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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)
Husband: William "Bill" Smith (m. November 1940 - October 1941) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Elkton, Maryland, U.S.A.
Husband: Robert Daniels Levitt (m. 1941 - June 10, 1952) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Connecticut, U.S.A.
Husband: Robert Forman Six (m. March 9, 1953 - December 1960) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Calexico, Mexico.
Husband: Ernest Borgnine (m. June 1964 - November 18, 1964) (divorced)
Wedding took place in Beverly Hills, California, U.S.A.
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**)
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)
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
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.
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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This page was last updated January 1, 2012. |