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The Cole Blog


Part 1 (The First Five)

With Merman's Apprentice opening in less than one month, I was thinking about Ethel Merman's ten greatest TV appearances. Despite Merman being the "Queen of Broadway," she secretly longed for the wider fame that movies and TV would bring. TV especially! Ethel placed herself on the tube from the earliest days in the late 1940s all the way up to her last years in the 1980s. This kept her in front of the public and brought them out to see her in concert and on the stage. So let's take a look at The 10 Greatest TV Appearances of The Merm!

1. The Texaco Star Theatre starring Milton Berle. (1949) Just at the end of Ethel's long run of Annie Get Your Gun, she appeared on the super-popular Milton Berle Show and got to sing two of her greatest hits: I Get a Kick out Of You and I Got Rhythm. Watch those eyes and those fingers as she holds that long note! Ahhhhhhhh!

2. The Ford 50th Anniversary Duet with Mary Martin (1953) By this time, Mary Martin and Ethel Merman were thought of of great and friendly rivals for the title of "First Lady of the American Musical Theatre." Mary had a huge hit with Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific and Ethel followed up Annie Get Your Gun with the very successful Call Me Madam. Now with TV really booming in the 1950s, Ford Motor Company took over all three networks (CBS, NBC, & ABC) for one night to celebrate their 50th Anniversary and to do a show that would be the best of those 50 years in American Entertainment. Leland Hayward, who had produced by South Pacific and Call Me Madam, wanted to have both queens of Broadway on the show. Together! So he told Mary, that Ethel wanted to do the show but only if she would be in it. Then he told Ethel that same thing. They both signed and history was made on this night. Live on all the networks. Jerome Robbins, the director and choreographer decided to keep it simple. No big choruses and staging, just Ethel and Mary on stools singing their hearts out. History. Genius. Merman and Martin.

3. The Judy Garland Show (1963) Dueting with Garland. Judy Garland and Ethel Merman on one screen together, for me is the history of American song in the twentieth century. Two of the most unique and distinctive voices...both imitated but inimitable. When Annie Get Your Gun was a smash on Broadway with Merman, MGM bought the film rights for their biggest star, Judy Garland. Garland was not exactly right for Annie Oakley but she was excited to play the role. Bad health, drug problems and Busby Berkley (who Garland detested) scotched that dream. The footage that exists shows a tired and unhappy Judy being directed to do the show and not be a new kind of screen Annie. Over a decade later, Merman (who by now had triumped in Gypsy, again losing the movie role...this time to Rosalind Russell) was triumphing again in nightclubs and on every TV variety show (including her own specials) she could get. Now, Garland, with her own TV series, invited Ethel to join her for a fabulous hour. Here's their medley...PS...Merman told me that Garland never rehearsed with her the whole week, but showed up the day of taping and just did it. Amazing.

4. Hollywood Palace. Fred Astaire Duet Medley (1966). Everyone in Show Biz appeared on the Hollywood Palace. On this fabulous episode in 1966 (when Merman was appearing in the 20th anniversary revival of Annie Get Your Gun), Fred Astaire hosted and Merman was his guest. The ensuing duet medley is one of the most delightfully funny pairing of opposites...the superloud belter and the intimately debonnaire dancer who "sings a little" Just sit back and watch and be prepared to be knocked out of your seat. Fred and Ethel! (no, not the Mertzes)

5. The Muppet Show. Broadway Medley with The Muppets (1977) This was Ethel's personal favorite TV appearance. When I went to her apartment for the first time, she not only showed me the closet where she kept the ashes of her late parents and daughter, the eternally standing Christmas tree, the autographed photo of the Queen Mother, but also a small crib next to her bed filled with Miss Piggy and Fozie and Kermit and other Muppets given to her by Henson and Company. She loved them best of all and it shows on this fabulous medley. Sometime Ethel was taken to task for not looking for co-stars in the eye when performing...for not relating to anyone except the audience (notice her with Mary Martin or Astaire), but this was not the case with Miss Piggy and company. Merman looked them right in the soul because she believed in them. Let's close this half of the TEN BEST with Ethel and the Muppets.

After you revel in Merman in her TV appearances, take a minute to look at this lucky strike extra...Klea Blackhurst as Ethel Merman in the original musical by, well, yes, your host, me...and David Evans. The Original Cast CD is available on Amazon and you can buy it by clicking the photo of the CD below!



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