Dave Rose Talks About Judy
The first interview ever given by the Man Judy loves!
by Ida Zeitlin
from Modern Screen, July, 1941
Probably the most misunderstood romance in Hollywood is that of Judy Garland and Dave Rose. Misunderstood largely because people don't know what they're talking about and, under such circumstances, talk through their hats.
I'm not casting slings at people. I'm one of them myself. Until I made inquiries about and met Dave Rose, I accepted through inertia -- or at any rate, didn't reject -- the picture drawn by uninformed gossip. A very young girl and a man disproportionately older, more sophisticated -- into the bargain, divorced. Judy Garland, the star, and who was Dave Rose anyway? Shrugs, lifted brows, the cynic's interpretation -- he's not the first guy to cash in on a girl's publicity. Most of us shrink from tangling with a cynic, lest we be charged with the shameful sin of naiveté.
We also have a way of blinding ourselves to the fact that time marches on for our pet movie kids. Judy's the engaging colt in socks and flat heels who lopes after Mickey Rooney. Judy's the symbol of childhood dancing with a scarecrow in the Never Never Land of "The Wizard of Oz." If you'll count the months and the years, Judy is neither. As Mr. Rose points out with weary reasonableness, "How long can you be in 'The Wizard of Oz?" Mr. Rose is a little sick of "The Wizard of Oz."
Judy may have looked thirteen two or three years ago. But the girl's nineteen this month. In any language nineteen is marriageahle, and a nineteen-year-old who hasn't fallen in love should have her complexes examined. Dave Rose is in his early thirties. There's no such formidable disparity to their ages. They're not married yet, nor formally engaged, but if they were, it would still be no May and December union. If Judy weren't a movie star, the chances are that not a voice would be raised nor a finger lifted. Because they're of Hollywood where a broken toenail is news, alarms and excursions become the order of the day.
So Dave Rose had been divorced. We Americans who troop so readily to the divorce courts are equally ready with easy condemnation. Rose and Martha Raye made a mistake and had the good sense to rectify it. One out of five in our broad land does the same. That doesn't make Mr. Rose a hard-boiled egg any more than it does Clark Gable or Margaret Sullavan or your next-door neighbor. Hard-boiled is what the gentleman's anything but. In a business where temper and temperament are taken for granted, he's endeared himself through unfailing kindliness. Under trying circumstances, he's never been known to fly off the handle. Unassuming, soft-spoken, he keeps not only himself but his men good-humored.
I watched him direct a rehearsal for "Adventures in Rhythm." He sat on a high stool, one tawny forelock falling over his bronzed forehead, his boyish-looking face quietly intent.
Dave, protested one of the trumpets, "the woodwinds have an E-flat there and I have a D."
"That's the new harmony," Dave explained.
The trumpet frowned. "What'll they think up next?"
"They'll think up a C-major chord," said the boss dryly, "and astonish the world." Which certainly left everybody happy.
Who is Dave Rose anyway? Asking that, you label yourself an ignoramus in the field of radio and swing. Ask Thomas S. Lee and Willet H. Brown, president and vice-president respectively of the Mutual Don Lee network. They'll tell you that every time they heard an outstanding arrangement of a song sung by Jeanette MacDonald or Don Ameche or Dorothy Lamour, they were told with monotonous regularity that said arrangement had been made by a young man named David Daniel Rose. They decided that he shouldn't be left lying around loose and snagged him as musical director for their broadcasting system. He started with "Adventures in Rhythm," the Betty Jane Rhodes program. Characteristically unpretentious in his explanation of what happened.
It was a lucky accident. I was to come in with twenty-two pieces and was cut at the last minute to seventeen. Not knowing what to drop, I took a chance and dropped most of the brass. I knew I couldn't compete with all the fine orchestras on the air already, so the only thing left was to accent the strings which gave the band a different style. I had no theories worked out, because I'd never planned to be an orchestra leader. "Do I like it?" He grinned. "I like it because the reaction's been good."
To "Adventures in Rhythm" was added "California Melodies," the Maxine Gray show, and Joan Blondell's "I Want a Divorce." Then Tony Martin was signed for the Woodbury Soap program on NBC, a rival network. For obvious reasons, networks are not too anxious to use people under contract to their competitors. Yet NBC had no choice but to hire Dave Rose, since Tony would hear of no one else. "First," said Tony, "because his arrangements are terrific. Second, because only one bandleader in five can direct a singer as well as an orchestra, and he's that one."
His radio success is built on a groundwork of solid musicianship which he thinks is childish to talk about. "I try to keep my standards," he says, "without getting too highbrow." His friends will tell you he's written three symphonies. "I'd rather not call them symphonies," says Rose. "They're tone poems." They were all premiered by the Chicago Symphony under the baton of Roy Shield, director of NBC in Chicago. Rose has been asked to conduct one of them at the Hollywood Bowl during Music Week in June, with an orchestra of two hundred and fifty. "It'll probably never be that many," he tells you.
All of which goes to answer the question, who is Dave Rose? It's a name as highly regarded in his field as is Judy in hers. (Have patience, kiddies. He really did talk about Judy.)
As for the publicity angle, that is indeed baloney. He's one of the few bandleaders in town who laughs at the notion of a personal press agent and doesn't take even legitimate publicity seriously, thereby causing the efficient department which looks after such things at Don Lee no little concern. He evades them when he can. Nailed down, he'll argue: "What's the use of publicity unless you deliver? If I do all right with my music, I'll get the kind of publicity we both want." Once you've got a line on the man, you realize that the notion of edging into Judy's limelight would be so distasteful to him that you're ashamed of having thought the matter up.
I for one apologize. And I wish anyone else with a lingering doubt could have seen Mr. Rose on the day he finally, reluctantly, agreed for the first time to talk to the press about Judy. He'd given a promise which weighed on him. But what weighed still more oppressively was the ordeal in store. He appeared trembling at the door of the aforementioned publicity department. "I'm scared as hell. How can I duck this?" he pleaded.
They applied soothing syrup. They told him he couldn't go with one of the most popular girls in the movies and avoid publicity. They advised him to face the barrage, he'd live through it. They were convincing, but Dave was in no mood for logic. He went to his rehearsal. He watched the clock. He hoped against hope that the press would be late, that the press might even have a little accident, nothing really serious, just enough to keep it from getting there by four-thirty, when the rehearsal would be over and Davy could run.
Instead of an accident, the press had a premonition, arrived at four, planted itself between Dave and the exit and watched wild suspense flicker into resignation. I'll say this for him. Once trapped, he surrendered with courtesy and grace. He didn't like it. He was uneasy. He escaped as soon as he could. In the interval, though, he told a simple, straight-forward story.
He met Judy a number of years ago when he was asked to make some arrangements for her records. She really was a child then, and their association was purely professional. But even then he was amazed by her natural grasp and appreciation of music. "She's never had any formal instruction, you know, but she seems to get by instinct what most of us have to dig for. She still bowls me over by the comments she makes. And I'd say the same if I had no personal interest in Judy.
After his separation from Martha Raye they saw more of each other. A common enthusiasm for music drew them together first. Judy thirsted after knowledge. She loved to hear Dave play Rachmaninoff and Delius, still her favorite composers. Just when they fell in love is their own business. "I finally realized," says Dave, "that she was a grown-up girl with an understanding that was older than her years. Things -- well, they just went along smoothly."
I asked about some of the qualities that attracted him in Judy. He answered that one prompltly. "The fact that it doesn't take a night club to make her happy. Or expensive clothes. She's got 'em, of course, but she'd just as soon run around in three-dollar dresses, and for my money she looks just as well in them. I have a hard time thinking of things to give her. The girl can have anything she wants, and she seems to get the biggest kick out of some funny little gadget she can laugh at. To Judy, everything's fun. We play tennis, we swim, we bowl -- you know how you fool away an afternoon. I've taught her to shoot. We take targets and guns and go out a little way in the valley. She's a lefty, you know. But she's very, very good. As good as me?" He smiled, and there was a note in his voice which every girl would like to hear in the voice of the man she loves. "No, no, she mustn't be as good as me."
The half acre backyard behind his house in the San Fernando valley is largely given over to a miniature railroad track. "Every kid wants to be an engineer," he apologizes, "and I never got over it."
At that, his train isn't so miniature. It's scaled one and a half inches to the foot, the locomotive weighs seven hundred pounds and the five freight cars, big enough to sit in, will carry ten or fifteen passengers. It's the apple of his eye, and if nothing else did, Judy's adoption of his apple would have warmed him to her.
"She doesn't think it's nonsense, as a lot of them would. She figures it's what I happen to like for a hobby, so it's okay with her. She thinks it's wonderful I can have an out. That's what I mean by understanding. We spend whole afternoons with the fool thing. She doesn't love it as much as I do, but she loves it. She'll come out and play fireman, pull on a pair of gloves, watch the steam gauge, pour the coal in. I'm the boss, she follows orders. Gets coal all over her arms and grease on her face, looks cute as a monkey. She has a hobby, too, by the way, only I'm not in on it. Spends her spare time painting, but she won't show me the stuff."
Cars are another enthusiasm of Dave's. Partly to gratify it, and partly to squelch Judy, he bought an English car with a right-hand drive.
"She's an awful heckler. When you drive with Judy, it's look out, not so fast, not so slow, there's a truck coming, get over to your right. Well, this car's so low she can't see over the windshield, so I drive in peace. She's happiest, though, when she's driving. Do I heckle her?" Again that reminiscent grin. "Only in fun. I start on her the way she does on me, so she can hear what it sounds like."
Their favorite eating place is a Russian restaurant, known as Bublichki, whose specialty, Chicken à Kiev, Dave describes with a certain reverence. "Breast of chicken, rolled up to look like a chicken leg and browned to taste like a dream. When we're very hungry and want to be good to ourselves, that's where we go and that's what we eat."
When Judy's not working, they go out a couple of times a week. A later dinner after one of Dave's broadcasts, then a drive or a night club as the mood takes them. Unless it's a special occasion, they wear sports clothes. Neither likes to fuss. They don't patronize the bars. Judy doesn't drink, "and I can get along without it," says Dave. He's one of those who can't face work except on deadline, so he's often up all night on an arrangement that has to be in rehearsal at nine. "No sleep is bad enough. Liquor on top of it is worse."
They both enjoy dancing, though, according to Dave. "I do a very plain dance." Judy rumbas beautifully. He avoids the rumba. If it's unavoidable, he struggles along somehow. But he's very grateful when he can turn her over to somebody else who likes to rumba.
His good taste is further evidenced by the fact that, expert though he is, he keeps his hands meticulously off Judy's singing. "She got along fine without me. Why should I butt in?" Only when asked in his professional capacity to work with her, does he do so, then make it his business not to tamper with her style. Otherwise they don't discuss either her work or his. "Except," he qualifies, "that I sometimes consult her about business affairs. When all these jobs started piling up on me, I got a little confused. I'd always admired the way Judy and her mother handled her career, so I turn to them both for advice. And take it!"
In a situation which has its trying aspects, Rose has acted with dignity, going his quiet way, keeping his mouth shut. If his face turns grim now and then under the sting of chatter, it doesn't stay that way. In the final analysis, only he and Judy count, and they'll make their own decision.
She's promised Metro not to marry for a year. Dave must have been a party to that promise. She's too much in love to have given a pledge she didn't subscribe to. What he said to me bears this out. "We're very close. We have no marriage plans. I'm not forcing issues."
It's not so much her marriage to Rose that the studio opposes as her marriage at all. But they gave her a grown-up part in "Little Nellie Kelly." They glamorized her in "The Ziegfeld Girl." Maybe they're preparing to meet the inevitable.
Both Judy and Dave have birthdays in June. He gave her a ruby cocktail ring. She gave him a pair of special cufflinks. ME and YOU were engraved on either side of one. The other was engraved with a bar of music and US. You can read Judy's heart in the cufflinks. After meeting Dave Rose, you really don't care how soon the ME and YOU merge into US.