Before there was Joan Rivers, there was Rose Marie—and she is still with us. Initially, she was billed as “Baby Rose Marie.” The child star belted out Sophie Tucker standards for fans like Al Capone, but as she aged into adulthood, she started to integrate comedy into her act. It was a heck of an act that would take her from vaudeville and network radio to television, Broadway, and Vegas. Rose Marie herself takes stock of her life and career in Jason Wise’s snappy documentary profile, Wait for Your Laugh (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Perhaps you only remember Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show, but that is okay. It is one of the few old sitcoms that still holds up. She and her partner in quips, Morey Amsterdam are two big reasons it still has an edge. Yet, her career goes back to the prohibition era, when she was a child performer on radio—when radio was the most significant form of entertainment going.
She segued nicely into torch-signing and night club gigs, as soon as she was old enough to be served in them. It was there that she met her future husband, big band trumpeter Buddy Guy. As one might expect from a portrait of the tart-tongued performer, there are a lot of laughs in WFYL, but the heart of the film focuses on her once-in-a-lifetime romance with Guy.
Guy was a musician’s musician and a sideman’s sideman, who was the first trumpeter for Kay Kyser and Bing Crosby’s bands at the height of their popularity. He was a studio work-horse, so it warms the hearts of us big band fans to hear about their deep abiding love for each other. Unfortunately, it also chokes us up to hear how he was taken from her far too early, as the result of a mysterious blood infection in 1964, at the peak of her visibility on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Even today, over sixty years later, Rose Marie is clearly still crazy in love with him.
Of course, life would go on, but the classic Carl Reiner show would eventually end. Consequently, Rose Marie would have to constantly reinvent herself to keep working. While the first half-hour of WFYL could be a companion film to Ken Burns’ Prohibition and Jazz, it evolves into a show business survival story, very much like Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Perhaps Rose Marie was not top-of-mind yesterday, but you are sure to admire her when you how doggedly she kept at it, including work as a Hollywood Squares regular, co-starring on The Doris Day Show, and her later cartoon voice-overs. (Oddly enough, there is no mention of her cameo in Witchboard, starring 80s icon Tawny Kitaen.)
Most of Rose Marie’s story comes straight from her, looking straight into the camera and delivering like she is back on-stage at Slapsy Maxie’s. Yet, Wise further livens up the film with stylized recreations of her encounters with key figures she met along the way, such as Bugsy Siegel. Plus, her old crony Peter Marshall also supplies some supplemental narration.
There is a ton of pop culture history in Wise’s doc that is endanger of being forgotten in the age of Netflix and Amazon, but this film brings it back in nostalgic waves for anyone old enough to remember seeing any of her shows syndicated on broadcast television. Highly recommended for the eternally hip, Wait for Your Laugh opens this Friday (11/3) in New York, downtown at the Angelika Film Center and in Midtown at the Landmark 57 West.