Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman By Caryl Flinn

    characters ¼ eBook, PDF or Kindle ePUB ¸ Caryl Flinn

    Very good book about EM--made an effort to study her impact on the American music audience based on the era being discussed, which added a lot of dimension to the book and kept it from being a tattler book. The author didn't shy away from the negatives about EM, but also worked hard to dispel unfair mythologies. Amazing how linked many of these entertainers were. Lots of corners are turned down for further research and review.

    This was NOT a fast read, especially during the busy holiday season, and I skimmed through a few sections that were digging just a little bit too deep--which didn't hurt anyone but me, likely. Caryl Flinn It was when I heard an old industry anecdote that I became as interested in the woman as 'that' voice I'd played over and over as a mere stagestruck slip of thing lip synching into a hairbrush in my bedroom mirror:

    Ethel Merman's dressing room.

    Production briefing after first dress rehearsal.

    Junior Producer (timidly, as he backs out of her door):
    Oh and what, um, were you thinking of ... doing with your hair, Ms Merman?

    Ethel Merman:
    Washin' it!

    Needless to say, when I noticed this book luring me like a siren on a shelf, I snatched it away without hesitation.

    This straight talking stenographer from Queens, NYC, started out singing in 1920s midtown Manhattan clubs, after working her office day job. Inspired by vaudeville shows she watched as a youngster, at home she had practiced emulating the voices of stars like Fanny Brice and Sophie Tucker. Her own belting mezzo-soprano voice, however, turned out to be undisguisable.

    As singers performed without microphones when Ethel started out, she had an advantage later. She famously never took a singing lessons and Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin advised her never to.

    She became tagged the 'First Lady of musical comedy' after launching many now standard Broadway musical numbers, including showstoppers crafted for her by greats like Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim.

    Her signature repertoire included: 'I Got Rhythm', 'Everything's Coming Up Roses', 'Some People', 'Rose's Turn', 'I Get a Kick Out of You', 'It's De-Lovely', 'Friendship', 'You're the Top', 'Anything Goes' and her eventual theme song, 'There's No Business Like Show Business'.

    Merman was one of a kind, salt of the earth, a grafter and a trooper who never lost touch with her humble origins. Even so, she paradoxically somehow became the ultimate Broadway diva. Like others before and since, she had earned this status, this special place in theatrical history and, once on her throne, she defended her creative prerogative as does a lioness her cubs.

    This is a thorough, well penned biography, not a fast or trashy read. It gives an extensive history of an unlikely diva, including her formative phase, long before she had any inkling of her legendary destiny.

    A great book about a fierce and funny woman you'd never want to have in your ear. Caryl Flinn Wanted something more lascivious and all I got was this thoroughly researched narrative of a dynamic bawse ladies life. No nudes. Caryl Flinn Author much too wishy-washy and politically correct. Pays much too much attention to people's objections to the Merm and not enough to the opinions of those who loved her - such as Gershwin, Berlin, Cole Porter. Many typos, the discography is not complete, and the analysis of Gypsy was superficial. I think she missed the affinity that mothers, generally, had with the character who said I'm getting my kids out of poverty even if her way of doing so was wrong headed. Caryl Flinn This comprehensive biography of the Broadway legend (1908–1984) may lack some of the vitality of Brian Kellow's Ethel Merman: A Life (which boasts more than 100 new interviews with Merman's contemporaries offering backstage anecdotes), but is better written and researched.

    Flinn offers a more psychologically complex portrait of the fiercely talented and competitive Merman (deftly sorting through and debunking rumors of her being a bigot, anti-Semite and homophobe). She also clears up speculation about Merman having a lesbian affair with Jacqueline Susann, which turns out to have been a one-sided obsession on the part of Susann (who later exacted revenge for her spurned affections by giving her Valley of the Dolls villainess, Helen Lawson, many of Merman's traits).

    Flinn's extensive use of Merman's 50+ scrapbooks (covering the early 1930s to 1970s) enables her to cover Merman's professional career with microscopic precision. But this is not just a recitation of Merman's long string of Broadway successes (beginning with 1930's Girl Crazy and stretching to 1970's Hello, Dolly!), Flinn (The New German Cinema) masterfully analyzes Merman's work on stage, screen and TV with a sophisticated eye for detail that will delight theater buffs. Caryl Flinn

    Broadway star Ethel Merman's voice was a mesmerizing force and her vitality was legendary, yet the popular perception of La Merm as the irrepressible wonder falls far short of all that she was and all that she meant to Americans over so many decades. This marvelously detailed biography is the first to tell the full story of how the stenographer from Queens, New York, became the queen of the Broadway musical in its golden age. Mining official and unofficial sources, including interviews with Merman's family and her personal scrapbooks, Caryl Flinn unearths new details of Merman's life and finds that behind the high-octane personality was a remarkably pragmatic woman who never lost sight of her roots.

    Brass Diva takes us from Merman's working-class beginnings through the extraordinary career that was launched in 1930 when, playing a secondary role in a Gershwin Brothers' show, she became an overnight sensation singing I Got Rhythm. From there, we follow Merman's hits on Broadway, her uneven successes in Hollywood, and her afterlife as a beloved camp icon. This definitive work on the phenomenon that was Ethel Merman is also the first to thoroughly explore her robust influence on American popular culture. Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman


    Sometimes a little overwhelming with the details, but a must-read for any Merman fan. A fair amount of Flinn's book is devoted to the careful crafting of the Merman persona which has, at time, overshadowed the accomplishments of the lady herself. Caryl Flinn The life and legend of Ethel Merman. Like many biographies, I think
    the author got bogged down in some items that are not of interest to the general reader. What street she lived on was not as important to me as how she got there and what she did once she was there. I'm a fan of the singer but not of this book.
    Caryl Flinn Ms. Flinn's book tries to be both a cultural study of Ethel Merman as star and a biography, though it tends to fall short at the latter. While discussing feminist and other ideological ramifications of Merman's image, Flinn brings up major life events before they take place without providing proper context. The references to Merman's daughter are particularly confusing and jumbled. On the plus side, Flinn got some wonderful interviews, particularly with Merman's son. Caryl Flinn Just finished this. I didn't know a lot about Merman before, but she really was an interesting figure. Book is not nearly as good as Kellow's biography of her though. Caryl Flinn There is too much detail in this book and so much irrelevant information.

    Many myths surround Ethel Merman (the leading lady herself did nothing to squash them. In fact, she fanned the flames even more) which makes me wonder; will we ever get to know the real story?

    For devout fans of the brass diva only. (Although I am sure we all wish we had her pipes!)

    Caryl Flinn