Don’t Come On-A My House, Little Girl

hawaiian-christmas

Jamie and I returned to Lanai for Christmas 1995. When we go somewhere far we don’t like to think about coming back, so we planned to spend three weeks at the Lodge at Koele on the island and, since it was Christmas, shipped all of our clothes and gifts via Federal Express so they would arrive before we did. At the time, David Murdock and his wife Maria Ferrer owned the hotel. He was the CEO of The Dole Food Company (which had been established in 1851 when Hawaii was still a kingdom) and she was a real estate investor and the daughter of actor Jose Ferrer and singer/actress Rosemary Clooney.

We had been to the Lodge so many times and for such long visits that we grew friendly with the Murdocks and Maria invited Jamie and me to join them for many events from holiday parties to day trips spent horseback riding or diving. On the evening of Christmas Day, Maria held a party. It was filled with the usual Hollywood crowd, investment bankers, business tycoons, and me, of course, the only graduate student in the room.

Many members of Maria’s family were there and she was escorting her mother, then elderly and in poor health, to meet various people in the room. Her brother Miguel was tagging along holding his mother’s elbow.

When Maria got to Jamie and me, she introduced us, then, excusing herself, disappeared to check the champagne. Immediately I began gushing over Ms. Clooney about her performance in the movie White Christmas and her recording with Bing Crosby of the song “Hindustan.” I wasn’t kidding or bsing her; I truly love them both. I told her that I watched the film every year on DVD and had been singing along to my mom’s copy of the LP Fancy Meeting You Here since I was a little girl.   As a matter of fact, I continued, my husband and I were on a cruise one time with my parents where everyone at our dinner table was my parents’ age so they had a lot to talk about. One night at dinner, John, a man from Ohio, mentioned that the ship’s band was playing Big Band and swing music that night after dinner and he was really looking forward to it; he hoped they would play a lot of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney because they were his favorites. He had had a crush on her since he was a teenager, he confided to me.

When I got to this part, Ms. Clooney grimaced as though she had heard this a million times before. “How nice,” she responded.

“As a matter of fact,” I continued, “he had such a crush on you that he named his pet after you. It was a raccoon that he named Rosemary Cooney.”

Her face froze and she stared at me as if she wanted nothing more than to plunge an icicle into my heart, if  only she could have found one in Hawaii and could have moved fast enough. Her son, Miguel, still at her side burst into laughter, and spewed his drink all over the front of his sport coat.

“Come on,” she tugged at his arm to pull him away from us.

I was stricken. I hadn’t expected it to upset her or I’d never have told her. The man on the cruise had told it to me with great pride and that was how I meant to relay it to her. Obviously I had made a mistake.

I turned to Jamie, standing quietly at my side. “What did I do wrong?”

He shrugged. “I thought it was that you started in with that whole ‘I loved you when I was a little girl’ shtick again like with Kitty Carlisle Hart.”

I blushed. Once I had greatly irritated Kitty Carlisle Hart at an Off Broadway premiere by saying that exact thing. I had meant it as a compliment but she took it as editorial commentary on her age. She had glared at me (not unlike Rosemary Clooney), and taken Bob Rubin’s arm and purred at him that she needed an escort to her seat.

“I did love her when I was a little girl,” I defended myself.

“Maybe, but nobody wants to hear that,” Jamie answered.

“Shit. I guess I had better apologize.”

Jamie laughed. “Write her a note. The way she is glaring at you from the bar, I think she is planning to whack you with her cane the next time you go for a drink.” He was right. She was leaning on the bar and listening with half an ear while some other fan gushed at her, however, rather than look at her companion, she was staring straight at me with eyes that shot death rays.

Other than Rosemary Clooney, the party was full of cheerful, laughing people, one of whom was Maria Murdock; another was Miguel Ferrer. As I wondered what to do he wandered over and gently grabbed my elbow. “That story about the man from Ohio was hysterical. I told my sister Maria and now she is telling everyone in the room. Is that true, by the way?”

I looked up at him, distraught. “Oh, dear God, don’t tell anyone else. Your mother is glaring at me like she wishes I were dead. And, yes, it is true.”

Miguel glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry about her. She’ll get over it. I loved it, though.”

A few years later, Ms. Clooney played The Rainbow Room. Jamie asked me if I wanted to go see her and, maybe after the show, go backstage and greet her.

“Are you nuts?” I exclaimed. “It’s on the sixty-fifth floor. She’ll have me tossed down the elevator shaft.”

We never did see Ms. Clooney sing and we kept in only sporadic touch with Maria and Miguel. I have always wondered whether anyone told that story at her funeral. By then it would have been too late for her to retaliate by whacking him with her cane.

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