Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
She was born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann, in Astoria, Queens, New York, of a German Lutheran father and Scottish Presbyterian mother, although many people long assumed she was Jewish because of her pre-stage last name (which is common among non-Jewish Germans as well) combined with her being from New York City.
Merman was married and divorced four times.
- Bill Smith (Theatrical agent.)
- Robert Levitt (Newspaper executive. The couple had two children. Divorced in 1952.)
- Robert Six (Airline executive, 1953-1960)
- Ernest Borgnine (Actor, in 1964. Merman filed for divorced after 32 days.)
She was known for her powerful (belting) alto voice, exact enunciation, and accurate pitch. Because stage singers performed without microphones when she began singing professionally, she had great advantages in show business.
She began singing while working as a secretary. She eventually became a full time vaudeville performer, and played the pinnacle of vaudeville, the Palace Theater in New York City. She had already been engaged for Girl Crazy, a musical with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Her rendition of "I Got Rhythm" in the show was popular, and by the late 1930s she had become the first lady of the Broadway musical stage. Many consider her the leading Broadway musical performer of the twentieth century with her signature song being There's No Business Like Show Business.
Merman starred in four Cole Porter musicals, among them Anything Goes in 1934 where she introduced "I Get a Kick Out of You", "Blow Gabriel Blow", and the title song. Her next musical with Porter was "Red, Hot and Blue" in which she co-starred with Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante. Porter provided Merman with a fantastic duet with Bert Lahr, "Friendship", the first of one of her famous type duet "can you top this" songs she became famous.
In "Panama Hattie", Porter wrote Merman famous "name-dropping" songs including "Give Him the oo-la-la" with lyrics that went, "If President Roosevelt would like to rule-la-la...he better teach Eleanor to oo-la-la..."
Another type of song Merman made famous were counterpoint songs provided for her by Irving Berlin. Merman sang "Anything You Can Do" with Ray Middleton in "Annie Get Your Gun" and "You're Just in Love" with Russell Nype in "Call Me Madam." In "Call Me Madam", Merman won the 1950 Best Actress Tony Award for her performance as Sally Adams.
Merman's ultimate performance was as Rose in Arthur Laurent's "Gypsy" where she played Gypsy Rose Lee's mother. Merman introduced "Everything's Coming Up Roses", "Some People", and ended the show with wrenching "Rose's Turn" gaining standing ovations for her work. Ironically, Merman lost the Tony Award to Mary Martin, who was playing Maria in "The Sound of Music." "How can you beat a nun?" philosophized Merman. The competitiveness notwithstanding, Merman and Martin were friends off stage and starred in two musical specials on television.
Merman retired from Broadway in 1970 when she appeared as the last Dolly Levi in "Hello Dolly" a show initially written for her. No longer willing to "take the veil" as she described being in a Broadway role, Merman preferred to act in television specials and movies. Despite having a reputation for a salty tongue, and having introduced ribald Cole Porter lyrics, Merman was known to dislike theatre fare in the 1970s like "Oh Calcutta" for being lewd.
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1983, Merman died in 1984.
Merman co-wrote two volumes of memoirs, "Who Could Ask for Anything More" in 1952 and an additional volume in 1979, ....
- 1930 Girl Crazy
- 1931 George White's Scandals
- 1932 Take a Chance
- 1934 Anything Goes
- 1936 Red, Hot and Blue
- 1939 Stars In Your Eyes
- 1939 Du Barry Was a Lady
- 1940 Panama Hattie
- 1943 Something for the Boys
- 1944 Sadie Thompson (replaced in previews)
- 1946 Annie Get Your Gun
- 1950 Call Me Madam
- 1956 Happy Hunting
- 1959 Gypsy
- 1966 Hello, Dolly! (replacement)
- 1966 Annie Get Your Gun
- 1975 A Gala Tribute to Joshua Logan
- 1977 Together on Broadway (Mary Martin & Ethel Merman)
- 1930 Follow the Leader
- 1930 The Cave Club
- 1931 The Devil Sea
- 1931 Roaming
- 1932 Let Me Call You Sweetheart
- 1932 You Try Somebody Else
- 1932 Time on My Hands
- 1932 Old Man Blues
- 1932 Ireno
- 1933 Song Shopping
- 1933 Be Like Me
- 1934 We're Not Dressing
- 1934. Kid Millions
- 1936 The Big Broadcast of 1936
- 1936 Strike Me Pink
- 1936 Anything Goes
- 1938 Happy Landing
- 1938 Alexander's Ragtime Band
- 1938 Straight, Place and Show
- 1943 Stage Door Canteen
- 1953 Call Me Madam
- 1954 There's No Business Like Show Business
- 1963 It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
- 1965 The Art of Love
- 1967 Tarzan and the Mountains of the Moon
- 1968 Around the World of Mike Todd
- 1971 Journey Back to Oz (voice)
- 1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood
- 1978 A Salute to American Imagination
- 1979 Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July
- 1980 Airplane!
- 1981 Something a Little Less Serious
- 1953 The Ford 50th Anniversary Show
- 1954 There's No Business Like Show Business
- 1954 Anything Goes
- 1958 Panama Hattie
- 1961 Merman on Broadway
- 1962 The Lucille Ball Show (2 appearances)
- 1963 The Judy Garland Show (2 appearances)
- 1965 An Evening with Ethel Merman
- 1966 Batman (as "Lola Lasagne")
- 1967 Annie Get Your Gun
- 1967 That Girl
- 1967 The Carol Burnett Show
- 1970 Evening at Pops
- 1972 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin
- 1975 Match Game PM
- 1976 The Muppet Show
- 1977 The Love Boat (5 episodes)
- 1978 A Special Sesame Street Christmas
- 1985 (archival footage from The Judy Garland Show )
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