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Meet Dallas Famed Storyteller: Rose-Mary Rumbley

Rose-Mary Rumbley can tell a story. Whether the story is about herself, her beloved late husband, her dear mother or a local legend of Dallas, the city she so loves, Rose–Mary Rumbley can tell a story.

She can tell it standing in front of an audience or sitting at a desk writing a book.

An octogenarian, Rumbley regularly performs three speaking engagements and book reviews a day because she is in such great demand.

She has authored six books, “The Unauthorized History of Dallas,” “Dallas. Too,” “Strolling Through the Park,’ “What! No Chili,” “A Century of Class: Public Education in Dallas, 1884-1984” and “Dear Santa, Thanks for the Piano.”

In addition to author and speaker, you will find stage and screen acting credits on her resume. That is, if she had a resume. She doesn’t have a website. She doesn’t need to advertise. Rumbley is a Dallas icon, a Texas legend and often referred to as “rock star to the senior set.”

What makes her so appealing?

Local real estate agent and history buff, Ken Lampton believes it is her delivery and timing. “She is almost a stand-up comic,” he said.

A stand-up comic is really what she wanted to be, but her mother did not think that was a reputable job for a southern lady. So Rumbley was groomed toward acting and reviewing.

“I took ‘Expression Lessons’ formally known as ‘Elocution Lessons.’ The teacher lived in a big house on the corner of Knox and Abbot. We were taught to enunciate,” Rumbley recalled.

During a recent presentation at the Lakewood branch of the Dallas Public Library, Rumbley shared her first on-stage recitation.

With her usual humor she prefaced the poem with the comment, “It was funny back then. It’s just normal today.”

“I don’t know why there must be boys.

They’re simply in the way.

Teasing me all day...those mean old boys.

You bet I'll never marry one

I have my plans all laid.

I’m going to stay at home with my children

And be a nice old maid.”

She was 3 years old when she recited the poem and throughout her life, her love of the stage never faltered.

In 1958 a new Casa Manana,“ House of Tomorrow,” was built in Fort Worth, in the same location as the original amphitheater of the same name built in 1936 by Billy Rose.

Rumbley was ready to join the troupes of the new theater-in the-round. In 1962 when Casa presented “Damn Yankees” Rumbley was on stage in the role of Doris. Her second performance at Casa was as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella.

She went on to the Dallas Music Hall, where she played opposite such famous actors as John Davidson and Ginger Rogers. and then to the big screen where she appeared in “Paper Moon” with Ryan and Tatum O’Neal.

Rumbley wrote her first book in 1984, entitled “A Century of Class: Public Education in Dallas, 1884-1984." Actually it was her dissertation for her doctorate.

Her second book, “The Unauthorized History of Dallas,” was published in 1991. It was only natural that the book be a history of the city she loves.

Born and reared in Dallas, Rumbley was the only child of Amy and Phil Brau of German heritage.

“Mother was born in Dallas in 1894. She really saw the city grow. My grandfather had a bakery on Main Street, The West End Bakery, that he opened in 1880,“ said Rumbley.

“I’ve traveled all over, but I have never lived anywhere but Dallas,” Rumbley boasts of her Texas roots.

Following the “Unauthorized History of Dallas,” was her next book, “Dallas, Too.”

The dust jacket of “Dallas, Too” reads, “Stories I’m telling again because I want to hear them myself.”

Rumbley’s books are filled with stories that you never tire of hearing over and over.

They contain anecdotes about local politicians, legends and landmarks.

Although the stories are factual, they are not dry, boring stories, but human interest stories like R. L Thornton and his buddy, Big Tex and legends that have become a part of East Dallas culture like the “Lady of the Lake,” the ghost of White Rock.

Landmarks aren’t limited to buildings with historic markers like Old Red Courthouse, but include and remember places like the popular nightclub, Lou Ann’s, once located at the corner of Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane and the famous downtown striptease establishment, The Colony Club. The stories are about life — life in Dallas.

Many of you likely know Carol Roark from the J. Erik Jonsson Dallas Public Library. Roark was manager of the library’s special collections. Roark knew where everything was and where to look to find whatever you were looking for on the library’s seventh floor dedicated to Texas history.

I asked Roark what made Rumbley’s books so popular.

“Rumbley has a way of turning history into stories that enchant and enthrall because she is such a good storyteller,” Roark said.

Beth Bentley, local preservationist and resident of Vickery Place Conservation District said she especially enjoyed Rumbley’s “A Century of Class” about the Dallas school system. “I have often used it for research and reference,” Bentley said.

Between writing, speaking and acting, Rumbley was also teaching. She headed up the drama department at Dallas Baptist University for 12 years. Today she teaches speech and drama to fourth graders at West Dallas Community School.

She also leads local tours pointing out “places of interest” and relaying their history through fascinating stories from a tour bus. And, oh yes, she and her daughter, Jill, perform each year in the Senior Follies, a musical theater review with singers and dancers 55 and older.

Rumbley doesn’t seem to be slowing down and I guess some of us are too selfish to encourage her to do so. I for one cannot imagine Dallas without the influence through books, lectures and reviews of Rose-Mary Rumbley.

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DBU student Shelly Aubrey, Carol Channing and Rumb
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Saturday, November 8, 2014