( b. Jan 16, 1908 Astoria, New York, USA - d. Feb 15, 1984 New York, New York, USA ) Female
Ethel Merman was the musical-comedy star whose belting voice and brassy style entertained Broadway and movie audiences for 50 years.
Miss Merman's most memorable shows included Cole Porter's Anything Goes and Dubarry Was a Lady, Annie Get Your Gun and the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim musical Gypsy which she considered her best. Her 14 movies included ''Alexander's Ragtime Band,'' ''There's No Business Like Show Business'' and ''It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.''
Though she took a commercial course in high school and got a job as a stenographer, Miss Merman never doubted that she would become a singer. Thus, she left one job for another because she had heard that her boss at the second job knew important men in show business.
She was determined to be a singer. When she went to the Palace with friends to watch the top performers in vaudeville, she would often imitate the singers and sometimes say she could sing better than the high-priced talent she had seen.
Beginning in 1930, and for more than a quarter of a century thereafter, no Broadway season seemed really complete unless it had a musical with Ethel Merman. In that period, the chunky, aggressive star with the clarion voice, brash personality, shrewd comic sense and steel nerves was the darling of such master songwriters as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Jule Styne. When her Broadway career all but ended in 1959 with what many of her admirers considered her finest performance, as the mother of the stripper in Gypsy she had done 13 musicals, nearly all of them hits.
Composers vied for her, knowing she would hit every note on the mark, hold it as long as needed, give it the right shading, follow the trickiest rhythm flawlessly. Lyrics writers were equally certain that she would make every syllable distinct and evoke every bit of laughter from a comic line.
''I just stand up and holler and hope my voice holds out.'' Or: ''I leave the songs the way they came out of the composer's head.'' Or: ''Even if I don't know how I get the effects I end up with, I do have sense enough to know that I do all right. I'd be a dope if I didn't know that. I'd be even dopier if I changed the way I do it.''
''She's the best,'' Irving Berlin once said of her. ''You give her a bad song, and she'll make it sound good. Give her a good song, and she'll make it sound great. And you'd better write her a good lyric." Offstage, as well as in the theater, Miss Merman was a sort of symbol of the Broadway of her era, with her New York speech, gaudy jewelry, flamboyant, gum-chewing manner. Supremely self-confident, immune to opening- night jitters, she was in awe of no one in show business. Miss Merman worked hard during rehearsals and did not lower her standards during a long run. She demanded - and got - as much as 10 percent of the gross.
''When I do a show,'' she said, ''not to pat myself on the back, but when I do a show, the whole show revolves around me. And if I don't show up, they can just forget it.''
Sometimes Miss Merman exercised considerable control over a show before it went into production. This was the case with Gypsy Jerome Robbins, the director, wanted Mr. Sondheim to write the music. Miss Merman felt he was too inexperienced, and insisted on Mr. Styne, who got the assignment. However, she agreed to let Mr. Sondheim do the lyrics. Her role as Mama Rose in Gypsy was her favorite, she said years later, even though the character was largely unsympathetic.
And, she said just over a year ago, ''Broadway has been very good to me - but then I've been very good to Broadway.''
Source: The New York Times obituary
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