Newsday (Suffolk Edition) from Melville, New York on October 13, 1980 · 98
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Newsday (Suffolk Edition) from Melville, New York · 98

Melville, New York
Issue Date:
Monday, October 13, 1980
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r 30yPart II neSvsoa MONDAY October 13 iaeo Merman couldn't ask for anything more By Robert W Larkin Newsday Special Correspondent ASTORIA’b own Ethel Merman born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann at "what used to be 359 Fourth Ave” claims she has no plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Broadway debut tomorrow Others on Broadway however no doubt will For one thingi if Merman agrees the 46th Street Theatre may be named after her Irwin Meyer co-owner of the theater with Stephen R Friedman hopes so "We’ve offered her the honor and a contract is now being drawn that involves a TV special You know how things are when they involve lawyers” Merman who has reigned as queen of the American musical theater almost as long as Victoria reigned over the British Empire did not want to discuss the theater her anniversary or almost anything else during a brief interview the other day Tm not celebrating anything” she said in reponse to a question about how she planned to observe a half-century of stardom "I haven’t given it a thought I probably won’t be here in Manhattan anyway” Where will she be? "I’ll probably be in California” The anniversary tomorrow is of the opening of George and Ira Gershwin’s musical "Girl Crazy” at the Alvin Theater Merman was not the star Ginger Rogers — who had won national fame the year before delivering the line "Cigarette me big boy” in the film "Young Man of 'Manhattan” — and comedian Willie Howard were the stars Merman who was then either 22 or 25— depending on whether you believe her or the World Almanac— did not sing until the ninth number when her rendition of "Sam and Delilah” caught the opening night audience’s attention When she followed with "I’ve Got Rhythm” they went mad and she made theatrical history holding a C-note for 16 bars while the orchestra repeated a full chorus of the Gershwin melody She has told the story of her first meeting with the composer as part of her nightclub act and on virtually every television talk show She auditioned for him at his West End Avenue penthouse He handed her the sheet music for the songs she would sing in the show and told her "Miss Merman if there’s anything about With Bob Hope Fernando Lamas Jimmy Durante and Paul Lukas ( in ' Call Me Madam’) these sonn you don’t like Td be most happy to change it "No Mr Gershwin they’ll do very nicely” was her reply It was Gershwin who first advised her "Never go near a singing teacher” And Merman claims she never has although many teachers have studied her technique and sent their pupils to watch and listen to her Cole Porter who composed five shows for her said "I would rather write songs for Ethel Merman than anyone else in the world” It was in their 1934 show "Anything Goes” in which she played a nightclub singer-turned -evangelist that she introduced three of the songs that have since become Merman staples "I Get a Kick Out of You” "Blow Gabriel Blow" and "You’re the Top” It was not until her next show though "Red Hot and Blue” in 1936 that her contract guaranteed her top star billing for the first time in her career Unfortunately the show’s producer gave Jimmy Durante the same billing A stalemate was avoided and much publicity gained when Cole Porter’s wife Linda a crossword puzzle enthusiast thought up the idea of crossing the stars’ names above the title and alternating positions every two weeks In the show Merman introduced Pinter’s "Down in the Depths” and sang the duet "It’s De lovely” with Bob Hope a comic who moved about and improvised much too much for her taste She is a star who insists upon a show’s being "frozen” at least five days before the opening — "Call me Miss Birdseye because the show’s now frozen” — and does not tolerate subsequent changes in dialogue or directions about movement around the stage An apocryphal tale has her complaining to the stage manager of a revival of "Annie Get Your Gun” that deny Orbach was "doing something during one of their scenes together and insisting that the stage manager go out front to see what it was He subsequently reported "He’s not doing anything except reacting to you” and was ordered "Well you tell him not to react to me and I won’t react to him” Fernando Lamas who appeared opposite her in "Happy Hunting” in 1956 also displeased her with his onstage antics some of which could not be described in a family newspaper Jerome Kern was originally set to compose the score and Dorothy Fields the lyrics for "Annie Get Your Gun” (1946) When Kern died Irving Berlin stepped in and Fields exited as lyricist but wrote the book with her brother i Herbert In-eight days Berlin wrote one of the greatest scores in ‘American -musical history which contained "1 Got the Sun in the Morning" "Doin’ What Comes Xatur’lly” "You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” "Anything You Can Do” and the anthem "There’s No Business Like Show Business” It is generally Conceded that Merman was not as disappointed at losing the film version of "Annie” first to Judy Garland and when she died to Betty Hutton both of whom could sing as she was when Warner Bros cast Rosalind Russell to play Madame Rose in the screen version of "Gypsy” one of Merman’s all-time Broadway successes Although Russell stood before a packed audience at a Town Hall "Tribute" shortly before her death and stated she sang the score it is well known in the business that Lisa Kirk dubbed most of her songs for "Gypsy” For her Broadway "Gypsy” in 1959 Merman received unanimous critical raves a fan letter from Sir John Gielgud and a Tony nomination but no Tony Award Mary Martin won that year for her role in "The Sound of Music H prompting Merman to quip "How are you going to buck a nun?” Merman has never been quoted on how she felt 15 years later when Angela Lansbury won a Tony her fourth for her performance as Rose in a revival of "Gypsy” Jerry Herman wrote a musical version of "The Matchmaker” for her but Merman refused the role Carol Charming accepted and had the greatest hit of her career with "Hello Dolly!” Producer David Merrick finally convinced Merman to appear in the show after Charming Ginger Rogers Betty Grable Martha Raye- Pearl Bailey and Bibi Osterwald had played the role Ethel Merman has not appeared on Broadway for 10 years except for the memorable evening when she teamed with her only real rival Mary Martin in "Together on Broadway” a benefit for the Museum of the City of New York That night in 1976 she proved she still reigned supreme Had her career taken place in England where she has no counterpart she would probably be honored with a command performance at the Palladium and invited to Buckingham Palace tomorrow to be named a Dame But her stage career has been in New York and she will not be here on her anniversary "Til probably be in Hollywood” she Tuimnnwd in that non-mistakeable voice It was the same voice she has used to play a series of what she describes as "brassy dames” all of whom turn out to be vulnerable and capable of being hurt by the final curtain As she spoke the other day - there was a catch-in that voice that mndw her 4 sound' just like one of them n - I j 1 I 1 i Vi vv

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