I don’t read newspapers much. I find it hard to keep heart if I’m fully aware of what’s going on – the kidnappings and hurricanes, the smoking remains of a crumpled cockpit and the hard set of a senator’s jaw in the midst of a campaign. One day, though, I was in a coffee shop and a headline caught my eye: It said that the singer Rosemary Clooney had died.
Movie musicals have always lit up my family life. My mother and I used to sing “Shall We Dance?” as we dusted the living room, taking care to imitate Yul Brynner’s accent as the King of Siam. Later on, my son would put on a plastic top hat and pretend he was Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee. My four-year-old daughter continued the tradition when she asked for a wedding gown for Christmas so that she could look like Tevye’s eldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset” scene.
My husband and I were visiting my parents for the holidays when we first saw White Christmas. Joining my brother and his wife on the couch, we all delighted in the movie’s over-the-top Technicolor corniness, collectively cracking up when Bing Crosby called Danny Kaye a “weirdsmobile” and also when the two actors (with batting eyes and fluttering fans), pranced through their “Sisters” routine.
Of the two actresses in the movie – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – we all loved Rosemary. She was the cool, womanly one, looking as solid and strong as her voice sounded while she struck sultry poses and sang “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.” In a black mermaid dress that left her broad white back and shoulders bare, she was the opposite of the poor, ailing Vera-Ellen, in her pony tails and turtle necks.
After reading Rosemary’s obituary – and the details of her professional and personal descent in the 1960’s, which was followed by a career revival and a late marriage to a lover she’d jilted four decades before – I decided I wanted to write about her. However, the words, as they tend to do, took a different turn, and I somehow ended up writing an ode to Rudolf Nureyev instead.
Here’s to more curving paths in the coming year. Sometimes they take us where we need to go.