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Ethel Merman

Ethel Merman was a multi-Tony award-winning actress/singer of I Got Rhythm, Everything's Coming Up Roses, and There's No Business Like Show Business fame.


Biographical fast facts

Full, original or maiden name at birth: Ethel Agnes Zimmermann

Date and place of birth: January 16, 1908*, at 359 4th Avenue, Astoria, Queens, New York, U.S.A.

Date, place and cause of death: February 15, 1984, at 20 East 76th Street, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (Natural causes, following surgery for a brain tumor)

Marriage #1
Husband: William "Bill" Smith (m. November 1940 - October 1941) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Elkton, Maryland, U.S.A.

Marriage #2
Husband: Robert Daniels Levitt (m. 1941 - June 10, 1952) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Connecticut, U.S.A.

Marriage #3
Husband: Robert Forman Six (m. March 9, 1953 - December 1960) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Calexico, Mexico.

Marriage #4
Husband: Ernest Borgnine (m. June 1964 - November 18, 1964) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Beverly Hills, California, U.S.A.

Children
Son: Robert Daniels Levitt, Jr. (b. August 11, 1945, New York City, New York)
Daughter: Ethel Merman Levitt (known as "Ethel, Jr.") (b. July 20, 1942 - d. August 23, 1967, Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, of an accidental drug overdose**)

Parents
Father: Edward Zimmermann (an accountant) (b. 1880 - d. December 22, 1977)
Mother: Agnes (Gardner) Zimmermann (a school teacher) (d. January 14, 1974, Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, New York)

Remains: Cremated

Error corrections or clarifications

* Many reference sources have offered erroneous birth data on Ms. Merman over the years. In their defense, Ethel herself was less than honest regarding her age. As so often happens with some celebrities, Ethel Merman actually claimed she got younger as the years passed. Her year of birth, which in truth was 1908, she later claimed was 1912.

** Her daughter's death was ruled an accidental drug overdose. Numerous press reports, including Ethel Merman's obituaries in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, erroneously report her daughter committed suicide.


All of the following publications, in some past editions, have offered erroneous birth data on Ethel Merman.

Born This Day: A Daily Celebration of Famous Beginnings by Ed Morrow

Chase's Calendar of Events

Daily Celebrity Almanac by Bob Barry

Grolier Encyclopedia

International Motion Picture Almanac

Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia

Time/Information Please Almanac

Who's Who in America

The Wordsworth Book of Days

World Almanac and Book of Facts


It is not our intent to denigrate these fine publications, but merely to point out the above inaccuracy to prevent further dissemination of the erroneous data.

Biography - Credits

Ethel Merman reigned as Queen of Broadway musicals for three decades. During her heyday in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, there was no one better at belting out a brassy show tune. She lent her larger-than-life persona, and powerful, booming voice to a string of more than a dozen musical comedies, nearly all of them major hits. Despite the fact that she never received any singing lessons, Merman became one of the most celebrated performers of the Broadway musical stage. She went on to recreate several of her Broadway roles on the silver screen, but never achieved the phenomenal success in Hollywood, that she had on Broadway.

Merman began singing in public as a youngster. Despite her obvious talent, her parents saw little stability in an entertainment career, and insisted she receive secretarial training. She proved to be a proficient stenographer and quickly advanced to a better paying secretarial position. In her off-time, she moonlighted as a singer. This led to a chance to audition for George and Ira Gershwin. She was hired, and made her Broadway musical debut October 14th, 1930, in Girl Crazy. It went on to become a hit, as nearly every one of her subsequent musicals did. She managed quite a remarkable feat, stringing together such an envious succession of major Broadway hit shows. Songwriters for these productions include Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Ira and George Gershwin, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.

Girl Crazy (1930), offered Ethel the show-stopping I Got Rhythm. George White's Scandals (1931) gave her a hit with Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries. Eadie Was A Lady and Rise 'n' Shine were a couple of her big numbers in Take A Chance (1932). Cole Porter's Anything Goes (1934) produced hit songs such as I Get A Kick Out Of You, You're The Top, Anything Goes and Blow, Gabriel, Blow. Red, Hot And Blue! (1936), co-starring Jimmy Durante, Vivian Vance and Bob Hope, provided her a hit with It's De-Lovely. Something For The Boys (1943) gave Ethel another hit with Hey, Good-Lookin'. Her longest-running musical was Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1946), which ran for 1,147 performances. This was the popular show in which she introduced the classic, There's No Business Like Show Business. Gypsy opened May 21st, 1959, and showcased Merman as Rose, the overbearing mother of the legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Her triumphant rendition of Everything's Coming Up Roses from that show, became another of her signature songs.

Ethel Merman won the 1951 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, and was also awarded a special Tony Award in 1972.

Ms. Merman's personal life was nowhere near as stable as her professional career. Each of her marriages ended in divorce. Famously, her fourth marriage to Ernest Borgnine ended before the honeymoon was even over.

Selected film credits:
While best known for her triumphant Broadway roles, she also appeared in numerous feature films such as, Kid Millions (1934), Anything Goes (1936), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Call Me Madam (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Selected TV guest appearances:
Younger generations became familiar with her thanks to numerous TV guest appearances on series such as The Judy Garland Show, Front Page Challenge, That Girl, The Carol Burnett Show, The Lucy Show, The Muppet Show, and The Love Boat. She also had a recurring role on TV's popular Batman, portraying criminal Lola Lasagna.


Sources

The most in-depth of more than three dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was the 1985 biography, I Got Rhythm! The Ethel Merman Story, by Bob Thomas.


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