Wait for Your Laugh chronicles supreme singer/comedienne Rose Marie’s 90 years of performing. It is an affectionate documentary that is more somber than funny. Director/co-writer Jason Wise charts Rose Marie’s life and work in show business, which began at age 5 to her receiving the Shirley Temple Award, which is given to a child star who has had a successful adult career.
The film alternates between Rose Marie’s chronological re-telling her life story with narration by Peter Marshall (host of the original Hollywood Squares). The film also includes archival performance footage, photographs, interviews with Rose Marie’s colleagues—Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner among them—as well as reenactments of key moments in Rose Marie’s life.
The story of Baby Rose Marie’s early career is fascinating. She won a talent contest and became a child wonder, signing a contract with NBC at age 5. She disliked her father, who took her money. She had encounters with Al Capone, who took a shine to her. When Rose Marie grew up, she started getting bigger opportunities, such as performing with Jimmy Durante in Las Vegas at the opening of Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo hotel and casino. Her encounter with Siegel is priceless, even if the re-enactment of it is hokey.
Rose Marie also met trumpeter Bobby Guy, who became her husband. She was heartbroken after he died young, and wore her signature black ribbon in her hair ever day after.
Wait for Your Laugh also explains why Rose Marie avoided a film career and became involved in television. After landing a role on Gunsmoke, she eventually landed a plum part on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Sally, a comedy writer. Rose Marie even cast co-star Morey Amsterdam, a match made in comedy heaven. However, while the performer generated laughs for being “one of the guys” in the show’s office environment, Rose Marie was disenchanted when female co-star Mary Tyler Moore was getting more attention (and screen time).
As Wise’s film shows, Rose Marie had an indefatigable work ethic. She powers through a difficult personal time appearing on The Johnny Carson Show; spent 14 years on Hollywood Squares; and performed in a revue called “4 Girls 4” with Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting, and Helen O’Connell, despite not getting along with O’Connell at all. Clips from these programs showcase Rose Marie’s talent at singing or cracking wise. But they are not as revealing as a comment Rose Marie’s daughter, Georgina Marie Guy, makes about her mom being “typecast” as Norman Bates’ mother in the remake of Psycho.
Such dirt and gossip seems deliberately missing from Wait for the Laugh. Rose Marie doesn’t even curse (she abbreviates her foul language). And this makes for a slightly sanitized film. That’s not to say Rose Marie, a consummate professional, should be naughty or crude; just that this portrait feels a bit sterile. One wishes there were more and funnier stories from such a comedy icon.
Wait for the Laugh opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.