Today’s post is written by the incomparable Fannie Cranium, who has used her pen to create more interesting characters than I’ve ever met in real life. This is her second post for the blog, but I was busy when she published her first post, so I never got to give Fannie her rightful introduction. Here it is: Fannie is awesome. We became fast friends because, well, what else can you do when someone named Fannie Cranium comments on a funny names blog? In our cast of Friends, Fannie is Phoebe, who may have been my favorite Friends character. Oh, and she writes posts about Burma-Shave starring characters named Bunny. What else needs to be said? Nothing, except the words of Fannie herself. Enjoy. – Dave
Ethel Merman, a siren of song, stage and silver screen. Born Ethel Agnes Zimmerman in Astoria, Queens, New York in 1908. She graduated from high school in 1924 taking a job as a stenographer at the Boyce-Ite Company earning $23 a week. Moving over to Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation for a $5 a week increase and eventually promoted to personal secretary of Caleb Bragg, whose repeated absences from the office racing automobiles gave her time to catch up on the sleep she lost the previous night performing at private parties.
When she began performing at nightclubs, she thought her name too long for a marquee. She considered taking her grandmother’s maiden name, Hunter, but shortened it to Merman to pacify her father. Lucky for us.
Her next step, performing with Jimmy Durante at Les Ambassadeurs. Not long after starting she endured a tonsillectomy while fearing it might damage her voice. But after recovering she belted stronger than ever.
Auditioning in 1930 for George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy singing, “I Got Rhythm”, she was cast straightaway. After it opened George Gershwin told her, “Well, never go near a singing teacher…and never forget your shorthand.” She never did.
She performed in Humpty Dumpty in 1932, it opened in Pittsburg in August and closed the next month. I’m guessing irony may have helped here. Rewritten and retitled Take a Chance, it ran for 243 performances at the Apollo. By this time she earned $1,500 a week. Not bad for a stenographer during the Depression.
Fast forward to 1945, recovering from a C-Section after the birth of her second child she was offered the role of Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun which featured her now signature song, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” It ran for 1,147 performances. She went on to star with Donald O’Conner and Marilyn Monroe in the film There’s No Business Like Show Business which borrowed its name from that famous song.
Married four times, the marriage to her last husband, Ernest Borgnine, lasted 32 days. In her 1978 memoir, Merman, she included a chapter, “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine.” It’s one blank page.
She didn’t miss a beat, in 1979 she released “The Ethel Merman Disco Album”, with the 71-year-old performer singing her Broadway hits to a disco beat. While never making the Billboard charts it was a hit, and played regularly at Studio 54 with live appearances by the star herself.
Her last film, the 1980 comedy Airplane!, she played Lieutenant Hurwitz, a shell shocked soldier who believes he’s Ethel Merman. In the performance Merman leaps out of bed belting “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” as the orderlies rush to sedate her.
Which leads me to why you’re reading this today. Last October, Dave blogged about the band Mungo Jerry and attached the video to “In the Summertime”. Planting a song worm in my brain until Ethel arrived.
Take it away Ethel and friends. . .