Rosemary DeCamp



From her earliest stage work onward, American actress Rosemary DeCamp played character roles that belied her youth and fresh-scrubbed attractiveness. On radio, DeCamp developed the vocal timbre that enabled her to portray a rich variety (and age-range) of characters. A peripheral performer on One Man's Family at 21, DeCamp showed up on several radio soap operas and anthologies before settling into the role of secretary Judy Price on the Dr. Christian series in 1937. DeCamp made her film bow in Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), in which she and most of the cast were required to "age" several decades. With The Jungle Book (1941), the actress played the first of her many mother roles. The most famous examples of DeCamp's specialized film work are Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), in which she was the Irish-American mother of George M. Cohan (James Cagney, who was 14 years her senior), and Rhapsody in Blue (1945), in which she played George Gershwin's Jewish mother (Gershwin was impersonated by Robert Alda, who was one year younger than DeCamp). Even when playing a character close to her own age, such as the Red Cross worker in Pride of the Marines (1945), DeCamp's interest in the leading man (in this case the same-aged John Garfield) was strictly maternal. On television, DeCamp was Peg Riley to Jackie Gleason's Chester A. Riley on the original 1949 run of The Life of Riley. She also played rakish Bob Cummings' levelheaded sister Margaret in Love That Bob (1955-59), and later was seen as Marlo Thomas' mother on That Girl (1966-70). In 1965, Rosemary subbed for her old friend Ronald Reagan as host on Death Valley Days; FCC rules of the time compelled the removal of Reagan's scenes when the show was telecast in California, where he was running for governor. Upon Reagan's election, Robert Taylor took over as host, but DeCamp was installed as permanent commercial spokesperson for 20 Mule Team Borax. Semi-retired for several years, DeCamp reemerged in 1981 for a "de-campy" cameo part in the horror spoof Saturday the 14th.