Rose Marie was an open book, but there was one chapter of her life that she held close to her heart. The legendary Dick Van Dyke Show actress, who died on Dec. 28 at age 94, was known for her raspy voice, her wit—and, of course, her trademark black hair bow. While Rose Marie readily talked about her nine-decade career—just three weeks ago she penned an op-ed in which she revealed her lone experience with sexual harassment on a movie set—she was extremely secretive about the personal significance of her signature hair accessory.
Rose Marie’s hair bow goes back 90 years to her days as a child star. In her 2002 memoir, Hold the Roses, it was revealed that during her reign as a child radio star and vaudeville performer, Baby Rose Marie hair bows were even peddled to fans. Even in her earliest film shorts, which date back to the 1930s, Rose Marie often wore a hair bow, and it quickly became her trademark. But the actress was notoriously private about why she first started wearing a bow in her hair. When asked about her hair accessory during a chat with Smashing Interviews last year, Rose Marie said, “The bow story is personal.”
Rose Marie famously wore a hair bow in her hair for five seasons on The Dick Van Dyke Show, when she played wisecracking TV writer Sally Rogers. The CBS sitcom premiered in 1961, but midway through the series’ run, in 1964, the actress began wearing only black bows in her hair. In 2008, Rose Marie donated her famous black hair bow to the Smithsonian, but she still wouldn’t reveal the story behind her trademark headpiece.
“It’s a very private personal reason,” Rose Marie told Smithsonian Magazine.
“I said I would only give up (the bow) if the Smithsonian wants it.”
While Rose Marie wore a hair bow from her earliest days as a star, many fans wondered why the bows switched to all-black in the mid-1960s. In the 2017 documentary Wait for Your Laugh, which was released less than two months before Rose Marie’s death, she revealed that she changed her hair bow to a black one after the death of her husband of 18 years, trumpet player Bobby Guy.
“My husband and I were deeply in love,” Rose Marie told the Wall Street Journal in November.
“Then in 1964, he came down with some sort of blood infection and died that May, at 48. I wore a black ribbon in my hair ever since.”
In an interview with ABC’s George Pennacchio, Rose Marie revealed that her husband loved that she always wore colorful bows in her hair.
“And when he passed away, I said, ‘I got to do something to remember him by, it means too much to me,’ and I started wearing the black bow,” Rose Marie explained. “So every time I wear the bow, I think of him. I think of him laughing at me. He thought I was very funny.”