Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lunch with Sally Rogers

It’s always risky meeting people you’ve really admired. There’s always that danger that in person they scream at waiters, preach Scientology, or think A-Rod is misunderstood. They use the pedestal you put them on to throw rocks down at you.  They belittle you for wearing an authentic HERMAN MUNSTER costume when you stop them at Costco. 

And so it was with great delight and relief that I can report that Rose Marie is an absolute doll. Thanks to my friend, Stu Shotak, I had lunch yesterday with “Sally Rogers” from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.

Tomorrow she turns 90 years old and in her own Sally Rogers words – still has all her marbles. That’s being modest. She has an amazing memory. She was recalling events in the 1930s and I’m thinking, “What did I order again?”

I’ve been in the industry quite a long time (nothing like her – 87 years. I asked if she had decided yet to pursue show business fulltime?), and I’ve met a lot of celebrities. But I was a total geek fanboy listening to Rose Marie share inside stories of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, her years on Broadway (Ethel Merman saw her in previews for one project and went backstage after the performance. All Rose's well-wishers were praising her, and Ethel said, “GET OUT OF THIS SHOW!”), her appearance on WINGS (which she loved), and tales of HOLLYWOOD SQUARES.

Whereas most people ask “What was so-and-so really like?” and “Did you ever work with this person or that?” I asked how much rewriting was done on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (a lot). I asked if there were ever any scripts that were really in trouble? I asked what was the process like on the stage? How collaborative was it? And okay… I did ask if any cast member was a giant pain-in-the-ass and she said none of them were.

Our lunch was interrupted several times by adoring fans coming up to her to thank her for all the joy she’s brought us all.  Rose was touched and genuinely glad they approached. Imagine being recognized and praised everywhere you go for fifty years? How does your head not swell to the size of Cowboys Stadium? And yet, she remains very down-to-earth.

Typical of Rose Marie: In talking about THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW she said, “When we were making those shows we knew they were good, but we had no idea what they’d become.” This, as opposed to Diane English, who when she accepted the Emmy for MURPHY BROWN called it the “greatest comedy in the history of television.”

Needless to say, this was a special treat for me. I was just a super-nerd boy hanging on every story. THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW wasn’t just a TV show; it was a revelation. It had a major impact on not just me but my family. I grew up to be Buddy Sorrell and my daughter Annie grew up to be Sally Rogers.

I sincerely hope that someday you get to meet the people who meant the world to you, and that they turn out to be as lovely (and funny) as Rose Marie.

You can make Rose’s 90th birthday special by contributing to the Doris Day Animal Foundation in her name. Here’s where you go to do that.

I’d like to think that if “Sally Rogers” were turning 90 she’d still be working, punching up HOT IN CLEVELAND.

Happy Birthday!  Let's make this lunch an annual tradition for the next twenty years.

57 comments:

Carol said...

I'm so jealous. I love the Dick Van Dyke show, and 'Sally' was always my favourite.

I think the show stands up so well even today because of the enormous amount of talent that was involved, both on and off screen.

VincentS said...

Great story, Ken.

Jim S said...

Ken,

When I was growing up, I didn't realize what departure The Dick Van Dyke Show was from what came before it. Yes it was silly, but they'd do shows about things like kids' birthday parties getting too fancy. That was in 1963. They did one about Buddy get Bar Mitzvaed in his 40s because he grew up poor and had to go to work when he was a teenager during the 1920s.

And I loved it when they actually showed the writers coming up with a sketch. The one where Rob complains about his wife reading his mail to Buddy and Sally becomes a whole sketch. You see each writer adding some adsurd bit to a routine that would be funny on any variety show (See Aaron Sorkin of Studio 60, it can be done, even for a fake show) struck me as real, as how it is done by the big boys.

The joke where Alan Brady (Cark Reiner) is confronted by Rob and Buddy about something and say to Rob "so that's what you think Mr. Christian?" That's a reference to The Mutiny on the Bounty. A funny joke, but when Buddy says, "Mr. Jewish thinks the same thing" moves a nice little movie gag to the sublime. Again, in 1964.

Request Ken. Have lunch with Carl Reiner. You know Mel Brooks. I saw them on Seinfeld's Cars and Coffee and apparently they see each other all the time. Make that happen. And don't be afraid to go into details and do multiple entries. An arguement can be made that The Dick Van Dyke Show made most of the great comedies from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Cheers, Taxi Fraiser, The Bob Newhart Show, possible.

Anyway, great column.

Sunday said...

She sounds absolutely amazing. I wish I had that opportunity - I plan to write a book chapter on Dick Van Dyke show, and could fill an entire chapter on Sally Rogers, she was fantastic. I'm so glad to hear you had such a good experience... I've met a few actors I admired, and truth be told, after the meeting I just couldn't admire them at all. So happy it was good, Ken!

unkystan said...

I live in NY but visit LA a few times a year. One of my favorite stops is the 99c store near Tarzana. While walking around I suddenly see, of all people, Rose Marie! Ribbon in her hair, and all! She was in a wheelchair and being "assisted" by a young man. I really wanted to say hi but didn't want to seem like an idiot or be intrusive so I asked the young man if it was ok. He said "of course!" She was so sweet! I've only approached one other person (Adolph Greene) because when they're just doing their business they should have their space. But these times I couldn't help myself. Glad I did it. Happy Birthday and God bless you Ro!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Sally Rogers was the female character I loved on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW as a child in the 1960s; I can't be the only woman my age who hated Laura Petrie because she was a talented, smart woman who gave up everything she could have been to be a housewife and mother. Sally Rogers was a much better role model.

Happy birthday, Rose Marie! I doubt your memory will go back *this* far, but my mother traveled for a brief time with her father, Engelbert Merian, who had a show of trained dogs that he brought to many vaudeville stages. My brother found a list he kept of the places he played during his career, which spanned the dawn of the 20th century, and he traveled an enormous amount from his native Switzerland, including tours in Australia and the US. He even played at the Folies Bergere. Anyway, my mother remembered not only meeting Rose Marie, than a little girl (this would be sometime like the early 1930s) and holding her on her lap. I always loved knowing there was that tiny connection.

wg

Johnny Walker said...

Allow me to join the line: Sally Rogers was also my favourite character on the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.

I'd love to hear her answers to your questions!

Johnny Walker said...

Also, thanks for sharing that lovely connection, Wendy.

VP81955 said...

And for those who don't know, in her childhood Rose was a singer (and a good one, too) who worked and recorded with Fletcher Henderson and other noted orchestras of the era.

Johnny Walker said...

JIM S: If you want to hear Carl Reiner talk about his career, check out the WTF PODCAST with Marc Maron. He did a couple of fantastic interviews recently: REINER, MEL BROOKS, DICK VAN DYKE.

Pure, unedited conversation. A real joy to listen to.

Mac said...

That's great. It's always heartening to see someone who remained sane & human after huge fame & success.
"Levine's Lunches" should be a thing. Three small cameras, one day's editing...

Anonymous said...

Love Mac's idea of Levine's Lunches. It could be a "thing".

I always loved Sally because she showed what was possible for women not just being a Laura. I loved Laura/MTM but always thought there could be more. Thanks, Sally & Ms. Rose Marie.

Pam aka sisterzip

Mr. Hollywood said...

I have had the absolute joy of doing lengthy interviews with both Mel Books and Carl Reiner ... the best! Was thrilled when they gave Carl a lifetime comedy achievement award and decided to use my interview to highlight his life!
Going back even further, I also had the privilege of interviewing the legendary Jack Benny. It simply doesn't get any better the to sit with comedy royalty like that!

Roger Owen Green said...

Last night my nine year old couldn't sleep ("Go to bed!") and we ended up watching the two-part ep of Stacey Petrie. Stacey had been writing to this woman, under the name of a buddy, and has a practice date - as it turns out, with Sally - to work up courage. Herman, Sally's boyfriend, shows up and shows some real passion in fighting Stacey, while Sally tries in vain to get out of the way. It was all great fun. And after the 2nd part (with no Buddy or Sally), the Daughter finally went to bed.

McAlvie said...

There's a reason that show lives on in our hearts - and in syndication! I always tell people if you really want to know what it was like living in the 1960s, watch that show. And it was and still is genuinely funny without being obnoxious. A few years back I kept hearing that the sitcom is dead. Well not because there is no audience for them, that's for sure. I said then and I say again, if the sitcom is dead it's because the networks killed it through sheer stupidity, not because of the viewers.

Gene P. said...

One of the best female characters in one of the best situation comedies EVER. Loved her. Loved the show--still do.

McAlvie said...

Oh, and a memory just popped into my head ... wasn't there an episode of Mad About You - or it might have been another show - that guest starred Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam? I just remember a scene where an apartment door is opened and there stands Sally Rogers. In this episode she and Buddy (okay, Morey, but he'll always be Buddy,you know?) played a married couple.

normadesmond said...

i got to meet her a seven years ago when she came to mpls. to introduce some of her old vitaphone shorts.

she was a good sport.

estiv said...

@McAlvie, it was an episode of Caroline in the City that featured Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as an old married couple. I guess the old traditions are right: we should honor our ancestors, in whatever form they take.

Anonymous said...

@McAlvie, what you may remember from Mad About You is Carl Reiner as Alan Brady, and Jamie (Helen Hunt) flustered at feeding him dinner, doing a great reproduction of Laura Petrie's sobbing "Oh, Rob!".

Craig Edwards said...

Donated! Thank you for the story and the link, Mr. Levine.

jake said...

How cool! So great that she is on top of her game.

An interesting, fun web series/show would be this variation of Seinfeld's Comedians & Coffee: Sitcom Writers Noshing With Actors or How Sitcoms Explain The World, or something like that. You'd be perfect for it, Ken.

Anyway, Sally Rogers was a favorite character of mine and I always got a kick out of watching Rose Marie on something else, usually a game show.

Happy Birthday Rose Marie!

rpp said...

Rose is my neighbor and her house is ALWAYS the first one decorated for holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas. She's always been the sweetest host to my kids when they came knocking for candy. I'm glad she's being well cared for. She deserves it!

Mike said...

Did she ever do another series? I remember she was a regular on "The Doris Day Show" for a season or two, but other than that I only remember seeing her on "Hollywood Squares."

Matt said...

I know what you mean...

...I met this writer named Ken once in Cincinnati before a Reds game and lemme tell ya' ... Here I was, about to meet the guy who wrote some of the most memorable moments in a show I raced home every day after school to watch ... M*A*S*H.

Back then...late 70s into the dawn of the 80s...we didn't have a family VCR, so I would tape the shows on cassettes (which I still have in a box somewhere) and I would listen back and write out the scripts. I must've listened to "None Like It Hot' about a million times. When I watch it back on DVD, I'm still expecting "This iiiiisss CBS" at the first act break.

So here I am, among a small group, staring at the guy who wrote the lines I still know. I even printed up a copy of the script, made it look official with a red cover, acco brads and all, but thought it was way too geek-boy to ask for an autograph, so I left it in the car.

Stephanie, my girlfriend, leaned over at one point and asked "now which one on MASH was he?"

I leaned back: "the writer"

Jan said...

Matt: God, you are SUCH a suck-up.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Whatta Sweetheart!

McAlvie said...

thanks, estiv and anon. yes, clearly I had confused the two sitcoms, both of which I watched.

Max Clarke said...

Rose Marie was the first woman I saw on tv who held her own with the guys. In those days, women were portrayed frequently as props for the husband or the father or the authority figure.

Rose Marie was the equal of the guys, not to mention cute and effervescent and sharp as a tack.

Good post.

Evelyn said...

Well, to be fair, Sally did have her limitations as a feminist role model. The series did have a tendency to play the "poor, lonely, unmarried Sally" card with her sometimes. The series was of its time.

John said...

Rose's character on DVD reportedly was modeled after Selma Diamond, who Carl Reiner knew from "Your Show of Shows" and who gained her own bit of sitcom fame two decades later, as the first baliff (named, for some reason, Selma) on "Night Court".

And 20 years before she was Sally Rogers, Rose Marie reportedly played another Sally character, doing the singing voice of Sally Swing in a 1938 Max Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon. Not too many people still around who can say they worked with Ms. Boop, I suppose.

RCP said...

Ken - glad you had such a great time meeting someone you so admire.

Not everyone is aware that Rose Marie was also a damned impressive singer as a girl - check out "My Bluebird is Singing the Blues' and other selections on YouTube - as Rose Marie relates, people didn't believe a child could sing that way and were convinced she was a 45-year-old midget - so they sent her out on tour across the country. She's a delight.

benson said...

I have nothing to add comment-wise, but just wanted to join the birthday wishes for Ms. Marie. Thank you for all the entertainment.

Jake Mabe said...

"Dick Van Dyke" is among the top five greatest TV comedies, along with "Mary Tyler Moore," "M*A*S*H," "All in the Family" and "Cheers."

Sorry, "Murphy Brown" doesn't even make my top 20. Take that, Diane English!

RockGolf said...

There was a second show where Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie appeared as a married couple decades after Dick Van Dyke: the Showtime series Brothers. They played Mr & Mrs Bobo the adoptive parents of a black guy that the daughter of one of the brothers was going out with.

GC said...

Like usually, i watch a Cheers or a Dick Van Dyke Show. Today, it's a Dick Van Dyke Show, my Number 1 episode, "Where you been, Fassbinder". Now, you give me this post like a dessert after the show. I appreciate, thank you, Mr Levine. Happy birthday Mrs Rose Marie, thank you for the laugh.

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks so much for posting this. We recently saw Dick Van Dyke in concert, and that was one for the memory banks, but how I'd love to meet Baby Rose Marie.

Like you, my life was profoundly influenced by the "Dick Van Dyke Show." My wife Laura and I are both comedy writers who work together and who grew up on "DVD Show" reruns in the afternoon. It made me want to become a comedy writer and marry a hot chick named Laura who was witty and a great singer like Sally. Laura wanted to grow up to marry a tall, goofy comedy writer like Rob. We both got our wishes, although I got the better end of the deal (I do have a one-syllable, three-letter name, if that helps. No?) When I did some contract writing work in the northeast once, I even deliberately chose to stay in New Rochelle, just to have Rob's old mailing address.

Today, "The DVD Show" is one of the few series that I have complete on DVD (another one I just bought a couple of weeks ago is "MASH"). As for "Murphy Brown," I always thought that was wildly overpraised even when it was first airing, just because it struck all the political notes that were fashionable in Hollywood at the time. I don't even remember the last time I heard it mentioned in conversations about the best sitcoms ever. I don't think it's aging very well. Hearing Murphy snark about Dan Quayle actually seems more dated than hearing Archie Bunker gripe about the "hebes" and the "coloreds." Quayle is off playing golf with Alice Cooper, but racism is still around, and "AITF" seems groundbreakingly anti-PC again.

Kosmo13 said...

IIRC, Rose Marie had a recurring role on SWAT, too.

James said...

It would have been interesting to compare her experience on the DVD Show to her experience on The Doris Day Show. I know one was 3-camera and Doris was 1-camera, but still--the questions on writing, rewriting, trying to figure out if something plays, and in general how the shows were put together, it would be interesting.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Evelyn: Yes, that's absolutely true. But I didn't notice that as a child - what I saw was a smart, funny woman with a great job who got to wisecrack with the guys. It was only after I was given the full set of DVDs for Christmas and went through them methodically that I realized how much they did play up the lonely spinster angle.

My favorite moment from DVD is Carl Reiner glaring balefully at all the heads with their now-useless toupees.

wg

DrBOP said...

Rose and Morey crackin' wise.....THAT was comedy.

Hubba-hubba Rose Marie.....many more!

Mark said...

DVD show is timeless. It's surprisingly undated in a lot of ways. I wish it had been shot in color; had it been, I think it would seem even more contemporary.

As for Murphy Brown, I liked Candice Bergen well enough, but the supporting characters were a bunch of caricatures and they were grating. And it bombed in syndication; try finding reruns of it. Diane English: talk about a one-hit wonder.

Tammy said...

I'm another jealous one here but at least you sort of shared it with all of us so we could pretend we were sitting at that restaurant with you. Absolutely love Rose Marie and The Dick Van Dyke show is one of my very favorite classic shows of all time. It was refreshingly clean and still ahead of it's time! (Yes, it can be both!) Happy Birthday, Miss Marie!

Mike McCann said...

You lucky devil! Next year, when you have you next lunch with her, you need to ask if she ever met Lucille Kallan, on whom Sally Rogers was based.

DBenson said...

Look up "International House", a nutty old musical revue that has Baby Rose Marie doing a torch song. The movie also features prime bits of foolery with W.C. Fields and Burns & Allen, plus a bunch of guest stars.

Somehow doubt Rose Marie got to meet anybody on that one -- she and several others had self-contained music videos dropped into a story about an inventor demonstrating a pre-television television.

Canda said...

"Murphy Brown"? You don't ever see that show in syndication. Too topical, too transitory.

"The Dick Van Dyke Show", however, is timeless.

Brian V. said...

Ken, did she talk about the episode in which Rob Petrie suspects that they have brought the wrong baby home from the hospital? A classic when the supposed other family shows up -- and Greg Morris walks in the door. I believe Dick Van Dyke said it was the longest laugh on the show, although they were worried beforehand how the race issue would go over. Anyway, thanks for the reminiscing ...

Hamid said...

Ken, would love to get your reaction/opinion on this news of a new sitcom that's being likened to Cheers.

NBC has bought an untitled comedy from 30 Rock writer-producer Colleen McGuinness, which is being executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock through Universal Television, where both are based. Written and executive produced by McGuinness, the project, said to be in the vein of Cheers, is a character-driven workplace comedy where a young woman in search of reconnecting with her father finds a new home and family on Fire Island.

McAlvie said...

Brian V - viewers today might get the humor of the situation, but probably wouldn't understand that it broke a bit of ground, too.

As for the comments on Murphy Brown, it really was a great show and deserving of praise. However, what made the show such a smart, witty series is also what dooms it for syndication. It was a show so centered around current events - basically a fictional 60 Minutes - that most of the humor would escape younger viewers.

Roger Owen Green said...

The episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show that tend to fail are the items that were topical. The dance craze The Twizzle, from season 1, which, I've read, the cast HATED.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mike MacCann: ah, another Lucille Kallen fan. I have the murder mysteries she wrote under the pseudonym CB Greenfield.

btw, in writing this I noticed that Kallen does not have a Wikipedia entry (though she does have an obit in the NY times). Let's you and me fix that!

wg

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mike: I've created a draft page, which Wikipedia says may take a week to review and accept. Perhaps you could add to it when/if they do - I will be appalled if they don't recognize that Kallen deserves a page. *I* have a page. She deserves one more than I do!

wg

chalmers said...

I saw Florence Henderson interviewing her and, as you said, she was as sharp as ever, remembering some small details that were 70 years old.

She talked about how she wanted to leave The DVD Show after her husband died in 1964, but the warmth and sensitivity of her cast members helped her get past her broken heart.

She singled out the kindness of Richard Deacon, who, by all accounts that I've read, was the opposite of the self-important buffoons that he often played.

Unknown said...

Did she finally dump that loser Herman Glimsher?

Greg Ehrbar said...

A lot of the Rose Marie questions above are answered in her book, "No Bed of Roses," available on amazon (she's working on a second book).

And her interviews on stusshow.com are archived and are priceless. This is an amazing lady and a massive talent.

Paul Blake said...

Hi Ken
Love the blog, it's a 'must read' for me each day, a bright spot in my morning.
Couldn't agree more about meeting people you've admired, hoping they'd not be a disappointment. I've been blessed to have met a bunch of musicians that I've admired, and been rewarded with good positive experiences. Met Mike Nesmith after his show in NYC last spring, and he could not have been a more genuine, down to earth nice guy. Actually listened to what I said, and asked ME questions! Had similar experiences with a few other 'big' 60's stars, and honestly, found that the only ones that gave me any 'attitude' were the folks who hadn't made it big, they seemed to think who they were; the ones who had found some measure of stardom were genuinely pleased to meet the people who, in large part, helped give them that success.
And the biggest jackasses were the local guys who thought they were going to be the next big thing. Go figure!
Paul

John Bertalan said...

That must have been FANTASTIC! A true Icon!