Ethel Merman

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Ethel Merman

Ethel_Merman’s Biography


Her real name was Ethel Agnes Zimmermann , and she was born at her maternal grandmother’s home at 359 6th Avenue, in the Astoria (Queens) neighborhood of New York. His father, Edward Zimmermann, was an accountant, and his mother, Agnes Gardner, was a teacher. Merman’s father was of German and Lutheran origin, and his mother of Scottish and Presbyterian origin; She was baptized Episcopalian and used to stay out of the Famous Players-Lasky studios waiting to see her favorite Broadway star, Alice Brady. Ethel loved to sing songs like “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” while her father accompanied her to the piano and the flute.

Interpretive style

Merman was known for her powerful mezzo-soprano voice, her precise vocalization and tone. Because the singers did not use microphones when he began to act professionally, he had a great advantage in the world of entertainment, despite the fact that he never received singing lessons. In fact, the tradition said that George Gershwin advised him never to take singing lessons after seeing her in Girl Crazy. Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for Gypsy: A Musical Fable, remembered that she acted “mechanically” shortly … “


Ethel Merman with Tyrone Power in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938).

Merman started singing while working as a secretary for the Vacuum Brake Company in Queens. He finally became a vaudeville artist and performed at the Palace Theater in New York. In 1930 I was already working on Girl Crazy, a musical with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, which also involved a very young Ginger Rogers (with 19 years). Although she was third in the posters, her interpretation of “I Got Rhythm” was popular and, at the end of the Thirties, she was already the first lady of the Broadway music scene. Many consider her the most important artist of Broadway musicals in the 20th century thanks to her performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in the play Annie Get Your Gun.

Merman starred in five Cole Porter musicals, including Anything Goes in 1934, where he performed “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow Gabriel Blow,” and the lead song. His next musical with Porter was Red, Hot and Blue, in which he worked with Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante and performed “It’s Delovely” and “Down in the Depths”. In the 1939 play DuBarry Was a Lady, Porter gave Merman the opportunity to sing a duet with Bert Lahr, “Friendship.” Like “You’re the Top” in Anything Goes, these duets were characteristic of her. Porter’s lyrics also highlighted the singer’s comedic talent, as in Panama Hattie (“Let’s Be Buddies,” “I’ve Still Got My Health”), and in Something for the Boys (“By the Mississinewah”, “Hey Good Lookin ‘”).

Irving Berlin also wrote memorable duets performed by Merman, such as “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” with Bruce Yarnell, written for the 1966 version of Annie Get Your Gun, and “You’re Just in Love” with Russell Nype in the play Call Me Madam. Merman won the 1951 Tony Award for best actress for her work as Sally Adams in Call Me Madam. She resumed the role in the film version of Walter Lang.

Ethel Merman with Tyrone Power in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938).

Perhaps Merman’s most prestigious work was that of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother in Gypsy: A Musical Fable. Merman performed Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Some People, ending the show with Rose’s Turn. The critics and the public described her work as Madame Rose as the interpretation of her life. Nevertheless, in the cinematographic version the paper was interpreted by Rosalind Russell, something that opposed Merman, that decided to take of tour to the work.

Scene of There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954).

Merman lost the Tony to Mary Martin, who played Maria in The Sound of Music. Despite the competitiveness between them, Merman and Martin were friends and worked on a television musical special and, in 1977, at the concert “Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, Together on Broadway” at the Broadway Theater in New York.

Merman retired from Broadway in 1970, after acting in Hello, Dolly !, a show initially written for her. After that he acted in television specials and in the cinema.

Although she played her stage roles in the films Anything Goes and Call Me Madam, the film executives did not select her for the films Annie Get Your Gun and Gypsy. Some critics argue that the reason he lost those papers was that his theatrical personality did not fit well on the screen. Others, however, say that following her conduct on the set of 20th Century Fox’s movie There’s No Business Like Show Business, Jack Warner refused to let her work on his films, which excluded her from intervening in Gypsy, although other Sources believe that Rosalind Russell’s husband and agent, Frederick Brisson, negotiated Merman’s rights for his wife. Despite this, Stanley Kramer decided to play the mother-in-law of the character of Milton Berle in the film The world is crazy, crazy, crazy.

The last role of Merman was a self-parody in the comedy Airplane !. In addition, in 1979 he recorded the album The Ethel Merman Disco Album.

Personal life

Ethel Merman in 1953. Photograph by Walter Albertin.

Merman got married and divorced four times with:

  1. Bill Smith, theatrical agent (1940 – 1941)
  2. Robert Levitt, newspaper executive (1941 – 1952)
  3. Robert Six, airline executive (1953 – 1960)
  4. Ernest Borgnine, actor, in 1964. Merman filed for divorce at 32 days.

With Levitt, Merman had two children: Ethel (born July 20, 1942). and Robert Jr. (August 11, 1945). Merman collaborated on two memoirs, Who Could Ask for Anything More in 1955 and Merman in 1978.


Merman was diagnosed with a glioblastoma (malignant brain tumor) and underwent brain surgery in April 1983. The tumor had metastasized and in February 1984 he died.

More Facts about Ethel Merman

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