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.”

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    Broadway Review: David Byrne's 'American Utopia'

    One constant of David Byrne’s long and prolific career is his ability to grow a seemingly simple idea into something brilliant, whether it’s the melody of “Road to Nowhere” or the concept of the “Stop Making Sense” tour some 36 years ago, where the premise of bringing out nine musicians, one at a time per [...]

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content