Girl Singer

Girl Singer

4.2 5
by Rosemary Clooney, Joan Barthel

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In Girl Singer, Rosemary Clooney, with the warmth and humor that distinguishes her singing, describes her transformation from a schoolgirl in kneesocks to one of the most beloved singers of the twentieth century. Rosemary Clooney made her first public appearance at the age of three, on the stage of the Russell Theater in her tiny hometown of Maysville,


In Girl Singer, Rosemary Clooney, with the warmth and humor that distinguishes her singing, describes her transformation from a schoolgirl in kneesocks to one of the most beloved singers of the twentieth century. Rosemary Clooney made her first public appearance at the age of three, on the stage of the Russell Theater in her tiny hometown of Maysville, Kentucky. She has been singing ever since: on the local radio; with Tony Pastor's orchestra; in big-box-office Hollywood films; at the London Palladium, Carnegie Hall; on her own television series; and at venues large and small around the world. The list of her friends and intimates reads like a Who's Who of show business royalty: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Tony Bennett, and Billie Holiday, to name just a few.

At twenty-five, she married the erudite and respected actor José Ferrer, sixteen years her senior and light-years more sophisticated. Trouble started almost immediately when, on her honeymoon, she discovered that he had already been unfaithful. Finally, after having five children while she virtually single-handedly supported the entire family and his numerous, unrepentant infidelities, she filed for divorce. From there her life spiraled downward into depression, addiction to various prescription drugs, and then, in 1968, a breakdown and hospitalization. After years spent fighting her way back to the top—with two albums at the top of the Billboard charts in six years—Clooney is married to her long-lost love—a fairy tale with a happy ending.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Early Praise for Girl Singer:

"Hearing Rosemary Clooney sing is like a taste of honey; reading her book is a full and delicious meal."
—Stanley Donen

"A beautiful book. A beautiful American dream of a life, plus a large hunk of nightmare, plus the story of contemporary American popular music."
—Betty Comden

"To know Rosemary Clooney is to love her. After reading this book, you will, too."
—Tony Bennett

"Rosie dear, you've got it all. You've had it all. You must read this book to know it all."
—Dolores Hope

"Rosemary Clooney is one of the great singers of our time, a truly wonderful comedienne on and off the stage, and as good a friend as you could hope for. Girl Singer brings out all these qualities—and many more."
—Margaret Whiting

"Girl Singer is an extraordinary and heartbreaking book. This was my time in Hollywood, as it was Rosie's, and it brought back a lot of memories."
—Joanne Woodward

"A great singer and a great lady, Rosemary Clooney now adds another jewel to her crown, that of great memoirist.  She gives us the best picture we have of an often misunderstood era in popular music, and she lets us see the exactitude of celebrity and the bounty it places on the soul."
—Gary Giddins, author of Visions of Jazz: The First Century

"Rosemary Clooney has been the outstanding girl singer of our century. Her autobiography is the vivid depiction of a fascinating life. I loved it!"
—Kathryn Crosby

"With all due respect, there just aren't any more like her. As I have said before, she is the person I would love to live next door to."
—Maria Cole

"Girl Singer is startlingly honest and beautifully written. At times, this book will break your heart, but throughout, it will open your heart."
—Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear

"Not only is Rosemary Clooney 'Girl Singer'—she is 'Girl Everywoman.' In other words, she is one hell of a person—and the book tells us all why."
—Janet Leigh

"Just as Rosemary's voice has a unique, unforgettable quality all its own, so does her autobiography. In my book, she stands alone. A true American treasure."
—Ann Rutherford

"Rosemary Clooney's eyes are illuminated by intelligence and mischief. Like her music, she is without guile or self-promotion. Amidst the hubbub of her stories, there are hints of longing, of missing people who nourished her in special intimate ways. These vanished citizens are the motors of the songs. In her autobiography, they are revealed and revered. And of course there's the mischief and the music."
—Jonathan Schwartz

"This book is a must for all who have loved the talent of Rosemary Clooney over the years as I have. The essence of this wonderful lady is captured beautifully within these pages."

Stephen Holden
A rich, complicated life is evoked in a voice that filters strong emotion through a hard-earned commonsensical wisdom.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Clooney made her singing debut at age 13 on a Cincinnati radio station in 1941. By 1946, she and her younger sister Betty had both dropped out of high school to tour with the Tony Pastor Band. After three years on the road, she went solo and on the eve of her 21st birthday signed a contract with Columbia Records. Against her better judgment, she recorded "Come On-a My House" ("The lyrics ranged from incoherent to just plain silly. I thought the tune sounded more like a drunken chant than an historic folk art form") for Mitch Miller; it was such a success that she was able to parlay it into a movie contract with Paramount. Her marriage to actor-director Jose Ferrer produced five children (in as many years) and a high-profile, career-smashing nervous breakdown in 1968. But for Clooney, there was a happy ending: she was reunited with the love she had dumped 20 years before and her revived recording career brought her greater critical acclaim. Clooney told her story in 1977's This for Remembrance (with Raymond Strait), and while this retelling offers some new revelations (an affair with Nelson Riddle) and fresh assessments of contemporaries like Sinatra, Crosby and Billie Holiday, many sequences read almost exactly the same. Even with 20 years hindsight, most of the crucial events in her life remain hazy and questions unanswered: why she stayed with philandering Ferrer (let alone remarried him), what caused her breakdown and fueled her antagonistic relationship with her mother. Fans will probably enjoy this surface review of her career, but the woman remains an enigma. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Clooney wrote her first autobiography (This for Remembrance) over 20 years ago. It chronicled her unhappy early life; her career as a singer, which started as a sister act alongside sister Betty and led to Big Band fame; her fateful marriage to actor Jos Ferrer; her subsequent mental breakdown; and her comeback and personal happiness. One could assert that another autobiography is needed because much has happened to Clooney in the last 20 years. However, only about 40 pages of this new book concentrate on Clooney's life since 1977. Since then she has played at Carnegie Hall, but more importantly, she appeared on nephew George's hit television show ER. Is that enough to warrant a rehash of material covered in the first autobiography? Clooney is capably assisted by Barthel, an award-winning nonfiction author (A Death in Canaan, A Death in California), whose style lifts this effort out of the melodrama that plagued the first one. Purchase if you no longer have the first and where demand warrants. For public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/99.]--Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Charles Winecoff
Clooney's story is an eloquent tribute to the healing power of music.

Entertainment Weekly

In Girl Singer chanteuse Rosemary Clooney tells her affecting tale, including the low notes. Bottom Line: A Beutiful Ballad.

People Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Clooney, who went from being one of popular music's original divas to America's sweetheart, unfurls her dramatic life story, aided by Barthel (A Death in California, 1981, etc.). Clooney started out in Maysville, Ky., where she and her brother, Nicky, and her sister, Betty, bounced around from family home to family home. Her parents separated often, leading the three children to spend time with uncles and aunts, but mostly their grandparents. Because of their unfortunate circumstances, the kids, particularly the two sisters, bonded tightly from an early age, and they started their professional singing careers as a sister act. When Rosemary got her first significant gig, with Tony Pastor's band in 1939, Betty was right there with her. Some of the book's most vibrant passages come from the era long before Clooney was a household name, when she and Betty were on their first major tour with Pastor's band. You can feel their teenage excitement over having gotten out of their small town. The most poignant part comes when Clooney writes of her painful decision to leave her Uncle George (who chaperoned the girls) and Betty behind when she was offered her big break. Clooney's early life, which has been much less well-documented than her marriage to actor José Ferrer and her addiction to prescription drugs, offers the book's most sincere and moving moments. From the time she reaches true stardom, Girl Singer bounds into sometimes clichéd Hollywood melodrama, beginning with her troubled marriage, on through her many well-known friendships (from Bing Crosby to Ava Gardner), to her fall from grace, and culminating with her '90s comeback, which has seen her nominated for multiple Grammyawards, and her realization of a lifelong dream to play Carnegie Hall. However, those first chapters, and her obvious love for her family, offer such genuine, and often sweet, insight into one of America's most famous personalities that Girl Singer is a must for anyone with even a passing curiosity about Clooney. (16 pages b&w photos) (Author tour)

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.85(d)

Read an Excerpt

Girl Singer

An Autobiography
By Rosemary Clooney

Broadway Books

Copyright © 2001 Rosemary Clooney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0767905555


From the porch, the river looked smoky brown sometimes, rosy and lavender when the sun was going down, then slate gray, just before it turned pitch black.

From the porch, the lights of the Island Queen beckoned, like reachable stars.

From the porch, the river promised better times coming, faraway places just around the bend.

From the porch, the river was a wide tranquil ribbon, no hint of a dangerous current. All you could see from the porch were possibilities, not perils.

The porch was at my grandmother's house in Maysville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. Although Maysville was called a port city, it was a classical small town, its life centered in a few downtown blocks between the train station and the bridge: McGee's Bakery, Merz Brothers Department Store, the diner with the swinging eat sign and six stools at the counter, where we sat and watched our hamburgers--the size of half dollars--frying on the grill.

Now that house on West Third Street, high above the river, is spruced up, glistening white, with window boxes full of scarlet geraniums and trailing ivy, listed in The National Register of Historic Places. The side street leading down to the river is named Rosemary Clooney Street.Then it was a rented house, well-scrubbed, but the linoleum on the kitchen floor was peeling, curled up at the edges. There was no central heating, just little potbellied stoves and a fireplace with a grate where my grandmother cooked when the bills hadn't been paid and the gas was turned off. On winter days, my sister Betty, my brother Nicky, and I licked the ice that formed on the inside of the kitchen window.

But my grandmother loved that house, loved sitting in her high-backed rattan rocking chair on the porch, where she could look down at the river rolling by. She loved to cook--floured chicken pieces with lots of salt and pepper, fried to the crackling stage in bubbling hot Crisco; green beans boiled with a chunk of country ham; piles of cole slaw. Once she made strawberry shortcake on the fireplace grate. She loved listening to her daytime serials on the big Zenith console in the living room, always tuned to WLW in Cincinnati: "Stella Dallas," "Backstage Wife." She loved her little garden beyond the porch, with its straggling hollyhocks and snapdragons, late-summer rows of the juiciest tomatoes, the twisted hackberry tree at the far edge of the yard.

Best of all, she loved us.

My grandmother, Ada Guilfoyle, was my mother's mother, one of the strongest women I've ever known. I like to think--and I do believe--I've inherited some of her strength. When she was a young wife, expecting, she and my grandfather were working on a rented farm outside of town. She began to bleed and fell over in the tobacco field. The doctor came in his horse and buggy and carried her back to the farmhouse, where they hung clean sheets on the walls and spread them over the kitchen table. With warm beer bottles pressed tightly against her body, she was operated on for an ectopic pregnancy and warned not to have children. But she and my grandfather, Michael Joseph Guilfoyle, had planned on children, so they had nine: four boys and five girls. When my grandfather dropped dead on the street at the age of fifty-two--an aneurysm--their youngest was just three. So my grandmother had to get a job. Before she was married, she'd taught in a one-room rural schoolhouse, but now, with young children, she needed to be home during the day. She worked nights as a practical nurse.

Frances, my mother, was the third child, the second daughter after Rose, followed by Jeanne, Ann, and Christine. My Aunt Rose was always labeled--even honored--as the beauty of the family, while my mother wasn't even considered pretty according to the conventions of the time. She was straight and slim, with deep blue eyes and thick dark hair, but her features were sharp and angular. So she made up in flamboyance what she felt, and was often reminded, she lacked in looks. She would be the best dresser, the most stylish; she would have flair. She was barely five-foot-four but she seemed taller, with shoulder pads and spike heels and a way of holding herself proud and erect. When she walked to work as a salesclerk at the New York Store, she wore a cartwheel hat and carried a showy purse. She almost always won the Charleston contests on the Island Queen.

She had grown up saying she would become an actress or a dancer. "I want to get out of Maysville. I want to be somebody." Instead, she married a charming, funny, handsome man, Andrew Clooney, who was eight years older and who had already decided that his dreams were submerged at the bottom of a bottle.

When I was born on May 23, 1928, she had just turned nineteen. She and my father had already separated at least once, then they had gotten back together briefly--a dismal pattern that would be repeated often, that would frame my childhood. I don't remember all of us living together under the same roof for more than a few weeks at a time. Sometimes I was with an uncle or an aunt, sometimes at Grandma Guilfoyle's, sometimes with my Clooney grandparents. Because my father was so rarely around, it was his father whom I called Papa. It was easy for my mother to decide where to leave Betty and Nicky and me when she needed a place for us. She just left us with whoever had room. Whoever wasn't rock-bottom broke, looking for work. Whoever said yes.

"You're the oldest. You'll manage," my mother would say. "You'll be fine." She had been promoted from salesclerk to manager of the dress shop, but she yearned to get out of Maysville, so she got a job as a traveling sales representative for the Lerner chain. When her weekly envelope came, with a five-dollar bill, I'd scan the postmark to see where my mother was or where she had been: Dayton, St. Louis, Detroit. "I don't know when I'll be back," she would say. "But I know you'll be a good girl."

So I was. I was very careful never to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. I tried to figure out, early in a stay, what people expected of me, then I'd make sure I was just what they expected. If I wasn't a good girl, I wouldn't be able to live there anymore. Then Betty and Nicky wouldn't be able to live there anymore, either. Then what?

In all the comings and goings of those years in Maysville, my sister was the one constant. I was six years older than Nicky, and we became real friends later. But I was just three when Betty was born, so we grew up together. There was hardly ever a time when I didn't share a room with her, play with her, laugh and talk and fight with her. And there was absolutely no time when I didn't love her.

Betty always listened to me, always did what I said we'd do. One very cold winter day, when I was five and Betty just about two, we got dressed up in one of our aunt's long dresses. "Now we have to go down to the river," I told Betty, "because we're going on a long trip, and we have to wait by the river till the boat comes."

Somehow we managed to sneak down the stairs and out of the house without being seen. We scurried across Front Street, clutching the folds of our long gowns. We were standing at the edge of the river grading, and I was looking upriver, pretending I could just see the boat coming, when Betty skidded down the slick grading into the river. The dark water closed above her head.

I leaned over, grabbed her hand, and dragged her out. She wasn't crying, just coughing and sputtering. I got her home and into the bathtub and then dried off, all by myself--my mother had told me I would manage, I would be able to do whatever had to be done. Betty and I formed a bond, very early, that I was sure nothing would ever break. "We'll always be together," I promised her one day, when we'd just been moved from one place to another. "I'll never leave you behind." I felt absolutely certain nobody else would ever come between us, and I was right. Nobody else did.


Excerpted from Girl Singer by Rosemary Clooney Copyright © 2001 by Rosemary Clooney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

When not performing elsewhere, Rosemary Clooney makes her home in Beverly Hills, California, and Augusta, Kentucky. Joan Barthel is the author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including A Death in Canaan. She lives in Saint Louis, Missouri.

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Girl Singer 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
VT_Singer More than 1 year ago
In her closing night performance, October 1999 at the Regency Hotel in NY, Ms. Clooney offered that "Girl Singer" was written in a more disclosive voice than her earlier autobiography. She went on to admit that she could take that liberty since most of the folks she wrote about were no longer around to protest! The audience roared! Reading the well-crafted "Girl Singer" does not, however, leave you with the feeling that you are an after-the-fact voyeur to her well publicized tribulations of the past. While her frankness about personal and professional relationships is stunning, it is done with a complete lack of bitterness and histrionics. You are left convinced that, difficult times aside, Ms. Clooney life has always centered on love of her family and her music. Her honest self-criticism is admirable. "Girl Singer" will leave you with the feeling that you just spend hours reading a diary you discovered by chance on a lonely bench in Central Park. You begin, not sure whether you should intrude so boldly upon someone's privacy but quickly find that you cannot put it down... all the time afraid its owner might return looking for it and admonish you for being so nosy. Go ahead... read it. She left it there for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could barely put it down, especially once her career got underway. It is studded with a real who's who of the musical and film greats of the that era showing so much of the personal side never seen beyond the doors of Beverly Hills mansions or Hollywood studios. I never recommend books to my relatives but I am going to pass this book along to them with a certainty that they will thank me later. Russell Wilmington, Delaware
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many biographies about historical figures as well as entertainers. Although I had a hard time getting by the begining of this book,I'm glad I did. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the world of entertainment. Ms. Clooney allows the reader into the world of a performer's rise, fall and resurrection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Please do not let the first reviewer dissuade you from reading this book. It is one of the most eloquent and moving memoirs I have read in my lifetime -- more on par with Angela's Ashes, than with any of the typical celebrity hash bios. This is poetry, in its most honest and revealing form. This is the history of greatest period of American music. This is the heart-breaking but so inspiring story of one woman's loves lost and found.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago