Ethel Merman: A Life

Ethel Merman: A Life

Brian Kellow

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 0143114204

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

“Kellow’s chronology is dishy and seamless; he understands the dynamics of the theater world and makes you feel the exhilaration of an evolving hit and the frustrations inherent in working with a performer like Merman.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Kellow] has painted a vivid portrait of a Broadway diva who shone brighter and sang louder than anyone else.”—The Washington Post BookWorld

More than twenty years after her death, Ethel Merman continues to set the standard for American musical theater. The stories about the supremely talented, famously strong-willed, fearsomely blunt, and terrifyingly exacting woman are stuff of legend. But who was Ethel Agnes Zimmermann, really? Brian Kellow’s definitive biography of the great Merman is superb, and the first account to examine both the artist and the woman with as much critical rigor as empathy. Through dozens of interviews with her colleagues, friends, and family members, Kellow (author of Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent) traces the arc of her life and her thirty-year singing career to reveal many surprising facts about Broadway’s biggest star.

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week in the midwinter of 1969, while serving as cohost of The Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia, she received a surprise on-air visit from Barbara Jean and Michael and burst into tears in front of the television audience. She stood back and beamed with pride as Douglas brought Michael forward and egged him on to do a rain dance he’d learned in WEBELOS. Try as she might to persuade the press and public that she’d “had it” with Broadway, Ethel’s level of activity in the late 1960s was not

plantation house that had been transformed into an elegant hotel. One day during the Saint Martin vacation, Barbara was running around on a hillside chasing butterflies, when Ethel suddenly started to weep uncontrollably. As Barbara recalled, “She said, ‘That’s just like your mother.’ She was doing that all the time. I think Mom became more golden in death than she was in life. All the difficulties were forgotten.” The family trips would come to an end by around 1974, as the children got older,

News, April 15, 1961 “You’ve got to promise me you’ll do that,” Richard Grayson, interview with author, March 28, 2005 “She never felt the same way about me after that,” ibid. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN “Jackie had a terrible mouth,” Tony Cointreau, interview with author, February 16, 2005 “Ethel, I love you!” Barbara Seaman, Lovely Me (New York: William Morrow, 1987), p. 248 “I just never could go that route,” Tony Cointreau, interview with author, February 16, 2005 “thoroughly repellent,” New

Ethel was to sing a Dixieland arrangement of Irving Berlin’s perennial “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and also to appear in a sketch as a World War I doughboy, in which she sang “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” while Mary acted in a touching scene from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and performed “The Shape,” a hilarious solo spot that surveyed changes in women’s fashion over the past fifty years. The stars were to appear together twice: in a rather routine and pointless pantomime of “Your Folks and My

songs; she wept when she first heard them. It was to be the most taxing, demanding score she would ever perform, for reasons that, at least initially, she probably didn’t truly appreciate. Laurents and Sondheim, by now close friends, provided their work with a subtext that was rare in musicals of the period. Ethel’s opening number, the rousing “Some People,” might seem at first glance to be a standard establishing number—a bossy woman who knows what she wants, baldly stating her philosophy on

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