The Movie Queen Among Us

Rosemary McNeely didn’t require much of a makeover

Photos: Steven Krause

With the Sonoma International Film Festival on the horizon, we wanted a movie star for our March makeover. Not a real one. We wanted to create one. Someone we could turn into a glamorous queen of the cinema from the ’40s and ’50s. Think Bacall, Davis, Gardner, Hayworth or Turner.

We put our heads together. We put names in play. Nothing quite clicked. Then someone said, we need someone who looks like Rosemary McNeely. She’s got that silver screen thing. And amazing eyes.

Then someone else said, no, we don’t need someone who looks like Rosemary McNeely. We need Rosemary McNeely.

Fortunately, Rosemary McNeely agreed. It was, after all, a perfect fit. Her husband, Kevin, is executive director of the film festival, she once did fashion PR for Georgio Armani, the two are patrons of the arts, have traveled the periphery of Hollywood and, hey, Bruce Willis is a personal friend. More importantly, Rosemary really does have that look. Extravagant blond hair, perfect cheekbones, and those eyes.

I’ll do it, she said, but you have to take the “before” shots in my classroom at the Presentation School. Rosemary has a degree in ceramics and painting from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. She taught ceramics at the famous 90th Street YMCA in New York. Nancy Kissinger was a student. Now her students are younger and they fill her classroom with joyous glee and startlingly good art. A recent assignment was creating 50 dog images for a Pets Lifeline fundraiser. Wearing a paint-spattered smock and looking at the finished work on a classroom wall, Rosemary shook her head. “So beautiful,” she said. “The kids put their heart and soul into this.”

She and Kevin gave up a Tribeca loft with views of the Hudson, the World Trade Center and New Jersey sunsets to try California, where Kevin had gone to school. They discovered Sonoma, and that was the end of wondering where to live.

“With adventure comes opportunity,” Rosemary says, quoting someone, perhaps herself. “And I’ve had a great deal of luck. We really are lucky people, lucky that we love what we do.”

Ask her what part of Hollywood history she relates to, and she has two answers. “I’ve always loved those women and men in the Jimmy Stewart era. They wore hats and fitted dresses, and I love that look. But I also love the current generation of actresses, like Charlize Theron and Scarlett Johansson. Educated women who can also be edgy and can play any role they want.”

Rosemary sees magic in fine art. “You can be healed by the arts, by films. There is a magic in movies. That’s why we all go. To find love, to find out more about ourselves, to go for a good ride. It makes the world a better place.”

Rosemary McNeely’s transition from paint-spattered teacher to elegant actress was seamless, like she was born for the role. In the end, it really wasn’t that much of a makeover, more of an unveiling. More like pulling the cover off a classic car—say a 1965 Jaguar XKE or a Gullwing Mercedes 300SL.

All of which confirms her summary of Sonoma. “I feel blessed to be here.” 

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