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Classical 101

Writer Brian Kellow Talks About Ethel Merman

Writer Brian Kellow Talks About Ethel Merman

Opera News Features Editor Brian Kellow has written a biography of Broadway legend Ethel Merman (1908-1984), titled Ethel Merman: A Life. Kellow discusses the dramatic life of the lady whom George Gershwin advised to "never take a singing lesson," the star of Girl Crazy, Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, and Gypsy. Her Broadway life came up roses for decades (though her private life was less so). Her booming voice and on-stage personality were second to none. [audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2007/ethel_merman-interview-110907.mp3"]

Highlights From This Interview:

"Ethel Merman was - in my view - the greatest star that the Broadway musical has ever known, or,  probably at this point, ever will know. Huge, enormous voice. Mary Martin, one of her contemporaries, always said that Ethel sang like a tenor." "One the biggest mistakes - and I think the only mistake she made in her career - was she didn't tour. This was a really essential thing that a lot of the Broadway stars of the middle part of the (20th) century did. Ethel didn't like to tour; she didn't see the point in it. She said, 'I've done it on Broadway. Who do I need to do it in Omaha?' The upshot of that was a lot of people didn't get to experience her in the theater, which is where she was at her best." "There was no amplification (in the theater) whatsoever at the time she started. Musical stars, and dramatic stars as well, were expected to have voices that were cultivated enough, strong enough to carry to the last row in the balcony. That was just part of the training. Now, in her case, it was all natural." "Gradually sound enhancement encroached on the scene. (Merman) had very interesting things to say about it. It was a constantly escalating cycle, because once they figured out they could beef up the sound, they started making the orchestras bigger. And then they would beef up the sound some more."