Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01



STARRLIGHT: Ethel Merman

This article shared 4306 times since Wed Jan 5, 2005
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Ethel Merman is one of a hundred performers featured in an exhibition of glamorous stars who contributed to movie musicals. They appear in Steve Starr's collection of original Art Deco frames at the Harold Washington Library, 8th floor, just below the Winter Garden, through March 1, 2005. Admission is free. The exhibition, like his column, is named STARRLIGHT.

At a party, the Duchess of Windsor was heartily dancing with an admirer when the Broadway star approached the seated former King of England, the Duke of Windsor, and tapped him on the shoulder shouting, 'Hey, Duke, get off your royal ass and dance with your wife.' He obeyed.

Ethel Agnes Zimmerman was born Jan. 16, 1908, in the third floor bedroom of her grandmother's house in Astoria, Queens, New York. Her father Edward was an accountant, and her mother Agnes taught school. Near their home was the Famous-Players Lassky Studio, where glamorous movie stars shimmered in some of the most wonderful silent films of the day. Little Ethel was thrilled when she saw them drive by in their elegant cars. She wished she was one of them.

However, silent films would hardly have suited Ethel, whose powerful voice thrilled the members of the Holy Redeemer Episcopal Church. Soon, she was singing at various concerts around town. As often as she could, the future icon made her way to the Palace Theatre in Manhattan to watch the nation's greatest vaudeville stars perform.

Ethel's parents felt show business was hardly a reliable career for their daughter, and insisted she finish school and obtain a thorough training in secretarial skills. While working steadily and successfully as a stenographer for $28 a week, Ethel also sang in various late-night clubs and shows. When her singing work became steady, she quit her day job.

Soon, Ethel was discovered by Warner Bros. Studios, given a contract for $200 a week, and she travelled to Hollywood. She decided to lop off the first three letters of her last name so it would fit better on marquees and newspaper ads. But, it was the early days of sound pictures, and the studio was not quite sure how to use her particular gifts. After months of inactivity, she won a release from her contract in order to do live shows. In 1929, a severe case of tonsillitis oddly left her with an even louder set of pipes, and in 1930 she won a Broadway role in George Gershwin's Girl Crazy.

While in rehearsals, Ethel was asked to perform at the Palace, and her reviews made her a star. When Girl Crazy opened, her rendition of 'I've Got Rhythm' left audience begging for numerous encores.

In 1931 she appeared in George White's Scandals, and in 1932 stole the show again in Take A Chance. In between performances, she found the time to appear in 10 mostly forgettable musical films between 1930 and 1933. In 1934 she appeared in both We're Not Dressing and Kid Millions. Her larger-than-life talents did not transfer as well to the screen. That same year she returned to Broadway to star in Cole Porter's hit Anything Goes, and in 1936 filmed a watered-down version of that great show. In 1938, Merman made one of her best films, Alexander's Ragtime Band, a terrific, elaborate movie musical co-starring Alice Faye and Tyrone Power.

In 1939 Merman wowed audiences again in DuBarry Was A Lady. In 1940 she knocked them out while introducing the song 'Let's Be Buddies' in Panama Hattie, with future stars Betty Hutton and June Allyson. Merman, disliking the competition, had Hutton's big number taken out of the production.

In 1946, Ethel Merman appeared in the most acclaimed show of her life, Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Every song was a hit, and her rendition of 'There's No Business Like Show Business' became her trademark. In 1950, she appeared in Call Me Madam, and repeated her performance in a luxurious movie version in 1953.

In 1959, she gave another of her most famous performances, as Mama Rose in Gypsy. During the run, producer David Merrick asked Ethel if she was speaking to her co-star Sandra Church, who played Louise. Ethel remarked, 'Of course I speak to her. Every night when the curtain goes down I say 'Go Fuck Yourself'.

Ethel Merman was married four times, each ending in divorce. Her first marriage with Sherman Billingsley lasted six months. Her second marriage to Robert Levitt produced two children, Bobby and Ethel. Levitt was often called 'Mr. Merman' and had trouble dealing with his wife's success. Some years after they divorced, he committed suicide. Her third marriage to Bob Six made Ethel decide to become just a regular Denver, Colo., housewife, seeking to raise her children in a normal environment. This arrangement soon palled. Her final union, with Ernest Borgnine, began unravelling on their honeymoon, the night of which Ernest described as 'hell on earth'. He left after 32 days. In Merman's 1978 autobiography, she devoted a chapter to their marriage. It consisted of a blank page.

In 1963, Merman was acclaimed when she played a nagging mother-in-law in the star-packed film, It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. In 1967, her daughter Ethel committed suicide with prescription drugs. Merman threw herself back into her work, and appeared in a multitude of memorable television shows, including her famous duet with good friend Mary Martin. On Batman, she played villainess Lola Lasagna. In 1970, she began a three-month run in Hello Dolly, and then, with sold-out houses, she extended it another nine months. In 1979, Ethel recorded a disco album of her greatest hits, The Ethel Merman Disco Album.

After a sudden flash of pain in April of 1983, Merman was left incoherent and unable to walk. A brain tumor was discovered. She was cared for by her son Billy, and died Feb. 15, 1984.

Ethel Merman once said, 'I can hold a note as long as the Chase Manhattan Bank.'

Sources Ethel Merman by John Kenrick, Ethel Merman Web sites.

Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect'—Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications 1991. A designer and an artist, his collection of over 950 gorgeous Art Deco photo frames contains images of Hollywood's most elegant stars. You may visit Steve Starr Studios, celebrating it's 38th anniversary in 2005, at, or e-mail Steve at . Photo of Starr by Graysong.

This article shared 4306 times since Wed Jan 5, 2005
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Transgender Talent, celebrity deaths, film festival, Whitney Houston 2021-09-26
- Transgender Talent—the trans-owned and operated management and production company—is looking to help Hollywood get better at portraying transgender and non-binary characters on screen with the launch of a new consulting ...

Gay News

MOVIES 24-hour horror marathon at Music Box on Oct. 23-24 2021-09-24
- "The Music Box of Horrors," sponsored by CreepyCo., will return to the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., from noon on Saturday, Oct. 23 through noon on Sunday, Oct. 24. The event will include special ...

Gay News

'Firebird' opens Reeling Chicago LGBTQ+ Internat'l Film Fest tonight 2021-09-23
--From a press release - CHICAGO, Illinois — Tonight, the 39th annual Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival invites audiences to enjoy an in-person pre-party and theater screening of 'Firebird' for Opening Night at the Music Box Theater. Director P ...

Gay News

REVIEWS: Movies of Reeling 2021 2021-09-22
- Reeling: The 39th Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 23-Thursday, Oct. 7. After a virtual edition in 2020, Reeling returns with in-person screenings this year, kicking off with the Estonian romantic drama ...

Gay News

MOVIES 'Shang-Chi' actor in anti-gay controversy 2021-09-20
- Actor Simu Liu—the star of the latest Marvel action movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings—is embroiled in controversy over alleged Reddit comments he made about how pedophilia is "no different from being gay," ...

Gay News

FILM REVIEW Chastain mesmerizes in 'Tammy Faye,' but bio offers few surprises 2021-09-20
- Televangelists featured in some of the of the most spectacular falls from grace in the '80s. Television preachers who'd spent the better part of the '70s and the '80s insinuating themselves into pocketbooks, not to mention ...

Gay News

8th Annual Black Alphabet Film Festival on Nov. 5-7 2021-09-17
- The 8th Annual Black Alphabet Film Festival (BAFF) will take place Nov. 5-7 at the University of Chicago's Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St. One of the longest running Black ...

Gay News

Brittany Devon meets a 'Platonic Girlfriend' 2021-09-15
- Queer, genderfluid actor Brittany Devon has created a brand new project to explore with Platonic Girlfriend. It is the story of a relationship between straight woman Alice and a queer, nonbinary person named Dev. Devon stars ...

Gay News

THEATER Out actor Dan Butler to be in 'When Harry Met Rehab' 2021-09-15
- Don Clark, a Chicago-based film/theater producer as well as co-owner of the Chicago Magic Lounge, will present the world premiere of When Harry Met Rehab—a comedy that takes sobriety seriously and is based loosely on the ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'Boy Meets Boy,' Jennifer Hudson, 'SVU,' tennis honor, ABBA 2021-09-12
- Ariztical Entertainment is releasing the German movie Boy Meets Boy on DVD and VOD on Oct. 26. According to a press release, the plot of the 70-minute movie is as follows: "Harry has been partying for ...

Gay News

MOVES Talking about 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' 2021-09-08
- The new movie Everybody's Talking About Jamie tells the inspiring story of Jamie New, a young drag artist who overcomes hardship and homophobia in Sheffield, England. Out actor Max Harwood stars as New, who gets by ...

Gay News

Survivor shares the story of trauma and thriving in 'Untold' 2021-09-07
- WARNING: This article contains material of a graphic nature. Gina M. Garcia is finally sharing her story of thriving after trauma in her new docu-drama biography, Untold: This is My Story, which premieres Sept. 6 at ...

Gay News

MOVIES Fall films harvest famous names for LGBTQ+ stories 2021-09-01
- The film industry is featuring world-renowned names like Lady Gaga, Truman Capote and Tammy Faye on the big screen this fall season. Award-winning musicals, true-life stories and far-out fiction are all part of the fun in ...

Gay News

MOVIES 'On Broadway' to open Sept. 10 in Highland Park 2021-09-01
- As theatergoers prepare for the return of Broadway after an unprecedented absence of 18 months, Kino Lorber is releasing Academy Award nominee Oren Jacoby's documentary On Broadway. The tribute to one of the most vibrant ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Billy Porter, 'Death Drop,' Brandi Carlile, vintage films, Gaga 2021-08-29
- Billy Porter will direct a queer teen comedy feature titled To Be Real for Amazon Studios, which is being helmed by Gabrielle Union's I'll Have Another Productions, noted. Porter, who is currently working on his ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.