By Joann M. Ringelstetter
Every year during the holiday season, I watch one of my favorite movies, “White Christmas,” a 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a popular song-and-dance act. It also stars Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as the Haynes Sisters, another song-and-dance act.
In April of this year, Ruth and I visited Rosemary Clooney’s hometown of Maysville, Kentucky. After spending the night in Aberdeen, Ohio, we crossed the Ohio River at dawn on the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge, a beautiful suspension bridge built in 1931 to connect Aberdeen to Maysville.
We headed for the Maysville Downtown Historic District and parked near the Russell Theatre. In 1929, local businessman Col. J. B. Russell announced plans to build a 700-seat movie palace on the site of a grocery warehouse owned by the Russell family.
The theatre was designed in the atmospheric style that was popular in America in the 1920s. The dome was filled with twinkling stars and floating clouds. And when each movie ended, a rainbow would appear over the stage.
Four large columns with decorative capitals mark the theatre entrance. The entrance is clad in Cincinnati Rookwood tiles, including the ticket booth.
The Russell Theatre served the Maysville area from 1930 until it closed in 1983. Following its closing, the building was used for several businesses, including a restaurant and a used furniture store. Eventually, the building was abandoned and fell into serious disrepair.
In 1996, a group of Maysville citizens purchased the building and began efforts to raise the funds necessary to restore the theatre. In 1999, Rosemary Clooney founded the annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival to benefit the restoration of the theatre.
Rosemary Clooney’s first film, “The Stars Are Singing,” premiered at the Russell Theater in 1953. There is a sidewalk star in front of the theatre entrance honoring Ms. Clooney and her film debut.
In case you’re wondering, actor/director/producer George Clooney is the nephew of Rosemary Clooney. His father, Nick Clooney, newsman and former host of American Movie Classics, is Rosemary’s brother.
The Clooney family has not only supported the restoration of the Russell Theatre, but also the restoration of Maysville’s Washington Opera House, the fifth oldest performing arts theatre in the United States. In 2008, the Washington Opera House held the premiere showing of George Clooney’s “Leatherheads” movie.
After we finished photographing numerous buildings in the downtown historic district, we visited the Maysville floodwall to see the mural honoring Rosemary Clooney. The mural, completed in 2007 by Dafford Murals, depicts highlights from Rosemary’s life and career.
We then left the downtown area and went in search of one final piece of history in the life of Rosemary Clooney: her final resting place. High on a hill outside of Maysville is the beautiful St. Patrick Cemetery, where Rosemary was laid to rest. The cemetery is relatively small, so we thought it wouldn’t take us long to find her gravestone. But we were wrong.
We drove slowly through the cemetery looking carefully on both sides of the gravel road trying to locate her grave. After checking each section twice, we still hadn’t located it. We discussed leaving without this final piece of history. But we’re not ones to give up easily. Finally, with a little more detective work on Ruth’s part, we found her grave. Now our work was complete.
Getting back to the movie “White Christmas,” Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (the Haynes Sisters) performed a number called “Sisters.” It began with “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.” And one of the lines is, “All kinds of weather, we stick together, the same in the rain or sun.”
It reminded me to take this opportunity to thank my sister, Ruth, for all she does to make the sharing of my photography possible.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Shunpiking!