Sunday, 16 July 2017

No Business

A couple of days late... but here we go!

I can’t believe that it has taken me almost a decade of writing about rubbish to finally get around to blogging about The Ethel Merman Disco Album.

The veteran American Broadway performer Ethel Merman released The Ethel Merman Disco Album on A&M Records in 1979. Over the years this dreadful record – which features Merman performing several of the songs she was most closely identified with, including her signature belter There’s No Business Like Show Business - has attained the status of a camp classic, with original vinyl copies highly sought out by collectors.

Known primarily for her distinctive, powerful voice and leading roles in musical theatre, Merman recorded 14 songs for the record, although only seven were released on the original version (one of the others, They Say It's Wonderful, finally saw the light on the 2002 CD reissue; the six remaining songs have yet to see official release). Each of the songs was recorded in only one take and arranged vocally the way she always recorded them, with the ‘disco’ backing track added later. It’s probably worth noting here that the woman was 71 when this turgid monstrosity was unleashed on the world.

Stories about Merman (born January 1908, died February 1984) are legion. My personal favourite concerns her five week marriage to Ernest Borgnine (the fourth, last and briefest of her marriages). It was a disaster: Borgnine himself described it as the ‘biggest mistake of my life. I thought I was marrying Rosemary Clooney!’ Merman’s 1972 memoir, Merman, includes a chapter entitled My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine that consists of nothing more than a single blank page. Borgnine later told the Australian actor Frank Wilson that he spent most of his short marriage ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ with his wife, who was eight years his senior, and told him that ‘One day she came off the set of a film and said, ‘the director said today I looked sensational. He said I had the face of a 20 year old, and the body and legs of a 30 year old!’ I said: ‘did he say anything about your old cunt?’ ‘No’ replied Ethel, ‘he didn't mention you at all!’

Then there is her scene-stealing cameo in Airplane! (released a year after The Ethel Merman Disco Album and her last film performance), where she plays a traumatised soldier who is convinced that he is Ethel Merman.

Although she is beloved by gay men of a certain age she professed a distaste for the number of homosexuals involved in musical theatre . At a rehearsal she once shouted to newspaper columnist Jerry Berger ‘have you ever seen so many faggots in your life?’; she is also said to have accused Borgnine of being ‘a fag’ when he could not perform in bed. perhaps unsurprisingly it is rumoured that she had a lesbian affair with trash novelist Jacqueline Susann, and that Susann based her Valley of the Dolls character Anne, an ageing stage actress, on Merman.

There are those who will insist that The Ethel Merman Disco Album is great. It isn’t. And to prove my point here are a couple of primo examples of Ethel’s flirtation with the demon disco: Everything’s Coming Up Roses and I Get a Kick Out of You. Just horrible. And why the disembodied arm holding the hat? What's all that about?

The whole album is readily available on the YouTubes if you fancy more, but until next time...


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