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Ethel Merman stars as Annie

The week Andrea McArdle was out due to laryngitis. They called Liza but she wasn't available, so Ethel stepped in to save the day.

by Anonymousreply 11612/19/2012

God, she's ugly. How did someone that ugly get to be a star?

by Anonymousreply 112/06/2012

"Imogene, you look like an idiot!"

by Anonymousreply 212/06/2012

She looks exactly like the cowardly lion. Could not watch the whole thing.

by Anonymousreply 312/06/2012

Somehow I missed Merman's stint as Annie, but I did catch the show one night when Raquel Welch was in for Andrea McArdle. Just awful.

by Anonymousreply 412/06/2012

Did she really sound like that or was it one of those cases where a person's voice records differently than how it actually sounds? I only ask because, good god Lemon, listening to that is absolute torture.

by Anonymousreply 512/06/2012

You know the black actors would be mugging her in a real urban setting

by Anonymousreply 612/06/2012

What the hell is Imogene Coca doing there?

by Anonymousreply 712/06/2012

If any of the questions are serious, Merman was a stage performer whose career started in an era where spunk, verve and a big voice to fill the house were assets. She was considered very attractive for the stage, because you could see her big, vivid features. She had a quality that was immensely likable - brass with a capacity for softness underneath. Among others, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin specifically wrote shows for her; she should serve as adequate proof of the regard for her felt both by professionals and audiences.

She was known as being too big for the movies - she couldn't play down. A few successes are there, up to "Call Me Madam" in the 1950s, but mainly she missed the film roles. And if she was too big for the movie screen, obviously she was much too big for the television screen, as can be seen here.

He flukey voice didn't last, as the stridency and black-hole vibrato set one's teeth on edge. But she was famous for being both dumb and game, and only a game woman would do this number.

Cheap shots about Merman reveal both self-protectiveness from the full-frontal assault she was capable of, and ignorance of her amazing, important role in helping to create and sustain the American musical theatre tradition.

by Anonymousreply 812/06/2012

You say e-thah and I say e-thah You say ne-thah and I say ne-thah Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow!


by Anonymousreply 912/06/2012

Lord. Seeing Streisand cringe and try is only one of the great features of this clip.

by Anonymousreply 1012/06/2012

I stopped reading R8 after the second sentence. Did it ever get interesting?

by Anonymousreply 1112/06/2012

R11 No, not really. Nor did they really answer the question they start claiming they are answering.

by Anonymousreply 1212/06/2012

Merman at 23.

by Anonymousreply 1312/06/2012

If only Gary Morton hadn't had such influence.....

by Anonymousreply 1412/06/2012

She and Mary M were lezzies

by Anonymousreply 1512/06/2012

I saw Merman in "Gypsy" in 1960 on Broadway. She had great stage presence; you could not take your eye off her. After "Gypsy," Merman seemed to care less about her appearance. She probably felt that nothing better than "Gypsy" would come along again.

Also, Mary Martin & Ethel Merman were stars in a era when Broadway stars were known by the general public, mostly because they appeared regularly on TV in the 1950s.

by Anonymousreply 1612/07/2012

Despite appearances, Ethel Merman was not a lesbian. Sometimes colleagues would use her mannishness against her to win arguments - it was one way to shut her up.

Mary Martin, despite appearances, was a lesbian. She had a gay husband, blamed him for abandoning Larry all those years, and had her simpering, preening career pretending to be Miss Wholesome while being anything but. And by that I don't mean a lesbian can't be wholesome, of course. I mean a lying hypocrite can't.

Don't tell me it was because of the times and her career. She was a barracuda.

by Anonymousreply 1712/07/2012

r1 uses recreational drugs socially.

by Anonymousreply 1812/07/2012

Ethel was terrific. She was a performer for something like 50 years, so she must have had something people liked! As noted above, she could project to the balcony without help when there were no technical advantages to make singers sound like singers. Today many singers would not survive without sound engineers and microphones and amplification, etc.

by Anonymousreply 1912/07/2012

No mention yet of DL legend Leslie Uggams in the clip?!

by Anonymousreply 2012/07/2012

How was Ethel ever considered a good singer; her voice is one of the shrillest and most unmelodious I've ever heard. She's also ugly.

by Anonymousreply 2112/07/2012

[R1] She was usually up onstage and couldn't be seen close up! She never got to do the film versions of her B'way hits!!!

by Anonymousreply 2212/07/2012

If you think Miss Merman was bad, you should've seen Helen Lawson step into the role the following week. Two of the children in the chorus are STILL in the asylum, and they never did find Sandy the dog.

by Anonymousreply 2312/07/2012

Ok we get it. Merman had a voice that could be heard in the back of the house in a day when amplification didnt exist (which isnt exactly true. Microphones and loudspeakers, although crude, did exist in the 30s) Besides, air raid sirens and exploding sticks of dynamite could also be heard at the back of the house too, but that doesnt mean I would want to subject my ears to that torture. What I wonder about is what we hear on a recording what her voice REALLY sounded like or is it a matter of her having the sort of voice that sounded fine live but just didnt record well. Because honestly, how anyone can say she had a great voice is beyond me. Its shrill, the vibrato is unnerving and the way she would attack a note with something like a yodel is just strange.

by Anonymousreply 2412/07/2012

[quote]What the hell is Imogene Coca doing there?

And is that Leslie Uggams standing next to her?

by Anonymousreply 2512/07/2012

r24, oh forget it, and go back to listening to your RENT cast CD.

by Anonymousreply 2612/07/2012

Leslie and Imogene were lovers in Imogene's golden years. Irene Ryan used to join them for three-ways when she was in town.

by Anonymousreply 2712/07/2012

So I take it R26, you really dont have an answer, do you?

And Rent? CDs? Wow, how 1999. Sounds like someone is living in the past.

by Anonymousreply 2812/07/2012

I love that in one of Merm's autobiographies the chapter describing her VERY brief marriage to Ernest Borgnine is a blank page.

by Anonymousreply 2912/07/2012

I shoulda been the Queen of Broadway!

by Anonymousreply 3012/07/2012

I'm so glad people share my distaste for Merman. Over at BroadwayWorld I get crucified. Other so-called legends whose singing voices I can't stand -- Carol Channing and Gwen Verdon. Awful, awful voces!

by Anonymousreply 3112/07/2012


I don't think their (sane) fans would describe their voices as pretty. They were personalities who could put across a song.

by Anonymousreply 3212/07/2012

Umph ooo ooo

by Anonymousreply 3312/07/2012

Dont care what you douchebags say, Merman was great!

by Anonymousreply 3412/07/2012

I can't stand Merman but I love Gwen Verdon. She had a pleasant character voice. Her recordings of "A Little Brains, a Little Talent," "Whatever Lola Wants," and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" are classics. "'Erbie Fitch's Twitch," too.

by Anonymousreply 3512/07/2012

The original cast version of 'Gypsy' is an accurate indication of her Merman sounded on stage. Much of the comments here were also around when Merman was at the top of her career. She is a prime example of a performer whom you had to see in person to 'get.'

On Mary Martin blaming her husband for her problems with her son, Larry Hagman. She often admitted after her husband died that it was her own fault. Otherwise the analysis on Martin was very accurate.

by Anonymousreply 3612/08/2012

I saw Merman several times in Hello Dolly. Didn't like her the first time. Thought she was wooden since she replaced the freewheeling Phyllis Diller. But I grew to appreciate her. She was a a monument. So glad I was there for Dolly's last performance. It was a Broadway "Happening". And the Merm's final Broadway show.

by Anonymousreply 3712/08/2012

Wasn't she sick at this point? I heard she was walking around backstage saying things like HEY KERMIT! FUCK YOU, COCKSUCKA. TOMORROW? I NEED FRENCH TOAST AND A BAG OF PRETZELS.

by Anonymousreply 3812/08/2012

I was prepared to not like this clip because by this point in her life, she was mainly a walking caricature of herself. I got a little teary-eyed watching it, though, because I think it was kind of sweet! Merman was an entertainer, pure and simple.

by Anonymousreply 3912/08/2012

When you see Merman at this point in her career, remember that her eyes are eyes that have gazed upon the naked flesh of Ernest Borgnine and lived.

Be kind.

by Anonymousreply 4012/08/2012

Ernie was a fat fuck, but all that belly turned into cock when he got a hardon.

by Anonymousreply 4112/08/2012

Merman would have been seventy-years old in 1978. Sadly she never learned to modulate her Broadway personality, which worked well on stage, for her appearances in TV and films.

And her voice sounds awful. Just a year earlier, Merman sounds much better on a live recording of the on-time-only concert she did with Mary Matin in New York City.

by Anonymousreply 4212/08/2012

"Imogene, you look like an idiot!" has to become a new catchphrase.

by Anonymousreply 4312/08/2012

This special was produced on the cheap for CBS. It features no Muppets other than the two performed by Carroll Spinney - Big Bird and Oscar, and Barkley, a large, mute dog played by a person in a full bodysuit. All the other Muppets were too busy taping the far superior "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street" for PBS.

I love Ethel's oddball phrasing at the 1:20 mark. Annie usually sings, "I just stick out my chin and grin and saaaaayyyyyy, ohhhhhhhhhhh - the sun'll come out. . ." Ethel holds the note on "saaaayyyyy" too long then she turns the long "ohhh" into a tiny pick-up note - "ooh, the sun'll come out tomorrow." It's as though she were parodying herself.

She also blows her entrance at 1:50 and screws up the melody on the next few lines. She doesn't get back on track until the 2:16 mark. This might be early evidence of the brain tumor that felled her a few years later.

p.s. Other stars who appeared on this travesty included Ann Murray, Tommy Smothers, Henry Fonda and a young Michael Jackson.

by Anonymousreply 4412/08/2012

p.s. This show aired 34 years ago, today, December 8, 1978.

by Anonymousreply 4512/08/2012

r38 She might have been sick with the tumor then which would have made her speak randomly....according to Carol Channing

by Anonymousreply 4612/08/2012

'This might be early evidence of the brain tumor that felled her a few years later.'

Yes, it is true that her friends were concerned about her speach patterns beginning at some point. But, Merman did not collapse from the brain tumor until earlt 1983. Only a doctor would know whether she would have warning signs as early as 1978. But, that doesn't mean that you aren't completely correct. Something seems off about her entire performance in the video clip.

And the same is true about her appearance at the Beverly Sills Farewell Gala in late 1980. Merman looked much older (and even poorly dressed) in comparison to M. Martin who performed right before Ethel.

by Anonymousreply 4712/08/2012

Re Merman's age, she was born in January, 1908, so she was 70 when this was taped, not 78. She LOOKED 78, but she wasn't.

by Anonymousreply 4812/08/2012

A few years after 1978.

She had lost nothing.

by Anonymousreply 4912/08/2012

It's nice to know that that even in later years, Merman's voice still had the power to render the listener insensible.

Because otherwise the people bitching about her voice in 1977 might be able to actually use the interwebs to found out what she sounded like 50 years earlier when she was in her prime.

Perhaps this won't matter to people who've never heard singing which didn't come out of a speaker, but Porter, the Gershwins, Arlen and Berlin all wrote specifically for Merman. And if she was good enough for them ...

by Anonymousreply 5012/08/2012

They say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, but really Broadway is Hollywood for ugly people.

by Anonymousreply 5112/08/2012

I don't think Merman's voice was that different in the 1970s. Wider vibrato, little wobbly, yes. But not a shadow of her voice in its prime.

If people don't like her '70s voice, I don't think they'd like her '40s voice.

by Anonymousreply 5212/08/2012

I'm actually talking about her early voice -- in the 30's.

Her clarity would eventually give way to the brassiness that everyone imitates, and from the '50's on she'd lost much of the nuance.

Despite how the post sounds, I'm really not much of a Merman fan. But to have been seated at a theater in 1930 and hear Ethel Merman debut the song "I Got Rhythm" ... that must have been an amazing experience.

by Anonymousreply 5312/08/2012


Have you seen the film of Anything Goes? From 1934/35? She was always brassy belt. Like Judy Garland, she barely had a head voice (c.f. I Get A Kick Out Of You).

by Anonymousreply 5412/08/2012

[quote] Annie usually sings, "I just stick out my chin and grin and saaaaayyyyyy, ohhhhhhhhhhh - the sun'll come out. . ." Ethel holds the note on "saaaayyyyy" too long then she turns the long "ohhh" into a tiny pick-up note - "ooh, the sun'll come out tomorrow."

And then all the other nonsense you post in the next paragraph. You're just saying that she doesn't sing the song as you hear it on the OBC recording. That has nothing to do with this arrangement of the song.

by Anonymousreply 5512/08/2012


by Anonymousreply 5612/08/2012

Interesting that "personality" mattered more than looks in those days. Think Merman, Sophie Tucker, Ethel Waters, Kate Smith. They'd make mincemeat of B. Peters.

by Anonymousreply 5712/08/2012

[quote]They'd make mincemeat of B. Peters.

Please, R57. There's not enough of her to make an amuse bouche for those four fatties.

by Anonymousreply 5812/08/2012

Jeez, with those massive undereye bags, I'm surprised she can see enough to walk.

by Anonymousreply 5912/08/2012


Yes, us glamor girls would've been whisked straight off to Hollywood.

by Anonymousreply 6012/08/2012

R80: What songs did Arlen write for Merman?

I would change Arlen to Sondheim/Styne.

by Anonymousreply 6112/08/2012

Quite the little cuntlets snarking here, with the usual lack of education and reasoning skills. If they say it, it's true, no matter what. Tedium at the DL continues.

But the point that if you don't like Merman you don't like Merman is rather a secure one. Unless, of course, R8 and R11 in all her manifestations here can't focus long enough to the spot here where I call them cunts.

by Anonymousreply 6212/08/2012

I'm amazed at the ignorant comments concerning Merman.

There is a reason why she originated "Anything Goes", "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Gypsy". Even Hello Dolly was written with her in mind. Not Channing.

The very best song writers wrote for her: George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jule Styne. They knew their lyrics would be heard.... every word...every syllable...right to the last seat in the balcony. Merman could hit every note... and she could hold notes forever.

Her voice was never considered to be beautiful... instead, it was exciting. It was Broadway.

She had no microphone. And she had to be heard over the orchestra. In the theatre, the orchestra is in front of the singer. And back then, shows had big full orchestrations.

Who could sing that way today... behind an orchestra, without a microphone, night after night and deliver to the back of the house? No one. You think Patti Lupone Could? Bernadette Peters?. No way.

Also: Merman was loved for the NY accent and the big brassy no-nonsense personality. The average theatre goer could relate to her. Even the fact that she wasn't beautiful worked in her favor.... she looked a housewife or a secretary.

Listen to her do "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy. No one has be able to equal it.

Here's Merman in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and she's hilarious:

by Anonymousreply 6312/08/2012


You make it sound like Ethel Merman was the only viable leading lady on Broadway.

Mary Martin came up not long after Merman and had major success with Merman vehicle "Annie Get Your Gun", to the extent that Martin played it on TV (1957) before Merman did (1966).

by Anonymousreply 6412/08/2012

Martin's career was very different than Merman's. Martin didn't originate a starring role in an important musical until 1949. Merman had already starred in , Anything Goes, Red, Hot and Blue, Dubarry Was a Lady, Panama Hattie, Something for the Boys, and Annie Get Your Gun. Plus her role in Girl Crazy,

Up until South Pacific, Martin was mostly known for singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and that's it.

by Anonymousreply 6512/08/2012

Arturo Toscanini said that Merman was the most in-tune singer he had ever heard.

by Anonymousreply 6612/08/2012

[R1][R51]We had FACES back then, dammit!

by Anonymousreply 6712/08/2012

I laughed at your post R56, but what I'm saying is the truth. R44 is nitpicking for a karaoke version of the song, no? What a bizarre expectation.

by Anonymousreply 6812/08/2012

Was this before or after her infamous disco album?

by Anonymousreply 6912/08/2012

Merman was a New York sensation. Filmgoers couldn't take her, and she was not nearly as beloved on the road as she was on Briadway (she also didn't do much of "the road," whereas Mary Martin thrived on tours. Channing, too.)

Back in her day, being a New York Briadway star was enough to make you a "star," period - particularly if you were preserved in some way (Merman a bit on film, and scores of recordings).

She was a vulgar woman who had something that was unique when she started - the clarion clear voice. There are definitely recordings and even film of Merman from the 1930s where she sings with style and sensitivity and modulates her belt. Check out "Why Not String Along With Me?" From the movie Straight Place and Show on You Tube. Sweet and charming and not over belted.

But by Annie Get Your Gun she was losing the nuance. And her idea of acting - throwing it all to the audience and not relating to anyone else on stge - looks ridiculous in clips like the one from "Granny Get Your Gun."

Her high point, besides Gypsy, of her later career was Mad, Mad World. It played to every one of her strengths - the vulgarity, the brash loudness, the know-it-all air - and she's one of the best things in the movie (and not credited often enough for her contribution to it.) Everyone else in the movie has moments that pall. But not Ethel.

by Anonymousreply 7012/08/2012

R65-Wow, you left out one of Martin's most important early roles.

Mary Martin starred in Kurt Weill's "One Touch of Venus" on Broadway in 1943. The musical ran for 567 performances, and was the show that established her as someone who could make a musical successful on her own.

"One Touch of Venus" also showed that Martin could successfully play roles that called for an attractive female star. ("One Touch of Venus" was first thought of as a role for Marlene Dietrich.)

Mary Martin was already an established Broadway star when Rodgers and Hammerstein offered her "South Pacific" in 1949.

by Anonymousreply 7112/08/2012

R71 speaks low and well. Martin's "That's Him" in VENUS, sung at the edge of the stage in a chair, was a sensation. She went from that to starring in the AGYG tour, and sold out consistently. By the time she did Sputh Pacific, she was a STAR to equal Merman. And a better actress, too.

by Anonymousreply 7212/08/2012

[quote]The musical ran for 567 performances, and was the show that established her as someone who could make a musical successful on her own.

Not quite on her own. Her co-star in ONE TOUCH OF VENUS was Kenny Baker, a famous tenor who appeared on national radio and in films. He was cast for his star power as Nanki Poo in THE MIKADO in 1939 with the rest of the cast coming from The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. He was at least as big a name as Mary Martin in 1943.

by Anonymousreply 7312/08/2012

In the published Lenya/Weill letters, Baker is seldom mentioned whereas Martin is discussed in almost ever letter. The couple was badly in need of money, and wanted Martin to tour after Broadway. So her nightly performance and mood are analyzed endlessly. Before the musical opened, Martin wanted Mainbocher to design her clothes. The production team agreed despite the cost. Finally, Kenny Baker left the show to go back to Hollywood at some point. So Baker may have been a huge asset at the beginning, but Martin was the draw when the reviews came out & 'word of mouth' developed.

by Anonymousreply 7412/09/2012

R71: you are of course right... I should have said 1943 (not 49). But it doesn't change my point.... Merman was an established star, a leading lady, years before Martin.

by Anonymousreply 7512/09/2012

[R63] Thanks for the " Mad World" clip. When Ethel says"I'm warning you. You're gonna be sorry" it sounds like she's going to start singing. And LOVED the Jack Benny cameo driving up in the Maxwell, with his characteristic "Well!!" Loved it.

by Anonymousreply 7612/09/2012


I have to be an ass & comment again. Merman was born in Jan. 1908; Martin was born in Dec. 1913. So Merman was almost six years older. That explains why Martin got a later start on Broadway.

Since "Annie Get Your Gun" is no longer in play, you may be surprised to know that none of the other shows you mentioned ran longer than "One Touch of Venus."

But, I do agree that "Panama Hattie," "Something for The Boys," "Anything Goes," and "DuBarry was A Lady" had decent runs, and certainly would be considered hits by any standard.

Further, Mary Martin always deferred to Merman (at least in public) in everthing except billing.

by Anonymousreply 7712/09/2012

R74 R76 Tying these two together: Kenny Baker was Jack Benny's longime featured vocalist on his radio show, before he was replaced by Dennis Day.

by Anonymousreply 7812/09/2012

What a troll.

by Anonymousreply 7912/09/2012

I just happened to watch Merman the other night in a dvd of Alexander's Ragtime Band starring Alice Faye.

Ethel is great in it, even somewhat "adorable" as gorgeous Tyrone Powers' spunky gf when he and Alice are split up.

I especially love her rendition of Heat Wave towards the end of the really shows off what she was like onstage in the 1930s.

by Anonymousreply 8012/09/2012

I don't know why people hate her. She was one of a kind.

by Anonymousreply 8112/09/2012

[quote]She was one of a kind.

Yes. The wrong kind.

by Anonymousreply 8212/09/2012

Thanks for posting that YouTube video. The first half is the way Merman sang "Small World" on Broadway in "Gypsy." It a shame that we seldom see that side of her.

by Anonymousreply 8312/09/2012

I agree Ethel was great when she was younger. She's really fun in "Alexander's Ragtime Band"--she does a great number in male drag, and she does a fabulous rendition of "Say It with Music."

The reason a lot of people hate her now is because they didn't get to see her in her prime. Their memories are of the old, overweight Ethel Merman, when she had lost her looks (she was never pretty, but in the 30s and early 40s she was pretty appealing-looking all the same). by the time she did "There's No Business like Show Business" she had aged pretty badly, and looked like the squat German-American woman she was, and it never helped she always dressed so horribly and did her hair so badly in her late years.

She always looked out of date, and her brash and brassy persona came across as increasingly obnoxious as she got older. When she did GYPSY, it had already become a joke, which is why it was considered so brilliant that that show begins with her shrieking "SING OUT LOUISE!" as she strolls down the aisle in a fur coat holding a small dog--the show's creators were signalling to their audience that they knew she could be appalling, and the audience immediately recognized that. But then she kept on performing (in the same wardobe and with the same hairstyle) for the next twenty years or so. All memories of the sweet, brassy young star she was in the early 30s had disappeared.

Lots of big stars had this sort of problem: Bob Hope, Joan Crawford... even to some degree Clark Gable. They refused to retire, and so people couldn't remember them as the sensations they were when they were young: they remembered them as the horrors they were when they were too old. Greta Garbo was very smart to retire when she did.

by Anonymousreply 8412/09/2012

Thanks for that clip, r81. She was really magical and I doubt we'll see the likes of her kind again.

by Anonymousreply 8512/09/2012

A couple of weeks ago I saw Merman on a Lucy Show episode from early 1964 - so about a 14 months after she finished shooting Mad, Mad World.

She looked terrific. All her dresses were cinched at the waist and she looked slim. Her hair was pulled back in an attractive style - not a "big hair" style she had in Madam or the late 60s.

I don't think she ever looked better. Viv Vance looked better, of course, but Lucy looked pretty used up by that point (at least in color).

by Anonymousreply 8612/09/2012

R13 proves Ethel's voice was quite different at 23, it was a lot better, the vibrato was fast and fairly pretty. When she got old her voice lowered and the vibrato slowed down a lot. Plus I really hated that stagy way she'd sing emphasizing the last letter of every word, like thiS, every last letter is hammered home. She ended up singing just the way she looked, like an old warhorse.

by Anonymousreply 8712/10/2012

[quote] She also blows her entrance at 1:50 and screws up the melody on the next few lines. She doesn't get back on track until the 2:16 mark. This might be early evidence of the brain tumor that felled her a few years later.

Also telling Imogene she looks like an idiot, what a bizarre ad-lib to make on a Sesame Street special. There's no way they scripted her to say that. I'm sure they all cringed and thought, what can we do, she's a legend.

by Anonymousreply 8812/10/2012

Merman was very good in 'Gypsy,' easily her best performance on Broadway. Yes, she was a hard-driving stage mother. But, she played the comic moments extremely well...she was under appreciated in that area. And the song 'Small World' was magical because Merman showed what her character might have been under other circumstances. I saw the show twice, from the front row and then the balcony. Close up Merman came across as a complete professional playing a nasty person...not as Merman is the same as Rose.

I do agree that Merman should have stopped the night 'Gypsy' closed over 50 years ago. Nothings she did after that was worth much in comparison.

by Anonymousreply 8912/10/2012

What did audiences and critics of the time think of her initial casting as Annie Oakley? She was always such a quintessential New Yorker, it must have seemed odd, even then.

Surely she was an unconventional choice to play a young and innocent hayseed by the mid-1940s?

Actually, she would have been an unconventional choice to play an innocnent hayseed even in the early 1930s.

by Anonymousreply 9012/10/2012

I can not remember much before "Gypsy." But, I do know that audiences were more accepting 50 years ago about casting. Age was far less of an issue then. Merman was by no means usiversally popular, but she delivered consistently in all her roles until after 'Gypsy,' and she almost never missed a performance. My guess her AGYG casting was not much of an issue in 1946.

Thing changed when she did the revival of AGYG in the 1960s, especially the TV version. I only saw the TV version. She might have been otherwise good as Annie, but she was far too old & her style of performing was out of date. The sad part is that by then Merman just did not get that times had changed. And she did.

by Anonymousreply 9112/10/2012

Ethel Merman was a hell of a lot of fun. A devoted hard-working star who knew how to make it look like a breeze. It wasn't just her voice, it was the whole package. She just knew what to do with what she was given, and for that she is Broadway's Star (MARY!).

Today's Broadway musical is very studied, serious and mechanical, and play rote, not spontaneity. The rawness of live theatre has long since died. But it's a shame that even on Datalounge, Ethel Merman gets criticized because people don't understand that that imitation and training don't make you a star, uniqueness does.

Her whole career can be summed up in one line from Gypsy - "You either got it or you ain't."

by Anonymousreply 9212/10/2012

While I agree with all your comments R92. I would emphasis hard work & the responsibility of getting the show right at every performance. Mary Martin invested in her shows more that Merman, but that was an added responsibility in long runs like "Call Me Madam" (Merman) and "The Sound of Music" (Martin).

It's no wonder that both ladies 'retired' from Broadway at a relatively young age.

by Anonymousreply 9312/10/2012

[quote]Today's Broadway musical is very studied, serious and mechanical, and play rote, not spontaneity.

Merman was notorious for locking in a performance before opening night and repeating it mechanically every night until closing. She always gave 100%, but it was always the same paint-by-numbers approach: "now I stand here, now I say this line this way, then I go over here..." Not that there's anything wrong with being reliable, but her brilliance was more the result of preparation and discipline more than of inspiration and instinct. Her latest biographer mentions how Ethel's cabaret act was not a success because her performing style lacked intimacy and spontaneity.

But you are right that she was one-of-a-kind, and wonderful at doing what she did. Her approach belonged more to the generation of performers who were big when she was starting out - "Jazz Singers" like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. In their day, the star of a musical would often take the stage and hold forth in a solo spot, performing material that had nothing to do with the rest of the show. Merman's career bridged that old school of musical entertainment with its successor, the "integrated" book musical.

by Anonymousreply 9412/10/2012

[quote] Merman was notorious for locking in a performance before opening night and repeating it mechanically every night until closing.

True, everything you said, r94. Perhaps I should have explained myself better - there is a difference between the "consistency" of Ethel Merman or Mary Martin and the academic studiousness of a modern Broadway performer who fits the part and services it well but adds none of the star quality you'd get in the Merm. I know the old joke of Merman saying "Call me Miss Birdseye-the show's frozen," and it takes a true star to give 8 consistent shows a week AND have that extra 10% of star quality that just cannot be learned, only nurtured.

by Anonymousreply 9512/10/2012

Exactly right 95, certainly other Broadway performers have equaled Merman's & Martin's star power for relatively short periods of time -- Audra McDonald, Angela Lansbury, Hugh Jackman, Barbara Harris -- but no one has done it for decade after decade for 30 or 40 years.

by Anonymousreply 9612/10/2012

Hmmmm....I would think Angela's Broadway career, from A Taste of Honey/Hotel Paradiso in the early 1960s to ALNM/Blithe Spirit in the early 2010s, by now would equal or exceed both Ethel's and Mary's.

by Anonymousreply 9712/10/2012

[quote]but no one has done it for decade after decade for 30 or 40 years.


by Anonymousreply 9812/10/2012

Here's a clip, R86.

by Anonymousreply 9912/10/2012

Ethel does it to "Airplane."

by Anonymousreply 10012/10/2012

If you give Martin just partial credit for starring in three London musicals ("Pacific 1860," "South Pacific," "Hello Dolly"), she might have come close to Merman in number of performances.

If you count all her tours as the star of musicals and plays in the U.S. and throughout the world ("Hello Dolly" in Japan, Vietnam. Korea) and "The Skin of Our Teeth" in many European countries), Martin might well pass Merman, who seldom toured and never played London.

by Anonymousreply 10112/10/2012

I wonder what her daughter Varla Jean Merman would say?

by Anonymousreply 10212/11/2012

R86, I also saw that Lucy Show and thought Merman looked terrible. She had a nice moment where she asked Lucy if she was crying but overall, she was unable to scale down playing to the Balcony as Miss Hannah said. If you look loud and obnoxious next to the old Lucy, you know things are bad.

by Anonymousreply 10312/11/2012

Lucille Ball tried to cast Merman in several Desilu situation comedies. I remember seeing one of the pilot, based I believe on 'Panama Hattie."

Merman was awful. She played to the balcony as always, despite badly wanting a weekly TV show. At least Lucy tried to be different from her ILL character (like "Wildcat"). Merman did not.

by Anonymousreply 10412/11/2012

There is a bit of that Panama Hattie Desilu pilot on line somewhere. Broadway's Susan Watson played The Merm's daughter and IIRC they sing Mutual Admiration Society.

by Anonymousreply 10512/11/2012

As much a I admire the Merm today, I have to say I loathed her as a kid growing up in the 1960's.

They'd always truck out these oldsters.... you'd be watching the Ed Sullivan Show or The Hollywood Palace.... waiting for Herman's Hermits... and on came Ethel Merman or Jimmy Durante or some other old fuck. Or (God forbid) Georgie Jessel.

I hated them all. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope. Even Lucy was an annoying old-bag in the world of "Lost in Space" and "Bewitched".

The only one of those performers from the 1930's still working that I liked as a kid was Jack Benny. Which shows, that as a kid, I was intelligent and had good taste.

by Anonymousreply 10612/11/2012

It was called Maggie Brown, not Panama Hattie, R105.

by Anonymousreply 10712/11/2012

R99, that's very odd. That must be the first episode. I saw the second episode (it was a two-parter), where they do a "variety show" for the PTA or something like that. Merman had a different hairstyle and looked better in the second episode. Weird, because they would only have been taped a week apart.

by Anonymousreply 10812/11/2012

R108 There's a "Lucy" episode where Ethel, Lucy, Viv and Mr. Mooney put on a show for some sort of local charity.

by Anonymousreply 10912/11/2012

That's the one, r109. It's the second part of a two parter, and it looks like the post at 99 is from the first part. I just saw the second episode, which has a brief scene in Lucy's house and then the rest is the charity concert. "History of Vaudeville," or some such theme.

by Anonymousreply 11012/11/2012

R101 and anyone else who cares. Merman did play London, but not in a book musical. In the mid 70s the London Palladium booked a series of American "legends" for week-long (more or less) engagements, in the same format as Garland and Danny Kaye. In 1975, these included Debbie Reynolds, Josephine Baker (practically at the end of her life), and Merman. None of them did particularly good business and Brits couldn't cope with the Merman persona. She was far too extroverted for their delectation and probably too "by the book."

But her Rose in Gypsy still reverberates more than fifty years ago. Sensational!

by Anonymousreply 11112/11/2012

Merman did her club act for a week in a summer theater in my home town in Masachusetts. It was the largest summer tent around. I had no interesting in seeing her in that setting & few others did either.

Yet another example on what works so well on Broadway, giving the exact same performance night after night, did not come across well in nightcluns and summer theater (although I doubt that she performed in many other summer theaters).

by Anonymousreply 11212/12/2012


I meant London in a book musical.

My guess is Merman was too much "by the book" for London. If you see or hear a video of her night club performances, they are all word-for-word the same, even if 10 years apart. To some degree, that's true of all performers, but Merman was never off message. You have to have a ton of personal charm to carry that off & Merman did not have much charm.

by Anonymousreply 11312/19/2012

Toward the end of her career, standing backstage while the show goes one. A stagehand: "Miss Merman, you're on!", Merman: "Yeah, kid, how'm I doin?"

by Anonymousreply 11412/19/2012

R114, That was also a scene from the dreaded "That Girl' where Merman was doing Granny.

She has another line where she tells Ann "Where are my moccasins", Ann: "What do they look like?" Merman: "They look like moccasins."

by Anonymousreply 11512/19/2012

[quote]Merman was doing Granny.

Merman and Irene Ryan were a thing?

by Anonymousreply 11612/19/2012
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