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Waiting for the laughter I Chuck's World


Last updated 11/8/2017 at Noon

I’m a skeptic about memories, particularly my personal memories. There are 50 years of dust between today and my childhood, and I assume that my recollection is at least suspect, if not completely made up.

I’m a little envious of younger people, then. Many of them have unbroken histories, well documented in this digital age and preserved, as far as I can tell, forever. My kids have to take my word for stuff, and, again, I’m not sure I trust my memories.

It’s all I’ve got, though. A bunch of faded photographs, a few report cards, and the collective memories of family and friends, all attempting to reconstruct a life from long ago, augmented by slivers of recollection that seem just as faded as the pictures.

Even my analogies are ancient; I think of old memories as those blank VHS videotapes we had in the 1980s, with special moments recorded over old episodes of “St. Elsewhere.” Every re-dubbing resulted in less resolution and clarity, until they became a jumble of images, bleeding into each other. I remember remembering, in other words.

And what I’m remembering today is Rose Marie Mazetta. Let’s review the tape.

I was 3 years old in 1961, the year “The Dick Van Dyke Show” premiered, and just finishing kindergarten by the time it ended its five-year run. It wasn’t the type of television a small child would watch, and I think it’s likely I never saw a first-run episode. I heard them, though.

Children will always listen. By the way.

So I would lie in bed, my bedtime strict and always observed, and listen to whatever shows my parents were watching in the living room until I drifted off. Years later, when I had more freedom to choose my entertainment, and after syndication gave me a chance (in those pre-videotape, pre-DVR, pre-on-demand days), I’d sometimes be reminded that I’d heard this show from my bedroom.

One of these was “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and by the time I was 12 or so I’m pretty sure I’d seen every episode. It remains a classic, always playing somewhere and at some time, and while I have no idea if it would appeal to younger generations, it seems to remain alive and well.

And for good reason.

It had all the elements of traditional, 1950s-era situation comedies, a wacky home life with wacky neighbors and wacky domestic difficulties, all neatly resolved at the end of 30 minutes, and all filmed in black and white. It was different in that when the husband/father went off to work, the camera followed.

We saw the home life of a television comedy writer, and then we saw the comedy writing.

And while the actors were all first-rate comedic performers—Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon, Carl Reiner—it was obvious even to a child that Rose Marie was something special.

She played Sally Rogers, skipping decades of social change, portraying a woman in a corporate man cave and always holding her own. She was on equal footing with, and just as funny as, her two male co-workers, an aberration for that television era and an inspiration, one imagines, to funny little girls everywhere.

There was much more, though. In a cast of multitalented performers, Rose Marie (opting to be known only by her first name, decades before Madonna was even born) stood out, and no wonder: Age 38 when the show premiered, she’d already been making us laugh for a very long time.

With a preternatural ability to entertain, she became a national sensation by her fifth birthday, with her own radio show and nightclub appearances as Baby Rose Marie. She sat on Al Capone’s lap as a small child, and opened Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel in what was then the sleepy desert town of Las Vegas. She wasn’t married to the mob, but she had some stories to tell.

She still does. The little girl making big waves in show business during the height of the Great Depression, moving into radio, film, clubs, and eventually television, is now 94, her sharp memory enhanced by years of artifacts. She has photographs, letters, cards, scripts, and apparently a wealth of home movies, many of them shot on the set of the Van Dyke show.

From the waning days of vaudeville to the early days of the 21st century, Rose Marie is perhaps our last connection to American popular culture of the past 100 years. Somebody should make a movie about her, so somebody did.

I’ve been aware of “Wait For The Laugh” for months now, early news of filmmaker Jason Wise’s documentary catching my eye. I understood that the finished film had not yet acquired a distributor, and I watched as it gathered more and more attention.

It premiered recently at a film festival in California, and in the past week or so it opened in New York, with glowing reviews. I assume, and hope, it’ll appear in theaters near us soon. I think you should see it.

I think we all should see it. Perspective gets short shrift in the blazing speed of our modern world, and history is too important to be solely the purview of historians. We need witnesses, and we need to cherish them while they’re with us.

And it doesn’t hurt if they make us laugh while we remember, which Rose Marie has understood for a long time. Just wait for it, and you’ll see.


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