Mob, fame, loss: Film details Rose Marie’s surprising life

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rose Marie’s place in show business history is anchored by her performance as smart aleck comedy writer Sally on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and a “Hollywood Squares” quipster.

That is simply criminal, as a new documentary makes clear. Before she became a TV second banana, Baby Rose Marie was a big-voiced singing phenomenon who at age 4 began conquering radio, stage and records and blossomed into a glamorous nightclub performer.

Her remarkable life is recounted with her help in “Wait for Your Laugh,” a film with the verve, charisma and inventiveness to match its subject.

“The greatest asset we have is you don’t know the story,” said director Jason Wise, who produced the film with Christina Wise, his wife. It’s qualified for Academy Award consideration and is screening in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere to draw attention for a nomination.

Born Rose Marie Mazetta in New York City, she was the apple of Al Capone’s eye, opened the Flamingo in upstart Las Vegas for another gangster, Bugsy Siegel, and was a working wife and mom whose performance addiction and feistiness remain unabated at age 94.

“I loved to work for an audience and I loved to hold them in the palm of my hand — which I do,” a still-confident Rose Marie says in the film.

Throughout her decades-long career, she refused to be left behind as entertainment’s focus expanded to include movies and television, with the driven Rose Marie adapting her talents as required. Her last job was just a few years ago, voicing a character on the animated “The Garfield Show.”

“Wait for Your Laugh” takes a respectful but playful approach to Rose Marie’s life, deftly integrating witty re-enactments shot on film with each decade’s appropriate camera to bring her story to life.

Her memorabilia and personal footage from throughout her life proved a bonanza, said Jason Wise.

“Any time she mentions, say, a theater, there’s a telegram from Milton Berle saying ‘excited to see you’” there, Wise said, visually enriching the memory.

At a recent screening, Rose Marie held court from a wheelchair, frail but spirited in a follow-up discussion. She was joined by Van Dyke; the 1960s sitcom’s co-star and its creator, Carl Reiner, and “Hollywood Squares” host Peter Marshall.

“Carl, if you knew I had all those talents, you’d have given me a bigger part,” she pointedly teased Reiner about her supporting role on his hit show.

As he recalls in the film, Rose Marie was in the shadow of breakout star Mary Tyler Moore, a position that chafed on the spotlight-loving Rose Marie but which Reiner warned she must accept or quit.

She stayed, and Van Dyke said he was made better for working alongside her and Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie’s longtime friend and colleague who played fellow writer Buddy.

“I learned comedy from those two,” Van Dyke said, with Rose Marie chiding him when he jumped in too quickly after delivering a punch line. “She would say, ‘Wait for your laugh.’”

She could be tough, especially when it counted. Her experience on the set of the 1954 movie “Top Banana” illustrates how tiresomely repetitive Hollywood is when it comes to sexual harassment.

“You couldn’t get it up if the flag went by,” Rose Marie recalls telling a producer who promised her more screen time in exchange for sex. She rebuffed his advances and saw her role reduced.

“She is a great role model, with everything she’s gone through and experienced,” said Christina Wise. “She didn’t have the same kind of support women have today, and it’s still a struggle.”

The chief heavy in “Wait for Your Laugh” is Rose Marie’s father, whose connections brought mobsters into her life as friendly godfathers. He saw his talented offspring as a revenue source and, according to the film, kept the money she earned — millions in today’s dollars — and tried to block her from marrying.

The film honors Rose Marie’s devotion to her big-band musician husband, Bobby Guy, whose early death is the reason a black ribbon routinely is part of her trademark bouffant hairstyle. She never remarried.

Georgiana Guy Rodrigues, the couple’s daughter, suggests in the film that Rose Marie was more focused on her career than motherhood. But she acknowledges the drive to perform that has her mom puzzling over how she could do her nightclub act sitting down.

“She’s never stopped working, ever. Ever. From the time she was a child, she has never stopped,” Rodrigues says.