Truly a rags to riches story, Rosie was abandoned as a child by her mother, and then again by her father. Fighting tooth and nail to survive, Rosemary and her sister Betty, miraculously won a Cincinnati radio singing contest. After catching the attention of bandleader Tony Pastor, the Clooney sisters were invited to join his band. Reaching a crossroads in 1949, Betty decided to stay in Cincinnati while Rosie went solo and tried her luck in New York City. There, she landed a record deal with Columbia Records and was convinced by Mitch Miller to record “Come On-a My House.” Although Rosemary thought the song was silly, it went gold and “Rosie” became a household name.
Her first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on Christmas Day 1949. She walked out in an elegant white dress and sang “Dreamer’s Holiday” and later performed “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” with backup dancers. From 1949 to 1966, Clooney made 16 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, all the while juggling her singing and acting career. Throughout these appearances, she would share the stage with performers like Al Hirt, the Crosby Brothers and the Buddy Cole Trio. On July 11, 1954 she performed the song “Sisters” with Betty. And in 1962, she was part of a special St. Patrick’s Day collaboration with Pat Rooney, Maureen O’Hara and Ed Sullivan himself. “White Christmas” (1954) served as her film debut, and she hosted her own variety show, The Rosemary Clooney Show in 1956.
Rosie’s two big hits, “Hey There” and “This Ole House” spent an impressive 27 weeks on the Billboard Top 40 chart and both also hit the number one spot. Other Clooney Top 40 hits included “Mambo Italiano,” “Memories of You,” and her last major hit in 1957, “Mangos.”
Rosie’s career came to a screeching halt in 1968 after she witnessed her close friend, presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy’s assignation. This tragedy, combined with an addiction to sleeping pills caused her to have a mental breakdown during a show in Reno. She spent several years in therapy before she finally resurfaced on Bing Crosby’s 50th Anniversary tour in 1976. This led to her landing a contract with Concord Jazz Records, and a string of successful albums. Now considered a jazz legend, Clooney won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and an ASCAP Pied Piper award before she died from lung cancer in 2002.
Check out our Rosemary Clooney playlist to see full performances from The Ed Sullivan Show!