You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New Memoir Remembers Legend Ethel Merman

Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!”

That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an heir to the liqueur family. Cointreau considers Merman one of his “other mothers,” alongside Lee Lehman, wife of former Lehman Bros. topper Robert Lehman, and, of all people, Mother Teresa, with whom the former singer volunteered at orphanages in India. He chronicles his life with all three in his new memoir, “Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa … and Me.” Among the showbiz tidbits is this memory of a revealing backstage moment at “Gypsy.”

— Gordon Cox

“Knowing that Miss Merman was going through a difficult time with her divorce, (her daughter) Little Ethel and I decided to go to the theater at the end of her mother’s show.

We arrived at the Broadway Theater in time for the curtain calls. Miss Merman did not know we were there and was waiting in the wings to take her final bows. She was looking down at the floor, marking time while the rest of the cast went on stage. To my 18-year-old eyes, she looked like the saddest woman I had ever seen.

But as soon as Miss Merman’s time came to step out on that stage, I saw the most remarkable transformation. The moment the lights hit her, she somehow made them seem a little brighter than they had been for everyone else. It was as though someone had turned on a switch and released a power that could overwhelm and thrill you with its laser-like beam. The entire theater was electrified by a force of nature called Merman. … That evening, not only was I privy to the private moment of a very public human being in pain, but I was also inspired by a glimpse of true theater magic in action.”

More Legit

  • Baz Luhrmann

    Olympic Figure Skating Revives 'Moulin Rouge' and Baz Luhrmann Is Loving It (EXCLUSIVE)

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • Jerry Springer The Opera review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Jerry Springer -- The Opera'

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • Nanette Fabray Broadway?s First Lady, Nanette

    Nanette Fabray, TV Star of the '50s and '60s, Dies at 97

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • david mamet

    David Mamet Says He Wrote a Play About Harvey Weinstein

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • Hello Dolly review Bernadette Peters

    Broadway Review: Bernadette Peters in 'Hello, Dolly!'

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • Music Theatre International

    Drew Cohen Named Global CEO of Music Theatre International

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

  • Male Gallery Capsule Placeholder

    Korean Stage Director Lee Yoon-taek Accused of Rape

    Everyone knows Mama Rose’s first line in 1959’s “Gypsy.” It’s “Count four before you start, Louise!” Or at least it was. But one day in rehearsal Ethel Merman crossed it out for the line everybody now knows: “Sing out, Louise!” That nugget is among the discoveries in the Merman memorabilia collected by Tony Cointreau, an […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content