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Ethel Merman Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (28) | Personal Quotes (10)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 16 January 1908Astoria, New York, USA
Date of Death 15 February 1984New York City, New York, USA  (following surgery for brain cancer)
Birth NameEthel Agnes Zimmermann
Height 5' 5½" (1.66 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Born in the Astoria section of Queens, New York City, Ethel Merman was surely the pre-eminent star of 'Broadway' musical comedy. Though untrained in singing, she could belt out a song like quite no one else, and was sought after by major songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Having debuted in 1930 in "Girl Crazy, " she is yet remembered for her marvelous starring appearances in so many great musicals that were later adapted to the silver screen. Among the film versions, Merman herself starred in Anything Goes (1936) and Call Me Madam (1953). That wonderfully boisterous blonde, Betty Hutton, had the Merman lead in both Red, Hot and Blue (1949) and Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Besides Hutton, other Merman screen stand-ins included Lucille Ball (in Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)), Ann Sothern (in Panama Hattie (1942)), Vivian Blaine (in Something for the Boys (1944)) and Rosalind Russell (in Gypsy (1962)). (Russell could never render Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" the way the immortal Merman did, over and over again.)

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bill Takacs <kinephile@aol.com>

Spouse (4)

Ernest Borgnine (26 June 1964 - 28 July 1964) (divorced)
Robert Six (9 March 1953 - 1960) (divorced)
Robert Levitt (18 December 1941 - 10 June 1952) (divorced) (2 children)
William Smith (15 November 1940 - 1 October 1941) (divorced)

Trade Mark (2)

The song, sung in her inimitable way, "There's No Business Like Show Business"
Powerful belting mezzo-soprano vocal range

Trivia (28)

Thrice-wed Merman married twice-wed Ernest Borgnine in 1964. Their marriage was dissolved after 32 days. They had announced their impending nuptials at the legendary New York night spot P.J. Clarke's, but Borgnine, who was riding high as the star of McHale's Navy (1962) at the time, said the marriage began unraveling on their honeymoon, when he received more fan attention than she did. The competitive Merman was left seething. "By the time we got home, it was hell on earth," Borgnine recalled in a 2001 interview. "And after 32 days I said to her, 'Madam, bye'." Borgnine went on to marry a third time, but Merman remained single after her divorce. In her 1978 biography, she devoted a chapter of her autobiography to the marriage: It consisted of one blank page.
Her daughter, Ethel Levitt, died of an overdose of drugs and alcohol in 1967.
Parents are Edward Zimmerman (1879-1977) and Agnes Zimmerman (1883-1974).
Her father, whose family was from Pennsylvania, was of German descent. Her maternal grandparents were Scottish immigrants.
Bertolt Brecht actually desired to have the raucous Ethel play the title role of his masterpiece "Mother Courage...and Her Children". Of course, she never did.
She loved Christmas so much, that she kept her Christmas tree up year-round.
In 1979, she released her most controversial album-to-date, a disco LP simply titled "The Ethel Merman Disco Album". Despite it not even charting on the Billboard charts, and many people's skepticism about the then 71-year-old veteran performing her Broadway hits to a disco beat, it was a smash hit, being played in Studio 54 regularly, with live appearances by Merman, herself. It also became a staple period album for the majority of the gay community.
Devised her screen and stage name by removing the first three letters (Zim) and the last letter (n) from her birth name - Zimmermann
Former mother-in-law of murdered Barbara Colby whose untimely funeral she attended
Won a Tony Award for her role in the musical "Call Me Madam" (1951); Tony-nominated for musical "Happy Hunting" (1957); Tony-nominated for the musical "Gypsy" (1960); Recipient of Tony Special Award (1972).
Her final film role was in the Jerry Zucker / Jim Abrahams / David Zucker film, Airplane! (1980). Coincidentally, John Houseman died soon after filming The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), also a ZAZ film, but before its theatrical release.
Her third husband, Robert F. Six, was CEO of Continental Airlines.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 560-562. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Nominated for 1960 Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical for "Gypsy".
Nominated for 1957 Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical for "Happy Hunting".
Winner of 1951 Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical for "Call Me Madam".
Recreated both her Broadway starring roles of Mrs. Sally Adams from "Call Me Madam" and Reno Sweeney from "Anything Goes!" in the movie versions.
Had two children: Ethel Levitt (born July 20, 1942) and Robert Levitt Jr. (born August 11, 1945).
She was either seen or heard (or both) in several of the opening credits of film of television adaptations of shows in which she recreated her original roles. In the film Anything Goes (1936), she appears singing a phrase of the title song before the opening credits even appear; in the film Call Me Madam (1953), she is heard saying the words "Call me madam" as the title appears onscreen, and in the television movie Annie Get Your Gun (1967), the credits appear on targets at which she shoots.
She was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 7044 Hollywood Boulevard; and for Recording at 1751 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.
Her daughter Ethel Levitt was married to William Geary in 1960. She gave birth to Merman's first grandchild, Barbara Jean, on February 20, 1961. She later gave birth to a son, Michael Geary.
She suffered a miscarriage during her marriage to Robert Levitt.
When she died, she left $800,000 to be divided between her son and her two grandchildren.
Winner of a 1972 Special Tony Award (New York City).
According to author Boze Hadleigh, in his book "Broadway Babylon", Merman was fond of telling risqué (if not downright vulgar) jokes, just to see what sort of reaction she would get. Even her close friends found this habit more embarrassing than amusing.
Merman was trained to be a secretary, could take shorthand and was a proficient stenographer and typist and supported herself in clerical jobs until she was successful in show business.
Elaine Stritch was once a stand-by for Ethel Merman for the musical "Call Me Madam". In her one woman show "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty", Stritch told a story illustrating Merman's showmanship and attitude: One night, while performing the song "Can You Use Any Money Today", a drunken audience member kept calling out to Merman while she performed, annoying both the audience and Merman herself. Finally, Merman got to the last line of the song, hit the first three notes, and then stopped the song. She then walked off the stage, through the wings, down the stairs and into the audience. She got to the drunken man, yanked him out of his seat, dragged him up the center aisle and through the doors that led out of the theater and literally threw the man out into the street. She then walked back into the theater, down the center aisle, up the stairs, through the wings onto the stage, got to dead center and hit the final note of the song as if nothing had happened.
Was a staunch conservative Republican who was a frequent White House guest during the Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration and she later sang at the inauguration ceremony of Ronald Reagan.

Personal Quotes (10)

[In 1959, when she was nominated for a Tony Award for "Gypsy" but had lost to Mary Martin in "The Sound of Music"] You can't buck a nun.
[In 1930, on the show that made her a star, George Gershwin's "Girl Crazy"] In the second chorus of "I Got Rhythm", I held a high C note for 16 bars while the orchestra played the melodic line - a big, tooty thing - against the note. By the time I'd held that note for four bars, the audience was applauding. They applauded through the whole chorus and I did several encores. It seemed to do something to them. Not because it was sweet or beautiful, but because it was exciting. Few people have the ability to project a big note and hold it. It's not just a matter of breath; it's a matter of power in the diaphragm. I'd never trained my diaphragm, but I must have a strong one. When I finished that song, a star had been born. Me.
[on Mary Martin] She's okay, if you like talent.
I can never remember being afraid of an audience. If the audience could do better, they'd be up here on stage and I'd be out there watching them.
I don't want to sound pretentious, but in a funny way I feel I'm the last of a kind. I don't mean that there aren't some girls out there somewhere who are just as talented as I was. But even if they are, where will they find the shows like Girl Crazy, Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam and Gypsy? They just don't produce those vehicles anymore.
I take a breath when I have to.
I can hold a note as long as the Chase National Bank.
Broadway has been very good to me. But then, I've been very good to Broadway.
You'll never prove you're too good for a job by not doing your best
Not to pat myself on the back, but when I do a show, the whole show revolves around me. And if I don't show up, they can just forget it!

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