Film Review: ‘Wait for Your Laugh’

Fabled funny lady Rose Marie looks back on her nine decades in showbiz.

Jason Wise
Rose Marie, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Ruthie Shapiro, Georgiana Rodrigues, Dan Harmon, Tim Conway, Peter Marshall, Allen Sviridoff, Harlan Boll
Release Date:
Nov 3, 2017

1 hour, 26 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5710688/combined

The recent death of fabled French star Danielle Darrieux at age 100 prompted speculation that she might have sustained the longest career in showbiz. However, still-alive-and-kicking Rose Marie has the edge — though retired (most reluctantly) at a mere 94 years, she started nine full decades earlier, racking up a career that encompassed practically every popular performance medium in the U.S. As lively and likable as its subject, Jason Wise’s documentary “Wait for Your Laugh” pays fond tribute to a tireless trooper whom generations have known mostly as a wisecracking second banana often funnier than the bigger stars she supported. It should draw out patrons “of a certain age” who likely haven’t journeyed to the multiplex for some while.

Wheelchair-bound now, Rose Marie’s mind remains sharp as a tack, and she happily walks us through one hell of a professional resume. Born Rose Marie Mazetta in 1923 Manhattan, she was taken to shows from an early age by her fun-loving mother, and her extraordinarily precocious imitations of their stars (particularly Sophie Tucker) led to an amateur talent contest win at age 4. Soon she was signed by NBC — radio’s first nationwide broadcaster — then put on the vaudeville circuit to “prove I was a child” with a uniquely “adult voice,” rather than an adult pretending to be a tot. Her hugely popular act not-infrequently ran afoul of child labor laws, which her father handled, not out of benevolence, but because she was that “mean man’s” meal ticket. She was also his illegitimate child, and he apparently reserved any kindler parental motivations for his “legitimate” other family.

Fame as “Baby Rose Marie” continued for some years, furthered by appearances in several short subjects and the 1933 W.C. Fields classic “International House.” Unlike most child stars, she had little trouble transitioning past that role, re-inventing herself as a successful nightclub singer once she’d matured enough in her teens to assume an adult persona. When her stature had risen enough that she needed a longer act as headliner, she began adding comedy bits, which came so naturally she was soon regarded primarily as a comedienne. That knack got her to Broadway in the hit musical “Top Banana” with Phil Silvers. She was greatly disappointed when all her numbers were cut from the subsequent 1954 film version (purportedly because she refused a producer’s advances). This somewhat soured her on the big screen, where she made relatively few appearances over the ensuing decades.

But the new medium of television would prove her most enduring showcase. After a slew of guest appearances (and recurring roles on “The Bob Cummings Show” and “My Sister Eileen,” neither noted here), she became part of the golden ensemble on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” joining its star and Morey Amsterdam as staff writers on a fictitious show-within-the-show. Chemistry was ideal off-screen as on; all concerned were “devastated” when creator Carl Reiner decided to pull the plug five years in, before the still-popular series got stale. She had another harmonious working experience on the shorter-lived “Doris Day Show,” and as a quipping panelist for nearly the entire run of syndicated gameshow “The Hollywood Squares.” Otherwise, it was back to guest spots, increasingly cornered into the usual sour niche Hollywood reserves for aging funny ladies: Combative mothers-in-law, grouchy-old-battle-ax neighbors and other harridans.

Not that she complained much. Though hardly a pushover (“You don’t want to cross Rose Marie. She’ll cut your head off,” “Squares” host Peter Marshall says), known to agitate for better (and more) material, she was a driven workaholic who could barely stand to be between gigs. Nonetheless, she found time to raise a daughter with big-band trumpeter Bobby Guy — a true love match that ended with his death from a mysterious blood infection at age 48. She never remarried, always performing with a black mourning bow in her hair.

In 1977, she had a surprise triumph with the revue “4 Girls 4,” co-starring fellow singing “old broads” Margaret Whiting, Rosemary Clooney and Helen O’Connell (who reportedly drove the others nuts). It toured for years. While physical infirmities have prevented her from working since a last voice credit on the “Garfield” cartoon series four years ago, it’s clear here she’s still acutely frustrated by retirement.

The role of Sally on “Dick Van Dyke” was ideal for a performer of the old school who was indeed “one of the boys,” accustomed to making her voice loudly heard in male-dominated environs. Given the major creative input others testify to her having on that show and on “4 Girls,” it’s perhaps curious she never pursued directing or writing credits — though given her love of the spotlight, working behind the scenes may have had little appeal.

Still brash and confident, Rose Marie has plenty of colorful anecdotes, including her many brushes with mob legends like Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel, who were closely tied to showbiz. “They were absolutely wonderful to me,” she says, as were the likes of Jerry Lewis and Johnny Carson, who were particularly supportive as she faced widowhood. One gets the sense these sentiments are very much heartfelt; she either avoids more barbed comments on less-congenial colleagues, or they didn’t make the final cut of this docu. It’s too bad, however, that in his otherwise judicious decision to limit the number of interviewees here, Wise didn’t find room for one more: the recently deceased Mary Tyler Moore, with whom Rose Marie had a purportedly tense relationship because she’d been told “The Dick Van Dyke Show” would be primarily an office comedy, only to see the main focus drift toward domestic antics featuring MTM’s daffy spouse.

Another modest letdown lies in the vintage clips utilized, which presumably for budgetary reasons are very brief, often limited to visuals without sound (or vice versa), and sometimes subbed by amateur behind-the-scenes footage. We don’t really see Rose Marie strut her stuff at length until the closing credits, when a late-1950s-looking TV appearance shows her bantering with the band while singing an Italian novelty ditty.

That aside, the editorial package is brisk and bright, with Marshall plugging some gaps in the talking-heads chronicle as an occasional narrator.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Wait for Your Laugh'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Nov. 1, 2017. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Docu) A Vitagraph Films release of a Forgotten Man Films presentation. Producers: Christina Wise, Jason Wise. Executive producers: Georgiana Guy Rodrigues, Diane Carpenter, David Carpenter, William Fowler, Debra Davis. Co-producer: Jackson Myers. Co-executive producers: Melissa Gail, April Klein. CREW: Director: Jason Wise. Writers: Christina Wise, Jason Wise. Camera (color/B&W): Jackson Myers. Editors: Jason Wise, Bryan Rodner Carr.

With: Rose Marie, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Ruthie Shapiro, Georgiana Rodrigues, Dan Harmon, Tim Conway, Peter Marshall, Allen Sviridoff, Harlan Boll

More Film

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Inside the Spider-Man Split: Finger-Pointing and Executive Endgames

    Spider-Man’s neighborhood has been decidedly unfriendly this week. A private and contentious battle over the onscreen future of the beloved Marvel superhero has spilled out into the public square over the past few days. After making nice for two wildly successful films, Sony Pictures, which holds the licensing rights to the Marvel character, will go [...]

  • Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Actors to Watch for 2019

    Variety has announced its 10 Actors to Watch for 2019, an honor the publication has bestowed since 1998. Past honorees include many future Oscar winners and nominees, such as Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Brie Larson, Lupita Nyong’o and Melissa Leo. This year’s honorees will be feted in the Oct. 27 issue of [...]

  • August Maturo

    Film News Roundup: August Maturo to Star in Horror Movie 'Slapface'

    In today’s film news roundup, August Maturo gets a starring role and “Death of Me” and “Fatale” find homes. CASTING “Girl Meets World” star August Maturo has been cast as the lead character in the upcoming indie horror feature, “Slapface.” Maturo will play a boy who deals with the loss of his mother by creating [...]

  • Dan Trachtenberg

    Tom Holland's 'Uncharted' Movie Loses Director

    Dan Trachtenberg has exited the director’s chair for Sony’s “Uncharted” movie starring Tom Holland, with the studio taking meetings with top filmmakers and production starting early next year. The studio confirmed Trachtenberg’s departure Thursday. It also said Sony-based PlayStation Productions — headed by Asad Qizilbash and Carter Swan — had come on to produce alongside [...]

  • Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel

    Participant Taps Anikah McLaren, Robert Kessel to Head Film Department

    Participant Media has named industry veterans Anikah McLaren and Robert Kessel as co-heads of the company’s film department with the titles of executive vice president. Both executives will report together to Participant CEO David Linde, who made the announcement Thursday. McLaren joins Participant having most recently served as a production executive for Fox Searchlight Pictures. [...]

  • 'The Son' Review: Bosnian Family Drama

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'The Son'

    It is a mixed blessing to be born in the aftermath of a war. On the one hand, you never have to experience the terror and suffering your parents did; on the other, you grow up with your own personal crises forever made to feel smaller by comparison. That, at least, is the frustration driving [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: Jennifer Lopez 'Hustlers' Heading for $25 Million Launch

    STX Entertainment’s “Hustlers,” a comedic thriller about strip-club employees seeking revenge, is expected to earn $25 million when it opens on Sept. 13, according to early tracking. The movie — starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B and Lizzo — will debut alongside Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch.” The drama, based on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content