Part 3—Hapless child brides, threatened sex assaults: We'd always semi-wondered about the late Rose Marie.
From 1961 to 1966, she starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Sally Rogers, a TV comedy writer. But who the heck was Rose Marie? And why did she seem to be a "first name only" performer?
When she died this week, at age 94, we finally got our answer. Her long. amazing show business career started when she was three years old. By the time she was 5, she had her own national radio show, a weekly program for NBC.
Back then, she performed as "Baby Rose Marie." Thirty-three years later, she was cast for the Van Dyke Show—and according to today's Washington Post, she had one complaint:
ELBER (12/30/17): “The Dick Van Dyke Show” not only was an ideal vehicle for Ms. Marie’s comic gifts, but it was a showcase for her singing...For a longer obituary, see this fascinating report in the New York Times.
Ms. Marie was especially proud of playing a woman defined by her work, a rare sitcom character at the time who wasn’t “a wife, mother, or housekeeper,” she tweeted in 2017.
The actress did have conflicts with [series creator Carl] Reiner, resenting that Moore was given more prominence than she on the show.
At any rate, is that clain in the Post really true? Did Rose Marie seek equal prominence with Mary Tyler Moore, who played Van Dyke's wife on the popular TV show?
We can't answer that question. But Moore was spectacularly telegenic and a perfectly decent comic performer. She was also very young, in keeping with Hollywood paradigms and traditions.
Just how old was Laura Petrie, the character played by Moore? In real life, Van Dyke was 35 years old when his eponymous program debuted in 1961. In real life, Moore was 24. (Rose Marie was 38.)
That said, the Laura character was written as a bit of a helpless child wife, a bit of an industry stereotype. We were struck by this backstory from the leading authority on the popular program:
Laura Petrie (née Meeker/Meehan; played by Mary Tyler Moore)—Rob's wife. As a 17-year-old dancer in the United Service Organizations, she met and married Rob. Then, she became a stay-at-home mom. In early Season One episodes, Rob calls her "Laurie" numerous times, as opposed to "Laura", which became his usual name for her.If that backstory is correct, the fictional Laura Petrie was scripted as having been just 17 when she married her older husband. But so the malecentric imagining went, all through the Hollywood of that time.
(Not too much later, several mothers in Alabama were thrilled when their teenage daughters were asked out by Roy Moore. The liberal world recently staged a moral panic about this less-than-remarkable state of affairs, in which those mothers were enacting a cultural ideal which Hollywood pushed for many years.)
Laura Petrie, a 17-year-old dancer turned 18-year-old homemaker, was written as a bit of a hapless child bride. Frequently, Rob would come home from the office to straighten her worries out.
In fairness, TV's previous decade had been dominated by the helpless Lucy Ricardo, who couldn't brush her teeth without creating a mess requiring Ricky's intervention. This is the way malecentric Hollywood thought and believed at this time.
Lucy Ricardo was a thoroughly helpless child. In real life and on that program, Rose Marie was an outlier, a striking exception to this unfortunate cultural norm.
By the end of the 1960s, Hollywood was moving away from the era in which 17-year-olds swooned for aging male stars, dragging them into the bedroom. The industry was moving into the era in which sexual assault, and threatened assault, were routinely used to drive tired plot lines along.
These horrible values were long the Hollywood norm. Within the past year, people have finally started discussing the appalling behavior which was occurring behind the scenes within this malecentric realm.
Rose Marie didn't abandon her career as a performer when she turned 17. But if she wanted equal billing with the spectacularly telegenic and rather childlike Laura Petrie, she was dreaming the impossible dream.
At what point did the culture of the helpless child bride make way for the culture of the thrilling sex assault? A few nights back, we watched the gruesome 1968 film, Firecreek, in which Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart pushed this gruesome new culture along, without dropping the silly left-over trope in which much younger women would instantly fall in love with much older men.
From its opening scene, Firecreek is driven along by the thrilling threat of assault. By the mid-1970s, this thrilling threat was driving the tired old scripts of Quinn Martin detective shows and their like—popular TV programs like Cannon, Mannix, Barnaby Jones and The Streets of San Francisco.
When their stories began to get dull, Hollywood writers of this era would menace attractive young women. This was the meat on which this version of Tinseltown fed, but we got there through the "geezer chic" of the 1950s.
As sisterhood would later become, geezer chic was powerful! In 1953, Grace Kelly—age 24 in real life—was forced to fall in love with Clark Gable (age 52 and looking no younger) in the stinker Mogambo. That said, these were some of the romantic pairings in Gable's last four films:
Teacher's Pet 1958: Gable 57, Mamie Van Doren 27Even Loren! That said, the hapless men of Hollywood scripted a decade of fantasy films in this ridiculous manner.
But Not For Me 1959: Gable 58, Carroll Baker 28
It Started in Naples 1960: Gable 59, Sophia Loren 26
The Misfits 1961: Gable 60, Marilyn Monroe 35 (playing 30)
Too funny! The leading authority on It Started in Naples offers this as part of its plot summary:
"Despite the age difference, romance soon blossoms between Michael and Lucia, and he decides to stay in Italy."
Despite the age difference? That was part of the basic script which fueled an entire era! Meanwhile, the leading authority on The Misfits offers this pitiful coda:
Gable suffered a heart attack two days after filming ended and died ten days later...Monroe later said that she hated the film and her performance in it. Within a year and a half, she was dead of an apparent drug overdose. The Misfits was the last completed film for both Monroe and Gable, her childhood screen idol. As a child, Monroe had often claimed that Gable was her father.In The Misfits, Marilyn fell for dear old (imagined) Dad. Days later, he dropped dead.
Hepburn, Kelly, Loren, Novak? In a practice Tinseltown was slow to abandon, they were reserved for the industry's aging alpha male stars. When this nonsense could be sold no longer, Hollywood turned to the era of the "naughty boy sex romp," and to the era of the thrilling threatened assault.
There's a great deal more to this pitiful story, which played out over many years with very few peeps of protest (or insight) from our enlightened tribe. But around the country, many mothers bought into the ideal of the teenager falling for, and marrying, the older established man.
In the past few months, our endlessly clueless liberal tribe staged a moral panic over this less-than-startling fact. We treated the dates just like the alleged assaults! Ain't life in the liberal tribe grand?
Still coming: Question of the year!
As opposed to Lucy Ricardo: Let's thank God for Alice Kramden, who would put her hands on her hips and give back at least as good as she got.
Also, all praise to Jackie Gleason! "Baby, you're the greatest!" So the duly chastened Ralph would tell Alice in the end.
In the end, Ralph could see who Alice was. In this way, the Gleason scripts stood out from the pack.