Rose Marie, co-star of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ dies at 94
Rose Marie, an actress, singer and comedian best known for portraying the wisecracking Sally Rogers in the popular 1960s sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” died Thursday, according to her agent and official website. She was 94.
Marie died about 2 p.m. in Van Nuys, her agent, Harlan Boll, said. He did not release any additional details.
Cast as a glib, man-hunting comedy writer on the show, Marie continued playing the part, in a way, on other stages years after the role ended.
When the series wrapped in 1966, she became a regular on the game show “The Hollywood Squares,” game show, essentially staying in character. She had been too depressed to pursue work as an actor and singer, she often said, after being widowed at 40. Marie stayed with the game show for 14 years.
For the rest of her life, while making public appearances, she invariably wore the black hair bow that had been her signature on the sitcom.
She had been onstage for much of the 20th century after winning a New York City talent contest in the late 1920s. As a 3-year-old, she had belted out “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?” in a raspy voice mature beyond her years.
She was soon known professionally as Baby Rose Marie and became a sensation on the NBC radio network, which signed her to a seven-year contract. To prove to a doubting public that the singer who sounded like Sophie Tucker actually was a child, the network sent her on a yearlong tour.
She toured in vaudeville, was featured in a handful of movies and — after dropping “Baby” from her name as an adolescent — began headlining nightclubs. She also made her way to Broadway in the early 1950s in “Top Banana,” appearing with Phil Silvers in the musical revue and subsequent film.
“Some people think my whole life started with ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ which is not so,” Marie said in a 1999 interview with the Archive of American Television.
Her casting interview for “Dick Van Dyke” was little more than a formality. Sylvia Miles had played the part in the pilot, but when the show didn’t sell the first time around, series creator Carl Reiner recast the major roles.
In recommending his friend, producer Sheldon Leonard told Reiner, “There’s only one person to play Sally Rogers, and that is Rose Marie,” according to “The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book.”
When she learned that she would portray one of two writers who worked for Van Dyke’s character, Marie suggested Morey Amsterdam for the other role as Buddy Sorrell. She had known him since she was 11.
Casting Marie and Amsterdam was “a stroke of genius,” according to the 1982 book “Watching TV,” which said that “both brought a much-needed sharp comic edge to their characters.”
Over five seasons, from 1961 to 1966, the CBS sitcom turned into a major hit, aided by top-flight scripts and one of TV’s best ensemble casts, critics later said. Marie received three Emmy nominations for the role.
Rounding out the major parts were Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie, wife of Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie; Richard Deacon as Mel Cooley, the blustering producer of “The Alan Brady Show,” the series within the series; and Reiner as Brady.
“The chemistry of that group is what made that show,” Marie told the Archive of American Television. “It was a good show and cleverly done. It was brilliant. I enjoyed going to work every day. I didn’t know it would be a classic.”
Among her many favorite episodes were “Sally as a Girl,” in which everyone wrongly assumes her character and Van Dyke’s are having a romance; and “Dear Sally Rogers,” in which she makes a plea on late-night television for a husband.
“I’ve had young girls come up to me and say, ‘It was because of you I became a writer,’” Marie said on a 2004 reunion show of the surviving cast members. “I worked with the guys, I made the same money — I was the first women’s libber on television.”
When she donated the hair bow she wore on the show and her childhood dancing shoes to the Smithsonian Institution in 2008, she would only say that she donned the hair accessory for “a very private personal reason.”
Three years into the series, Bobby Guy, a musician who had been Marie’s husband of 18 years, died from a blood disease at 48 in 1964.
Devastated, she decided she could not continue on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but the show’s director, John Rich, talked her out of quitting.
“Everybody was so marvelous. If there were things in the script they thought might upset me, they’d write it out,” Marie said in the 1993 book “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” “They were the best in the world. They were family.”
Rose Marie Mazzetta was born Aug. 15, 1923, in New York City, the first of two children of Stella Gluscak and Frank Mazzetta, who was a suit cutter and union organizer. Her parents never married; her father already had a wife, with whom he had two children.
When her mother took her to musical shows, Marie would come home and sing in her New York tenement, and neighbors entered her in the contest that launched her career at age 3.
“My father heard about my victory and quickly became part of the picture,” she wrote in her 2002 autobiography, “Hold the Roses.”
He became her manager, and most of her early wages went to support her father’s other family or were gambled away by him, she wrote in her book.
In 1929, she appeared in “Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder,” the first of her musical shorts, and in 1933 sang in her first feature film, “International House,” which starred W.C. Fields.
She attended a children’s professional school in New York City and began working in nightclubs in her mid-teens. When she turned 16, the Glenn Miller Orchestra played at her party and crooner Tony Martin serenaded her, according to her autobiography.
While performing at a New Jersey nightclub, she met Guy, a trumpet player who had performed with Kay Kyser’s band before the war. She was 22 when they married in 1946.
When the Flamingo Hotel opened in Las Vegas later that year, she co-headlined with Jimmy Durante and other entertainers. She was also pregnant with her only child, Georgiana Marie Guy.
Marie and her husband moved to Burbank in 1946 and later bought a house in Van Nuys, where she lived for much of the rest of her life.
In 1960, she was a regular on the short-lived sitcom “My Sister Eileen,” which starred Elaine Stritch, and later that decade was cast in a featured role on the sitcom “The Doris Day Show.”
From 1977 to 1985, she went on the road in “4 Girls 4,” a variety show that also originally featured singers Rosemary Clooney, Barbara McNair and Margaret Whiting.
“Wit is her chief commodity,” and it was in ample supply, said The Times’ review of Marie’s 1977 performance with the group.
She never remarried. In her book, she called Guy “the love of my life.”
When asked if she would have changed anything about her character on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Marie once replied, “I’m sorry she never got a guy.”
Marie is survived by her daughter, Georgiana, and her son-in-law, Steven Rodrigues.
Nelson is a former Times staff writer.
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