TV Reviews : Celebrating Rosemary Clooney’s Career

Frank Sinatra got it right when he described Rosemary Clooney as “a symbol of good, modern American music.” Right, but not quite complete, because Clooney--currently celebrating 50 years in the entertainment world--has matured into a lot more than a symbol, and a far more intriguing singer than she was during her “Come On-a My House” days in the ‘50s.

Which makes it particularly appropriate that “The Rosemary Clooney Golden Anniversary Celebration” tonight on A&E; is structured around a live Clooney performance taped in August at Disney World.

The 90-minute program includes greetings from Bob Hope, Joanne Woodward, Bette Midler and Diane Sawyer, among others; duets with Lily Tomlin, niece Cathy Campo and various grandchildren, and a solo number by Clooney daughter-in-law Debby Boone.

Brother Nick Clooney, the show’s host (and writer), narrates snippets of biographical film, audio and video edited throughout the performance segments. It’s fascinating to hear the first audition tape of Clooney and her partner in the Clooney Sisters, Betty (who died of a brain aneurysm in 1976), followed by a video clip of the duo’s spirited “Ed Sullivan” appearance.


But only passing mention is given to the difficult period after Clooney essentially gave up her career for a marriage to actor Jose Ferrer. (“He was an, ummm, OK husband, for a while,” she notes with a shrug.)

To her credit, Clooney has toughed her way past the hard times and been musically reborn in recent years as an eminently listenable, jazz-based artist. Her “Golden Anniversary Celebration” is at its best when the tributes are set aside and she stands in front of the John Oddo Quintet, offering up luscious ballad readings of “I’m Confessin’,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “When October Goes,” and romping through the easygoing swing of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “There Will Never Be Another You.”

* “The Rosemary Clooney Golden Anniversary Celebration” airs at 6 and 10 tonight and Thursday on A&E.;