B1561. ETHEL MERMAN. Who Could Ask for Anything More? [Autobiography]. New York, Doubleday, 1955. 252pp. Photos on endpapers; DJ.
“Ethel Merman was an American actress and singer known for her powerful, belting mezzo-soprano voice, precise enunciation and pitch. Because stage singers performed without microphones when Merman began singing professionally, she had a great advantage, despite the fact that she never took any singing lessons. In fact, Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin advised her never to take a singing lesson after she opened in his GIRL CRAZY. Known primarily for her powerful voice and rôles in musical theatre, she has been called ‘the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage’.
While performing on the prestigious Keith Circuit, Merman was signed to replace Ruth Etting in the Paramount film FOLLOW THE LEADER (1930), starring Ed Wynn and Ginger Rogers. Following a successful seven-week run at the Brooklyn Paramount, she was signed to perform at the Palace for $500 per week. During the run, theatre producer Vinton Freedley saw her perform and invited her to audition for the rôle of San Francisco café singer Kate Fothergill in the new George and Ira Gershwin musical GIRL CRAZY. Upon hearing her sing ‘I Got Rhythm’, the Gershwins immediately cast her, and Merman began juggling daytime rehearsals with her matinee and evening performance schedule at the Palace. GIRL CRAZY opened on 14 October, 1930 at the Alvin Theatre, where it ran for 272 performances. The New York Times noted Merman sang ‘with dash, authority, good voice and just the right knowing style’, while The New Yorker called her ‘imitative of no one’."
ANYTHING GOES proved to be the first of five Cole Porter musicals in which Merman starred. In addition to the title song, the score included ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘You're the Top’, and ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’. It opened on 21 November, 1934 at the Alvin Theatre, and the New York Post called Merman ‘vivacious and ingratiating in her comedy moments, and the embodiment of poise and technical adroitness’ when singing ‘as only she knows how to do’. Although Merman always had remained with a show until the end of its run, she left ANYTHING GOES after eight months to appear with Eddie Cantor in the film STRIKE ME PINK.
Producers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II invited Irving Berlin to replace the late Jerome Kern, and the result was ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, which opened on 16 May, 1946 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for nearly three years and 1,147 performances. During that time, Merman took only two vacations and missed only two performances due to illness.
Merman and Berlin reunited for CALL ME MADAM in 1950, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and she went on to star in the 1953 screen adaptation as well, winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance.
GYPSY was based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee and starred Merman as her domineering stage mother Rose Hovick, posssibly Merman's best remembered performance. The musical opened on 21 May, 1959 at The Broadway Theatre. In the New York Post, Richard Watts called her ‘a brilliant actress’, and Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times said ‘she gives an indomitable performance, both as actress and singer’. Despite the acclaim, Merman lost the Tony Award to her close friend Mary Martin in THE SOUND OF MUSIC and jokingly quipped, ‘How are you going to buck a nun?’"
- Zillah Dorset Akron