Thursday, October 13, 2016

Vive La Merm!

Ethel Agnes Zimmermann, born in Queens in 1908
(though she disputed that and said 1912!),
went from the secretarial pool to nightclub torching,
literally almost every night...
(a little joint called Little Russia in Manhattan)
and caught the attention of columnists 
Walter Winchell and Mark Hellinger.
Soon enough she was auditioning for a role in
Gershwin's Girl Crazy,
and getting it (age 22!).

Above and below,
with Bing Crosby in the film version of
Anything Goes, 1936.
It was not a happy experience for Ethel,
whose role as Reno Sweeney was reworked to
place the focus on Crosby,
and several of her songs never made it to the screen.
(And yes, she originated the role on Broadway,
just 2 years earlier.)

As Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin's
Annie Get Your Gun, 1946.
One critic called Ethel "bright as a whip, sure as her shooting, 
and generously the foremost lady clown of her time."

As Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, 1950...
another Berlin creation.
Ethel also starred in the 1953 film version
with Donald O'Connor, Vera Ellen and George Sanders.
The story/character was based on Pearl Mesta,
party goer and Washington bon vivant.
Ethel had never heard of her. 

 Ethel as Mama Rose,
"one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical,"
according to Clive Barnes,
in Gypsy, 1959.
Jules Styne, music...and Stephen Sondheim (with arm twisting)
did the lyrics.
Jerome Robbins choreographed.
Despite this roster of talent,
the show failed to take home any Tonys.

In a revival of Hello, Dolly!

What Becomes A Legend Most?
The Merm: 1908 - 1984
"Always give them the old fire,
even when you feel like a squashed cake of ice."

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