marie, Hollywood Trailblazer

Senior Entertainment Writer
11.02.17

Rose Marie Films

Today, Rose Marie is best known for playing Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 until 1966 – a heralded character, which, in retrospect, somehow seems even more of a landmark character. Rose Marie played a woman who wrote for a comedy show. The Dick Van Dyke show has been living in repeats ever since, inspiring multiple generations that, yes, that is a job for everyone. Sally was an equal on the show in many ways – and as Rose Marie explains ahead, she was paid equally as well. She was a true trailblazer.

There’s no way to really verify if this is true, but it’s entirely possible that Rose Marie is the only person to ever have both performed on vaudeville and have a viral tweet. (Of course, when I mention this to Rose Marie, naturally, considering her body of work, she didn’t seem too excited about a “viral tweet.”)

She started her career as Baby Rose Marie performing on vaudeville at the age of five. Last month, on Twitter, she addressed the Weinstein allegations by writing, “I’ve worked since I was 3, Im 94. W/ Weinstein, finally women are speaking up to power. I have suffered my whole life for that. Dont stop.” It’s a tweet that has now been retweeted just under 24,000 times. In this interview, Rose Marie discusses the time she was a victim of sexual harassment that cost her a role in a movie.

In the new documentary Wait For Your Laugh, director Jason Wise takes us through Rose Marie’s storied career – from as a child performing for Al Capone (this really happened), to working for for Bugsy Siegel as an adult (also happened), to her groundbreaking role on The Dick Van Dyke Show (we all know that happened), to everything in-between and up to today.

Talking to Rose Marie is a real treat. At 94, she’s still incredibly quick with a joke or a story. (Also, I get the impression she wouldn’t be opposed to tearing your head off if a person deserved something like that.) She’s a living legend and it’s about time a documentary was made to cover her 90 (90!) years in show business.

It’s great to talk to you.

Can I call you Mike?

Please do.

Okay!

It’s about time a documentary was made about you.

Did you really like it?

I did. I’ve been an admirer of your career for a long time.

Aw. It’s a different type of documentary, don’t you think? I love it because it’s not a documentary about “A day in the house of Rose Marie.” This is so complete and so wonderful.

I think you are the only person to have ever performed in Vaudeville and also have a viral tweet.

Well, my God, I’ve done more than vaudeville.

Oh, I know, it’s just there’s not a lot of overlap there.

Well, Mike, it’s just one of those things that happened. From day to day to day I never even thought about it. I just keep going.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was only five seasons, but it’s been in repeats ever since…

Oh, forever and ever.

Sally Rogers meant, and still means, a lot to a lot of people.

Oh, I was the first one that did that. I worked with two men on an equal basis with an equal salary. I was one of them. I was just one of them. I was an equal writer and got equal pay. I’m very proud of that. I’ve had a lot of women come up to me and say, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be a writer today and I want to thank you.” So, I’m very proud of that.

That’s true. And I even saw Katie Rich, a writer from SNL, tweeting at you that she’s going to come to your Q&A.

Well, it makes me very proud that I sort of released a lot of women to go out and fight for themselves.

There’s a lot covered in the documentary I didn’t know. I didn’t know you performed for Al Capone.

You have to remember, I started out when I was three years old. At five years old, I had my own radio show, coast to coast! I was signed to NBC and NBC put me on the radio – 15 minutes on Sunday mornings. People used to write in, “That’s not a child, that’s a 45-year-old. No child sings like that.” NBC was affiliated with RKO, so they sent me on the Vaudeville tour, all the theaters across the country, to prove I was a child.

To be fair, you had a very good voice that you usually don’t hear out of someone that young.

I know. I’ve always had a very strong voice. Always. I think it’s because of the last man in the balcony, so he could hear me.

You tweeted about Harvey Weinstein a couple of weeks ago. You have a story where you were sexually harassed and you were all but cut out of the movie Top Banana.

I was approached once. I was in Top Banana on Broadway. They wanted to make the movie exactly like the play. They tried to do it like the play. I was onstage recording, we were all recording for the record album. So when I made the recording, this guy came over to me and said, “That was wonderful.” I said, “Thank you.” And he told me who he was and I said, “Well, I’m very happy to know you.” He said, “Well, if you’re interested in a lot of positions, I could show you a lot.”

So I looked at him and said, “Oh, that’s funny. Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s very funny.” He says, “No, I’m serious. This could be your picture. I could make this your picture.” I said, “It’s not my picture, it’s Phil Silvers’ picture. I just co-star with him.” He says, “I could make it your picture. If you’re really interested, I could show you some things.”

Now I realize what it was and I started to get mad. I’m half Italian and half Polish, so I have a temper. So I looked at him and I said, in front of everybody, a full company onstage, “You son of a bitch, you couldn’t get it up if a flag went by.”

Everybody laughed. Joke over. My husband says to me, “You know every song will be cut. I don’t even think you’ll be in the picture.” I said, “I’m in the picture! I co-star with Phil! How could that happen?” He says, “I guarantee you all of your songs will be cut.” And they were. And my part was cut. Everything my husband said was true. That was my only time with anybody like that.

I know you’re proud of The Dick Van Dyke Show, but you’ve done so much else. But most people today seem to know you from that…

I’ve done so many sitcoms, it’s ridiculous. But everyone knows me from The Dick Van Dyke Show. I did The Doris Day Show! First of all, as Baby Rose Marie, few people knew that because a lot of people weren’t born yet. I grew up and became Miss Rose Marie at 14 or 15.

And you were one of the first just to use your first name. You’re the original Madonna…

Oh, don’t say that. I’m not like Madonna.

You’re not like Madonna, but just using your first name…

Well, I was the first one. About 21 or 22 I got married and started getting into television. My husband was like, “You’d better get an agent.” And this was all new to me because I was used to doing nightclubs. But out here nobody knew who I was. So I went to an agent who was recommended to me and he says, “Do you want Rose Marie Guy?” I said, “No, no, no. Rose Marie. Just Rose Marie, that’s it.” I was the first one to just use one name. Madonna came later.

My parents were convinced you and the others knew the questions in advance on Hollywood Squares so you could prepare jokes. You’ve made it clear that’s not true.

No, no. We didn’t know anything. At the time, The $64,000 Question was just found out to be illegal, so they were very careful with Hollywood Squares. Nobody knew the questions and it was up to you to make the answers. Peter Marshall was the only one because he had the cards in front of them. We weren’t allowed to see the contestants in the hall at NBC. We weren’t even allowed to talk to them. Ours was very, very legitimate. Everything happened as it was.

What do you watch now?

I hate to tell you this…

Uh oh.

I watch politics. I’m so upset because I love my country so much. I’m so mad. I think it’s so corrupt. I never knew it was so bad. It’s so bad and it’s so stupid. I never realized how stupid our government was. I do watch Colombo. I watch Boston Legal. I watch Criminal Minds. I watch all of those shows. I don’t like singers or dancers because none of them are any good. When I was going around, I had friends, actors, and comics, who were so great and no one did anything dirty or used four-letter words. I think to the day he died, Morey Amsterdam never said “hell” or “damn.” Morey wrote all the material for my act because he was a great writer. You know I got him the job on The Dick Van Dyke Show?

I did. And he’s great as Buddy.

Morey used to say to me that you didn’t have to use dirty words to be funny. That’s not funny. If you need dirty words that’s not funny, you’re going for shock. And that’s true. Timing is so important. That will be on my tombstone: “Timing is everything.”

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

Around The Web