She was the Queen of the Broadway Musical, La Merm! Ethel Merman, born Zimmermann, had an amazing Broadway career lasting from 1930 to 1970. George Gershwin introduced the former secretary from Astoria, Queens in his show Girl Crazy in 1930, where she sang her first show stopper, “I Got Rhythm”. She held one note for sixteen measures and stirred audience into a frenzy. Her voice was called “another instrument in the band.” For her next hit show, Cole Porter wrote the part of Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes for her. She stopped the show again with “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and the title tune. Porter adored Merman – the singer who was always “quick with a quip”. He wrote four other musical for her: Red, Hot and Blue, Dubarry Was A Lady, Panama Hattie and Something For The Boys. He said “you’d better not write a bad lyric for her because they’ll hear it in the back of the balcony.”
Dorothy Fields came up with the idea of Merman as Annie Oakley. Irving Berlin signed on, and Annie Get Your Gun was born – one of Merman’s biggest hits. As always, Miss Merman never missed a performance. Berlin followed Annie with Call Me Madam. Ethel won her only Tony Award for her memorable portrayal of Miss Sally Adams, “The Hostess With The Mostess’ On The Ball”. Her next musical was Happy Hunting, which contains Ethel Merman ‘s Broadway’s opening number, “(Gee But) It’s Good To Be Here”. Following that musical was Merman’s greatest triumph, Gypsy. Amazingly, she lost the Tony Award to Mary Martin in The Sound Of Music, but her portrayal of Mama Rose remains one of the all-time-greatest performances ever seen on Broadway.
Jerry Herman wanted Merman to star in his musical Hello, Dolly!. Merman declined, saying that, after Gypsy, she needed to take a break from the grueling Broadway schedule. However, she decided to play Dolly at the end of its New York run, a move which revitalized the show’s run. It was the last time Ethel Merman would star in a Broadway musical.
Her movie career was limited. Her most memorable performances were in the movie version of Call Me Madam, There’s No Business Like Show Business and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. She scored a triumph in her London debut concert which led to a series of symphony concerts throughout the world. She also starred in her own Las Vegas show. One of her greatest nights on Broadway was May 15, 1977 when Ethel and Mary Martin performed their one-night-only Together On Broadway show which was the culmination of their careers and truly a night to remember.
Ethel Merman and her second husband, Bob Leavitt, had two children, Bob and Ethel. She was married three other times, the most memorable time to actor Ernest Borgnine for one month. In her biography, Ethel memorialized her marriage to Ernie with one blank page.