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Actress Rose Marie of ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ fame dies at 94

Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were comic foils on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.’’

By Lynn Elber Associated Press 

LOS ANGELES — Rose Marie, the wisecracking Sally Rogers of ‘‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’’ and a show business lifer who began as a bobbed-hair child star in vaudeville and worked for nearly a century in theater, radio, TV, and movies, died Thursday in her Los Angeles-area home. She was 94.

‘‘Heaven just got a whole lot funnier,’’ was the tribute posted atop a photo of Ms. Marie on her website.

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She was a child star of the 1920s and 1930s who endeared herself to TV fans on the classic ‘60s sitcom that featured Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.

The subject of the 2017 documentary ‘‘Wait for Your Laugh,’’ Ms. Marie often claimed she had the longest career in entertainment history. It spanned some 90 years, with co-stars ranging from W.C. Fields to Garfield the cat, but the highlight for many was ‘‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’’

The sitcom was widely loved for its sophisticated writing, inspired casting, and insightful view of the inner workings of the then-new medium of television. Van Dyke starred as Rob Petrie, head writer for a hit comedy-variety show, and Mary Tyler Moore, in her first major role, played his wife Laura.

The blonde, raspy-voiced Ms. Marie teamed with her pal Morey Amsterdam as writers.

Drawing on his experiences on Sid Caesar’s shows, Carl Reiner created the series, wrote and directed many episodes, and made occasional appearances as the surly star, Alan Brady. After an uncertain beginning in 1961, ‘‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’’ caught on with TV viewers, was still popular when it ended in 1966, and remained a favorite for decades in reruns.

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‘‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’’ not only was an ideal vehicle for Ms. Marie’s comic gifts, but was a showcase for her singing, with Sally belting out ‘‘Come Rain or Come Shine’’ and other old favorites during nightclub and party scenes.

Ms. Marie was especially proud of playing a woman defined by her work, a rare sitcom character at the time who wasn’t ‘‘a wife, mother, or housekeeper,’’ she tweeted in 2017.

Nominated three times for Emmys, Ms. Marie had yet to turn 40 when she joined the Van Dyke cast. By then, she had been an entertainer for more than 30 years.

She was born Rose Marie Mazetta of Italian-Polish parents in New York City on Aug. 15, 1923. When she was 3, her mother entered her in an amateur talent contest in Atlantic City as Baby Rose Marie.

‘‘My mother was terrified,’’ she recalled in a 1992 interview. ‘‘But I went out and sang ‘What Can I Say, Dear, After I Say I’m Sorry?’ and won the contest.’’

She began singing on radio and was a hit on ‘‘The Rudy Vallee Hour.’’ NBC gave her a seven-year contract and her own show, 15 minutes on Sunday. Her powerful voice gave rise to rumors.

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‘‘Stories went around that I was really a 45-year-old midget,’’ she remarked in 1992. ‘‘So they sent me on a year-round personal appearance tour of theaters across the country to prove that I was a child.’’

She sang in a series of movie shorts, including ‘‘Baby Rose Marie, the Child Wonder’’ in 1929, and appeared on most of the vaudeville circuits until that genre’s demise. Among her friends was one of the country’s most notorious gangsters.

‘‘My father worked as an arsonist for Al Capone,’’ she told People magazine in 2016. ‘‘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.’’

In 1946 she married Bobby Guy, a trumpeter in Kay Kyser’s band and later on top NBC radio shows in Hollywood. (They had a daughter, Georgiana). Bobby Guy was just 48 when he died of a blood infection, a loss so devastating Ms. Marie wore black for a year and hesitated to take on work beyond ‘‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’’

One of her first outside performances was on ‘‘The Dean Martin Show,’’ when she performed the melancholy ballad ‘‘Little Girl Blue.’’

‘‘Then Dean sang ‘(Smile),’ to me and I couldn’t help it, the tears began pouring down,’’ she recalled in her memoir ‘‘Hold the Roses,’’ published in 2003.

Ms. Marie joined with Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Connell, and Margaret Whiting in the 1970s to tour in a successful nightclub act titled ‘‘4 Girls 4,’’

As Rose Marie (she never used a last name professionally), she enjoyed new fame on television. Her quick, surefire timing made her ideal casting as a supporting player. She appeared on ‘‘The Doris Day Show,’’ as the irreverent secretary to the star, and as Frank Fontana’s mother on ‘‘Murphy Brown.’’ For years she was a regular on the ‘‘Hollywood Squares’’ quiz show.

She also appeared in films including ‘‘International House’’ (as Baby Rose Marie in 1933, co-starring with W.C. Fields) and ‘‘Big Beat.’’

She starred in the Broadway musical ‘‘Top Banana’’ with Phil Silvers, but her experience on the film version resonated decades later in the aftermath of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein.

A producer suggested that she would get more screen time if she had sex with him.

‘‘And in front of everybody, I go, ‘You couldn’t get it up if a flag went by,’’’ Ms. Marie, interviewed for ‘‘Wait for Your Laugh,’’ recalled saying. ‘‘Which didn’t sit too well with him. All my numbers were cut in the picture.’’