Iconic TV, stage and screen actress Rose Marie is a living legend whose star-studded career and life story are the stuff of Hollywood fairy tales.
A famous child star at age 4, Marie’s made a mark on nearly every aspect of the entertainment industry, including Vaudeville, radio, film, Broadway, and television, whose fans best know her as plucky comedy writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
But just as fascinating as the 92-year-old performer’s impressive résumé is her slate of famous friends – she had a four decades-long friendship with Frank Sinatra and she is the last person alive who knew and was close to notorious mobster Al Capone.
“My father worked as an arsonist for Al Capone,” Marie reveals to PEOPLE. “He used to burn down your warehouse if things weren’t going the right way, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was a child star and to me Al was my ‘Uncle Al,’ my mother used to cook for all these guys. Years later when I was working Vegas with [casino owner and known mobster] Bugsy Siegel, I cooked for that generation, I guess I knew then.”
Marie’s friendship with ol’ Blue Eyes doesn’t have the full-on mafia intrigue like her ties to Capone, but it is equally riveting.
“Frank Sinatra was the first person I told that I was pregnant,” Marie says of their close friendship. “I was on my way to tell my husband and I ran into Frank outside the studio and he knew something was different with me, so he was the first person to congratulate my husband.”
Marie met Sinatra in the 1940s when they were both playing New York’s legendary nightclub the Copacabana and her husband Bobby Guy played trumpet for Sinatra’s pals Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. “Show business used to be such a small world and everyone knew each other,” says Marie.
The actress is nonchalant about her success and glamorous Hollywood ties. “My career was just me working as much and as often as I could,” she says. “People are amazed when they find out I was the first person to perform in Vegas, and I say, ‘Hey, it was just a job then.’ ”
If you’re thinking Marie’s life reads like the plot of movie, you’re right. Filmmaker Jason Wise (Somm) is hard at work on a documentary about her captivating story.
“I am about to turn 93, I guess this is as good a time as any to make this this film,” says Marie. “To be honest, at first I didn’t really think I had done enough to make a feature film on my story until Jason started reminding me of all the things I had been a part of over my 90-year career. He was also the first director to approach me who knew my career was way bigger than just the Dick Van Dyke Show. We also laugh a lot and anyone who can make me laugh is good for something.”
Wise is funding the film independently and hopes to finish the project soon, with support from his Kickstarter campaign. Marie jokes that Wise needs all the help he can get because she saved everything from her career – photos, behind-the-scenes footage, TV show appearances, etc. – and he’s buried in material.
“I always carried a film camera with me when ever I traveled for a gig to Vegas or New York City or Hollywood, and I kept doing that when I started acting on television,” says Marie. “All the shows I was on, from Dick Van Dyke to Gunsmoke, Doris Day and The Monkees, I shot lots of footage on set. I also asked for a copy of every episode I appeared in, so you can imagine, I have a lot of footage. I just started filling a room in my house with all of these materials and basically forgot about them. Then comes Jason saying he wants to make a film about my life, and I say, ‘Boy do I have a surprise for you kid!’ I think he is buried up to his nose in reels of film right now.”
And even though there’s a life-spanning documentary in the works, don’t think the spry and quick-witted 92-year-old is ready for retirement.
“I’m not done working,” says Marie. “I’ve never won an Emmy even though I was nominated multiple times – that would be nice. More than anything, I have always wanted to direct. I used to watch John Rich who directed The Dick Van Dyke Show in the editing room, and I always wanted to do that. Some day the right script will come across my desk and I’ll be in the director’s chair.”