Ethel Merman, one of the American theater's greatest musical stars, died in 1984, yet she is still revered by those who saw her perform on Broadway. Few, however, know about her as a person. Two of her closest friends, Tony Cointreau and James Russo, appear on THEATER TALK to share their warm and intimate memories of a woman who they reveal to be quite unlike the brassy characters she portrayed.
THEATER TALK – The Private Life of Ethel Merman, co-hosted by Michael Riedel of the New York Post and producer Susan Haskins, will premiere at 1 a.m. on Friday, October 12 (2012; early Saturday morning) on Thirteen/PBS, followed in New York City on CUNY TV* Saturday at 8:30 PM, Sunday at 12:30 PM, and Monday at 7:30 AM, 1:30 PM, and 7:30 PM. After broadcast, the show can be viewed online at http://www.cuny.tv/show/theatertalk/PR2001158.
Beginning in 1930, when she introduced the song "I Got Rhythm" in the show Girl Crazy, Ethel Merman reigned on Broadway for 40 years, appearing dependably throughout the entire runs of such hits as Panama Hattie, Annie Get Your Gun, and Call Me Madam. Though her career endured into the 1980s, her original musical portrayals culminated in her most triumphant role, as Mama Rose in Gypsy, in 1959. It was during the run of the latter show that 18-year-old Tony Cointreau was introduced to Merman by her daughter, Ethel Levitt, and he remained a close friend to the star, particularly after the accidental death of her daughter in 1967. In 1984, Cointreau and Russo were given most of Merman's papers and belongings by her son, Robert Levitt. Shown in the program are some of her most cherished possessions including typed and handwritten diaries, annotated scripts and even recipes written by Merman, who kept copious records (reflecting her early secretarial training before she became famous). In addition to being a Broadway star, says Cointreau, Merman was "always the little girl from Astoria, Queens." Differing from the brassy, devil-may-care personalities of her characters and her perceived reputation, Russo says Merman was vulnerable, shy, and very spiritual. The reminiscences and accompanying visuals provide a rare window in to the private life of a very public woman.
THEATER TALK is the weekly series dedicated to the world of the stage. The not-for-profits Theater Talk Productions and CUNY TV, jointly produce the program, which is taped in the Himan Brown TV and Radio Studios at The City University of New York (CUNY) TV in Manhattan, and is distributed to more than a hundred public television stations nationwide. THEATER TALK is made possible in part by The New York State Council on the Arts, The New York City Department of
Cultural Affairs, The TDF/TAP Plus Program, The CUNY TV Foundation and The Friends of THEATER TALK. *CUNY TV, the City University of New York television station, is carried in New York City's five boroughs – on Channel 75 on Time Warner and Cablevision, Channel 77 on RCN, and Channel 30 on Verizon FiOS.