Rosemary Clooney’s Kentucky Home
When Rosemary Clooney sang “Come On-a My House” there’s a good chance she was thinking about her home in Kentucky. She not only spent her childhood there, but returned again and again no matter how famous she became, always returning to her old Kentucky home.
The singer was born in 1928 in Maysville, on the banks of the Ohio River, in the heart of bourbon country. She was one of five children born to Andrew and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly happy or stable home and Clooney and her brothers, Nicky and Andy, and her sisters, Betty and Gail, bounced around between the homes of family members, often ending up with their grandparents.
While the children didn’t have a stable upbringing, they had each other and they had one other constant in their lives—music. Rosemary reportedly first hit the stage when she was a mere three years old, singing "When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver (I Will Love You Just the Same)" at Maysville’s downtown movie house, the Russell Theater, performing for her grandfather during his successful mayoral campaign in Maysville, and winning talent competitions at the Opera Theater. The New York Times notes that she made her acting debut playing the witch in a fourth-grade production of ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.'' They were defining moments for the soon-to-be star as her love of both acting and singing lead her to a decades-long career in Hollywood.
At 16, after the family had moved to Ohio, Clooney and her thirteen-year old sister Betty auditioned for a talent show at Cincinnati radio station, WLW. They won $20 each and managed to catch the attention of bandleader Barney Rapp, who recommended them to the musician Tony Pastor. The Clooney Sisters, as they were known, toured the country singing with Pastor, wearing dresses sewed by their Grandmother Guilfoyle and chaperoned by their beloved Uncle George Guilfoyle.
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In 1946, Rosemary started to branch out on her own, with her first solo recording, “I'm Sorry I Didn't Say I'm Sorry When I Made You Cry Last Night.” When Betty quit touring with Tony Pastor’s band in 1948, Rosemary followed her dreams to New York City, appearing on television shows like the Ed Sullivan Show singing tunes like “Songs for Sale” and recording her first hit, “Beautiful Brown Eyes.” Rosemary became a household name, though, thanks to a funny little song called “Come On-a My House,” which she reportedly thought was “dreadful” the first time she heard it. Luckily, she overcame that hatred and the song became a smash hit and her trademark tune, alongside sing-along favorites like “Mambo Italiano”. She was nominated for multiple Grammy awards, and lived out her lifelong dream to play Carnegie Hall. Even with all that fame, Rosemary often reminisced of her Kentucky home through songs like, “You're In Kentucky Sure As You're Born” and “Sweet Kentucky Ham”.
Of course, Rosemary wasn’t just a beautiful voice. She was an accomplished actress as well. In her honor for her 1953 movie debut, The Girls are Singing, she returned to her hometown of Maysville for the premiere and then town through a parade ending at the Russell Theater where Rosemary had performed as a small girl. She also had her own TV show, The Rosemary Clooney Show, famously starred in films like Here Come the Girls with Bob Hope and White Christmas, alongside Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen, and earned an Emmy nomination for her guest role on the NBC drama ER, starring alongside her nephew, George Clooney.
After a years-long on-again, off-again romance with José Ferrer, with whom she had five children and divorced twice, she found love with a Dante DiPaolo, who she had jilted in favor of Ferrer way back in 1953. When they ran into each other again later in life, they fell in love all over again. In 1996, she married him in the church in Maysville where she had been baptized and where she had her first communion. In 2002, her funeral was held in that same small church, and she is buried nearby at St. Patrick Cemetery.
Rosemary never forgot her Kentucky home—and it never forgot her. In the 1990s, she would return to attend – and sometimes perform at – Maysville's annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival. It was a festival she helped found with proceeds going toward the renovation of the Russell Theater that had been so important in her life.
Back in 1980, Clooney bought a little yellow house in Augusta, KY, on the banks of the Ohio River that she loved so much she included it in her autobiography, Girl Singer. It was a quiet retreat that was just a few blocks from the home of her younger brother, Nick. It was her escape from Hollywood and a chance to be herself, not the superstar Rosemary Clooney. Now, it has been turned into a museum dedicated to the star the townsfolk knew as Rosie. The Rosemary Clooney House has childhood photos from her years in Mayville, memorabilia from her time in the Clooney Sisters, dresses from her long career, personal mementos from friends like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and much more. The home is open to the public as a museum displaying an extensive collection of exhibits in honor of this legendary singer's life and career, but also her life as young girl growing up in Kentucky.