Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann in Astoria, Queens, Merman was known for her powerful, belting alto voice, precise enunciation, and accurate pitch. Starting out in the height of vaudeville she became a star performing in the Gershwin's "Girl Crazy" singing "I Got Rhythm" and the rest is show business history.
No other star has ever had Broadway shows written specifically for them by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Jules Styne and Stephen Sondheim. Needless to say, there has never been another performer like her.
I chose to draw her in the title role of "Annie Get your Gun" where she introduced the song "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the world. Perhaps Merman's most revered performance was in "Gypsy" as Gypsy Rose Lee's domineering mother Rose. Merman lost the Tony Award that year to Mary Martin, who was playing Maria in The Sound of Music. "How can you buck a nun?" joked Merman.
I always remember her being around doing guest spots on "The Love Boat" and "The Match Game" when I was a kid and of course "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", but I think most people from my generation remember her cameo role in the film "Airplane" where she spoofed herself playing a solider with a head wound who thinks he is Ethel Merman.
I hope I have done her justice.