Ethel Merman: A Life

Ethel Merman: A Life

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by Brian Kellow
     
 

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“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…  See more details below

Overview

“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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Neil Genzlinger
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
Publishers Weekly

With dueling Merman biographies being released just prior to her birth centennial in 2008 (see review above of Caryl Flinn's Brass Diva), Kellow's slimmer tome is the livelier of the two with new interviews with friends, family and co-workers bringing vibrant life and clarity to even familiar anecdotes. Kellow (The Bennetts: An Acting Family) is less interested in digging for psychological insights and bluntly paints a more temperamental portrait of the Broadway belter, but readers will be swept up in the colorful eyewitness accounts of her stage triumphs (Anything Goes; Call Me Madam; Annie Get Your Gun; Gypsy; Hello, Dolly!) and her less successful attempts to move from stage to screen (There's No Business Like Show Business; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). With four failed marriages (including a legendarily short one to Ernest Borgnine-she flew back alone from their honeymoon after just two days), a distant relationships with her son and daughter (who died of an accidental overdose in 1967) and volatile personality, there's plenty of diva drama. She found a younger audience with appearances on Love Boat and a show-stopping cameo in Airplane!, but an inoperable brain tumor finally silenced the bombastic singer in 1984. Testimonies from those who were there during her decline bring an emotional wallop to her final days. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov. 5)

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The Washington Post BookWorld
A vivid portrait of a Broadway diva who shone brighter and sang louder than anyone else.
The New York Times Book Review
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.
Library Journal

Fans of the legendary Broadway star Ethel Merman will be delighted with these two biographies. Merman's own autobiographies (Mermanand Who Could Ask for Anything More?) are fun to read and offer plenty of Broadway dish, but serious biographies have been past due. Flinn (women's studies, Univ. of Arizona; The New German Cinema) and Kellow (The Bennetts: An Acting Family) bring her to life and tellingly reveal her enormous achievements and talent. While it's clear that Merman had her share of human frailties, each author finds her to be sympathetic as a woman, mother, wife, and performer, and each clearly holds her in the highest regard for her place in theatrical and film history. Flinn's academic training and scholarly approach are illustrated in the amount of information and detail she includes. For example, comparing the indexes, Kellow lists, as does Flinn, all of Merman's performances and the musical numbers she sang; however, Flinn includes all the musical numbers sung by all the other performers in her shows and a six-page discography. Flinn's notes, which include archival resources and interviews, take up 52 pages; Kellow's run 22 pages and are not as broad in scope. Flinn's access to the multivolume scrapbook collection created by Merman's father over his lifetime, which Kellow does not mention, surely gave her an enormous amount of detailed information. Public libraries will find Kellow's book an excellent and enjoyable resource; all academic libraries and public libraries with theater collections will want both of these titles. (Photographs and indexes not available at the time of review.)
—Susan L. Peters

Kirkus Reviews
A clear-eyed, perceptive take on the reign of Queen Ethel of Broadway. An editor at Opera News and an entertainment reporter and biographer, Kellow nimbly sidesteps the booby traps other writers have hit while writing about Ethel Merman. Though he gives her temperament its due, he admirably avoids overloading his account with tales of a sometime-outrageous diva. He places Merman's ascendancy and success in the context of 20th-century New York City. Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and others provided the scores, and their confluence created such classics as Girl Crazy, Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy. Content at center stage on Broadway, Merman was less happy out of town. Hollywood, in particular, was not her place, as evidenced by the middling films she lensed at Warner Bros. and Paramount. She did score, at least with city audiences, with the film version of Call Me Madam, but losing the main role in the film adaptation of her Broadway triumph Gypsy to Rosalind Russell was a major career disappointment. For Merman, happiness clearly began when the curtain went up. A headstrong, outspoken only child, Merman, notes Kellow, saw only in black and white, a worldview that gave her considerable force onstage but sabotaged four marriages. Her melancholy demise found her down in the depths of the Upper East Side, alone with the ashes of her parents, one ex-husband and Ethel Jr., a daughter whose death may have been an "accidental suicide."Kellow displays a keen sense of how and why Merman worked, and his profile of her personal life is an aching refrain worthy of the musical Follies.
From the Publisher
“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
 
“Detailed and perceptive”
—The Atlantic Monthly
 
“Finally, an up-close and personal Merman who is a whole person. Thanks to this compelling biography, I finally understand how Merman truly defined what was and wasn’t worthy of Broadway. Don’t miss this one.”
—OutSmart
 
“Once you start reading you’ll find it difficult to put down.”
—Talkin’ Broadway
 
“If I had to pick one book to read, it would probably be Kellow’s. . . . Kellow, meanwhile, manages to paint a much more vivid portrait of Merman as a Broadway icon, mother and wife four times over. . . . While Kellow still has admiration for his subject, he dishes on the Diva. It’s a much more enjoyable read and its lighthearted tone is much more in keeping with the musical comedies for which La Merm is best known.”
—Misha Davenport, Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Kellow nimbly sidesteps the booby traps other writers have hit while writing about Ethel Merman. Though he gives her temperament its due, he admirably avoids overloading his account with tales of a sometime-outrageous diva. . . . Kellow displays a keen sense of how and why Merman worked, and his profile of her personal life is an aching refrain worthy of the musical Follies.”
—Kirkus Reviews
 
“A wonderfully vivid portrait of a unique Broadway star. You can almost hear Merman’s trumpet voice with every turn of the page.”
—John Kander, composer of Chicago and Cabaret
 
“In Ethel Merman: A Life, Brian Kellow paints a portrait of Ethel the larger-than-life Broadway star, and Ethel the woman, emotionally crippled offstage by personal tragedy. This book is engrossing, emotional, and entertaining.”
—Marin Mazzie
 
“Thank you, Brian! I am so grateful to you for giving us the human Merman. She has been so often satirized, sent up, and imitated that it is wonderful to have a lucid portrait of her inimitable career. She lived and worked the whole history of Broadway. It’s about time she rates this loving and truthful tribute.”
—Tyne Daly
 
“Ethel Merman was unique, and so is this book. A fascinating read and a thorough theatrical history of her time. Loved it!!”
Jane Powell

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101202586
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/01/2007
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
722,241
File size:
532 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Jane Powell
A fascinating read and a thorough theatrical history of her time. Loved it!
John Kander
A wonderfully vivid portrait of a unique Broadway star. You can almost hear Merman's trumpet voice with every turn of the page. (John Kander, composer of Chicago and Cabaret)
From the Publisher
“ A vivid portrait of a Broadway diva who shone brighter and sang louder than anyone else.” —The Washington Post BookWorld

“ 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

“ A wonderfully vivid portrait of a unique Broadway star. You can almost hear Merman’s trumpet voice with every turn of the page.”—John Kander, composer of Chicago and Cabaret

“A fascinating read and a thorough theatrical history of her time. Loved it!”—Jane Powell

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Meet the Author

Brian Kellow is the features editor of Opera News, where his column, “On the Beat,” appears monthly. He is the author of The Bennetts: An Acting Family and the coauthor of Can’t Help Singing: The Life of Eileen Farrell. A classically trained pianist, Kellow has also written for Opera and Playbill, among others. He lives in New York City.

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Ethel Merman: A Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable...didn't know much about Merman's life before reading. she was a fabulous talent and I enjoyed learning moire about her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago