Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Ethel Zimmerman, 16 Jan. '09, Astoria NY; d 15 Feb. '84) Singer, actress; one of the great ladies of the musical stage. An office girl, she went to work in cabaret and vaudeville, getting her first big break in Gershwin's Girl Crazy '30, always associated with the show's big song: 'I Got Rhythm' climaxed with a note sustained for 16 bars. Other hit shows incl. Cole Porter's Anything Goes '34 ('You're The Top' was a 'list' song, requiring Merman's excellent diction, rhyming 'Mahatma Gandhi'/'Napoleon brandy', 'steppes of Russia'/'Roxy usher'; the show was filmed '36 and there was a less good remake '56 without Merman), Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun '46 ('There's No Business Like Show Business' belonged to Merman, but Betty Hutton did the film '50), Berlin's Call Me Madam '50 (film '53 with Merman), Gypsy '59 by Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim (Merman should have done the film '62 instead of Ros Russell), several others. She was teamed with Mary Martin in a legendary Ford TV show '53. Her appearances on TV variety shows in the '50s were overpowering because her big voice was meant for the stage; Kenneth Tynan described her as 'the most relaxed brass section on earth'. Hilarious non-singing role as Milton Berle's mother-in-law in Stanley Kramer film It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World '63. A dozen hit records of show songs '32--51 incl. 'You're The Top'/'I Get A Kick Out Of You' '34 from Anything Goes, duets 'They Say It's Wonderful' '46 with Ray Middleton and 'You're Just In Love' '51 with Dick Haymes, both from Call Me Madam; three duet hits (incl. 'Dearie' from The Copacabana Show Of 1950) with dancer/singer Ray Bolger (b 10 Jan. '04, Dorchester MA; d 15 Jan. '87: Bolger introduced Rodgers and Hart's 'There's A Small Hotel' in On Your Toes '36 and played the scarecrow in film Wizard Of Oz '39; his 'Once In Love With Amy' from Where's Charley? '48 was a top 20 hit on a 12]im[ 78).