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Play a Rosemary Clooney tune —‘Hey, Mambo!’

Jul 2, 2002 7:40 AM

   MAYSVILLE MAVEN! Rosemary Clooney left us last week. Her death stirred up memories from a time when life seemed simpler and my main worry was where to get scratch to bet the double tomorrow.

 It was during the early 1960s and I was thumping the tub for Frank Tours at the old Latonia racetrack in Northern Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. Often I would dine at the Roundtable on Dixie Highway, a few furlongs from the track.

 One night when I stopped by, Benny Castleman, the owner, mentioned that Rosemary Clooney was dining with a few friends. I had been a fan for a number of years and, although Come On-a My House was her biggest claim to fame, it was Mambo Italiano that really stirred my blood.

   I asked Benny if he thought she would talk to a stranger. He said he would find out and seated me at a table. Shortly he returned and said, “Miss Clooney said she would be happy to meet you after she finishes her dinner.”

   Strains of Clooney hits ”” Tenderly, Half as Much, Hey There, Botcha-Me, Too Old to Cut the Mustard, The Night Before Christmas Song, This Ole House ”” ran through my head as I ordered lamb chops. They made the best!

   When the Clooney party was having coffee and after-dinner drinks I was beckoned to the table. After a few minutes of polite conversation, Rosemary mentioned that she had been born in a little town not too far away ”” Maysville. That struck a chord. I told her I had two aunts from Maysville. It was an icebreaker. We chatted for nearly an hour.

   She reminisced about Maysville and we compared notes on goetta (a Kentucky concoction made with pork and pinhead oats), homemade jam and who had the best horseflesh.

   On the way home that night I was bouncing:

            “Hey, mambo! Mambo Italiano

            Hey, mambo! Mambo Italiano

            Ho, ho, ho, you mixed up Siciliano

            It’s a so delish a ev’rybody come copisha

            How to mambo Italianoooooo!”

   Over the next few years I ran into Rosemary a number of times at the racetrack and at various restaurants around the Cincinnati area. She was always friendly and usually found time to talk for a few minutes. She never changed. She was always just a good old, down to earth, Kentucky girl from Maysville.

   In the mid-1960s I left Kentucky for Philadelphia and I no longer had the opportunity to see Rosemary. Over the years as I moved to various racetracks and eventually landed in Las Vegas I often thought of looking her up when I noticed she was performing nearby. I thought it might be fun to talk of Maysville again. But, it just never worked out.

   Now I will have to dust off the old albums (yes, I still have albums) and reminisce listening to that velvety voice ”” “Hey, mambo! Mambo Italiano . . .”

   A FAIR WAY TO MAKE A BUCK! I’ve gambled on a lot of different games in my lifetime, but I’ve never bet on a mule. A thoroughbred, yes. A trotter or pacer, yes. A greyhound, yes. But a mule? Never!

   So, the story involving two racing mules caught my eye.

   One, called Taz, raced last week at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif. It seems some bridge-jumper ”” you know who they are, they make huge show wagers to hopefully lock up a 5% or sometimes 10% return on their bet ”” wagering at Santa Anita, plunked down $90,000 to show on Taz.

   He won.

   That was no surprise because Taz has never failed to make the board in any of his races.

   Then there’s Black Ruby. She raced a few weeks ago at the San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton and had $150,000 bet on her to show. She won, also. In fact, at age 10, Black Ruby has won more than 40 races and has never finished worse than third.

   Last year, some daring soul bet $500,000 to show on Black Ruby and confidently collected after the race.

   Taz and Black Ruby have become the bridge-jumper’s dream.

   Bridge-jumpers never made much sense to me. I’ve always felt I’d rather try to win a lumberyard with a toothpick instead of the other way around. That way I’ll at least stay in action a lot longer.