I've always said that my mother had the voice of an angel and the guts of a prizefighter, and she brought that unique combination of qualities to her parenting. Our house was always ﬁlled with music -- from the moment we woke up. And whenever she threw a dinner party, you could be sure that at some point, Nat Cole or Sammy Cahn would be at the piano, accompanying Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis or Sophie Tucker. And Mom was never afraid to follow any of them. She'd get up, belt out a tune and command the room.
That's because she had been a professional singer. At 19, Rose Marie Cassaniti had a fifteen-minute radio show called "The Sweet Singer of Sweet Songs." She was on the road to stardom.
Then one day, it was decided that her show needed to hire an announcer, and in walked a tall, handsome, Lebanese nightclub performer to audition for the gig. He was a struggling comic who needed the job. Mom watched his tryout, then urged the producer to hire him because he had "such sad eyes." The show was renamed "Sweethearts On Parade" and Mom and Dad became sweethearts away from the parade as well. So when Dad decided he needed to move to Chicago and take his shot at the big-time nightclubs, Mother packed up her things, left Detroit and the radio show behind to follow the love of her life.
Within a decade, Dad had become a big star, and was living in Beverly Hills with his wife and three children, the oldest of them writing these memories to you now.
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It's funny, we grow up with our parents but don't often get a glimpse into their lives -- their real lives -- until we're grownups ourselves. That happened to me 13 years ago, when Mom died. I was sorting through her things and found a letter she'd saved that Daddy had written to her from London, while he was performing at the Palladium. Reading his words, I began to grasp the true arc of their lives, and the high cost their marriage paid so that my father could support our family. I could also feel the pain they felt in being apart.
"I hope some day," Dad wrote at the end of his letter, "our children will appreciate how much we've sacrificed for them."
That made me cry. Because as children we didn't appreciate the sacrifices they made for us - not in their marriage and not about our mother and what she had given up to create a happy and healthy family. Dad really missed mom, he missed all of us, but at least he had the work he loved and a career -- a huge one at that. But the more I thought about Mom, the more I realized that she'd given her whole life to us. And every now and then, I wish I could turn the clock back and say to her, "Darling Mommie, we could have made it on half! "
Which is not to say Mom ever lost her love of the spotlight. She held tight to it, even in her final years. I'll never forget, a few months after my father died, I brought Mom to New York to stay with me and Phil for a while, and asked her to invite her dear friend, Marge Durante, the widow of legendary comedian Jimmy Durante. While they were here, Phil invited Mother and Marge to a taping of his show. He said he'd like to introduce them in the audience. Mother was against the idea. She didn't want a fuss -- she just didn't feel up to it.
Phil argued his case by telling her that people would love to see her and Marge -- they had been married to men who were remembered with great affection. But Mother remained reluctant, so I told Phil not to push her.
When they returned home that evening, Phil gave me the lowdown. Once they'd gotten to the studio, Mom and Marge felt all the excitement of the audience and decided that it was all right for Phil to introduce them. I was delighted.
"So how was it?" I asked my mother.
Mom smiled proudly. "They stood!" she said
You can take the girl out of the club...
Happy Mother's Day, Mommie. I want you to know that I remember what you gave to keep our family together and I am eternally grateful for your love.
And for all of you out there celebrating your mothers on this wonderful day, here are some terrific thoughts and memories from some famous friends and celebrities about their own mothers. Enjoy!