Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman Hardcover – 23 Nov 2007
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"This well-written and psychologically astute portrait will satisfy musical theater fans and anyone who loves a snappy comeback."--The Advocate "Masterfully analyzes Merman's work on stage, screen and TV with a sophisticated eye for detail that will delight theater buffs."--Publishers Weekly
From the Inside Flap
"A thought-provoking and absorbing read, Caryl Flinn's "Brass Diva" brings a fresh perspective to the legend of Ethel Merman. While she was easily dismissed as an exceedingly simple broad, Ms. Flinn's research into the nuances of her life reveal the complicated person that was my grandmother. More than once I was moved to reconsider the reasons for her enduring as a source of inspiration as well as notions about her life and career that I had taken for granted. I highly recommend it."Barbara Geary
"This book is long overdue. We've been told that Merman's reviews were glowing, but now we can read them for ourselves. Beautifully researched, this book will undoubtedly find its way into every musical theatre library. Merman has been at the center of so many apocryphal tales, it's thrilling to enter an era of serious exploration and analysis. "Brass Diva" starts to pull the myths apart and to put Ethel Merman in her proper historical perspective."Klea Blackhurst, creator of "Everything The Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman"
"It is a pleasure to read Caryl Flinn's scrupulously researched and elegantly constructed biography. "Brass Diva" puts all other Merman books to shame. With her exhaustive knowledge of her subject, Flinn explores the meanings of Merman's life, her shows, her songs, her fans, and most intriguingly, her subtexts."Krin Gabbard, author of "Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture"
""Brass Diva" is a wonderful and important study of Ethel Merman's life and work, as well as a sophisticated reading of Merman herself. The scholarship is excellent, the writing is lively and engaging, and the research is detailed and absolutely new. "Brass Diva" will likely become the key primary resource for future Merman scholarship."Stacy Wolf, author of "A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical"" -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Paperback.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you had the books in front of you, the first thing you'd notice would be the difference in length. "Ethel Merman" by Brian Kellow is 326 pages, including the (rather incomplete) index. "Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman" by Caryl Flinn is a much-weightier 542 pages, including a more-detailed index. That's indicative of their very different approaches. Kellow adeptly hits the highlights of Merman's personal and professional lives, and places them in historical context. Flinn, a university professor, goes for the comprehensive and scholarly approach. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Here's an example. Flinn spends five paragraphs sorting through all the stated dates for Merman's birth, before settling on the correct one: 1908. Kellow simply notes the right date. And that points to Flinn's main shortcoming: Having obviously done a tremendous amount of research for the book, she's loath to exclude anything.
I got the sense while reading Kellow's that he wants to convey the woman behind the image (he succeeds). As a professor of women's studies, Flinn seems to care more about how Merman was perceived, specifically as a woman in a certain time period. If Kellow and Flinn had decided to collaborate on a single book, we might have had the ideal Merman biography.
As it is, Flinn at times tends to overreach in an attempt to deconstruct, as in this doozy after a Merman quote: "Again, this seems less the real Ethel Merman talking than the voice associated with 'Ethel Merman,' the public production, whose iconoclastic toughness was being extended to her body itself, almost a Deep Throat avant la lettre." Ironically, Flinn's book is an intellectualized approach to an admitted non-intellectual. If Merman would have lived to read this, I imagine she would have said something like, "What the hell is she talkin' about, anyway?"
Where Flinn's approach works better than Kellow's is in giving details of Merman's professional productions. For example, she meticulously covers each of Merman's movie shorts, including plot synopses -- that's valuable and interesting information, particularly since the shorts aren't all readily available for viewing (something one can only hope an independent DVD company will eventually rectify). Kellow hardly touches on them at all. On the other hand, as features editor for Opera News, Kellow has a better grasp of the evolution of Merman's vocal style.
Interestingly, despite Flinn's greater focus on the details, Kellow is also the one to set the record straight on certain stories. For example, he convincingly puts forth what he's found to be the real reasons why the "Anything Goes" book by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton was rewritten by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. In this case, Flinn seems to accept the version put forward publicly at the time. In other cases, she tends to list all opinions as to what occurred in a certain situation, rather than try to figure out what actually happened. Again, my sense is this is because, to Flinn, perception and reality carry equal weight.
As you might expect, Kellow and Flinn share many of the same sources. Flinn had at least one advantage: access to Merman's scrapbooks (compiled with her father). They are referenced constantly, but they really add little of note.
In the appendix of his book, Kellow lists Broadway appearances, film appearances, and television appearances. This is where one would like to see more detail. Surprisingly, Flinn's appendix is hardly more extensive. Under stage work, she adds the musical numbers by act, and then she has a filmography.
In the end, Kellow's book is the one to get. But if you're a fervent Merman fan, then you'll also want to get Flinn's for the extra details (albeit too many) and cultural perspective.
But despite it's lofty intentions, this hefty cradle-to-grave (and beyond) examination of the Broadway legend's life contains a surprising amount of misinformation, something that becomes apparent to anyone familiar with Merman (and show business in general) just through a cursory skim.
Among other things, author claims It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was produced by Universal (actually it was United Artists), wrongly credits Universal with creating the Cinerama process (that studio never even released a picture in this process), screws up names of a number of plays/movies (it's Under the Yum Yum Tree, not The Yum Yum Tree and so on) and provides the erroneous information that Marlo Thomas produced her That Girl series (on which Merman appeared several times) under the pseudonym Danny Arnold--which will come as a big surprise to anyone familiar with the work of TV veteran Arnold and a number of other very real producers who worked on the show over the years. How much else is wrong? Who knows? And these are mistakes I discovered while just casually leafing through the book.
Nitpicking? Perhaps. But even if everything else IS correct, whatever made Merman such a legendary character is buried under such a mountain of minutiea that her magic is lost. Skip this one and read the far more enjoyable Ethel Merman: A Life by Brian Kellow instead. With the exception of Merman's famed lungpower, big isn't necessarily better.
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