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Merrick was one of the most astonishing showman of our time. No other producer has equaled his percentage of hits or his demonic flair for publicity. His hits include Gypsy; A Taste of Honey; Hello, Dolly!; Promises, Promises; & 42nd Street. In this biography, Kissel reveals the man, the mask & the myth of Merrick. The charismatic & reclusive mogul emerges with his own eccentricities, genius & neuroses. His much-publicized & oftentimes staged battles & feuds were with such personalities as Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, Lena Horne, Woody Allen, Andy Griffith, & Carol Channing. Includes over 100 interviews with the major players in Merrick's life. Illustrations.
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A dishy but disappointing first biography of the legendary producer/ogre (who will be 82 in November)--as told by the chief theater critic for the New York Daily News. Kissel tells the story of the guy in the pinstripe suit (a vestment Merrick chose early in his flight from the hollowing meanness of his childhood) who dominated the Broadway theater from the 1950's until he began failing in the 1970's--first out of step, then out of steam, and finally felled by a stroke. Along the way, Merrick specialized in the tony American musical and the classy British import. His shows included Gypsy; Hello, Dolly!; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead; and Look Back In Anger. Merrick, Kissel explains, had a genius for generating publicity: When Subways Are for Sleeping appeared weak in the knees out of town, he ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Herald- Tribune that featured little raves written by namesakes of prestigious critics. When director Gower Champion died just before the opening of 42nd Street, Merrick squelched all news of his death so he could announce it himself at the final opening-night curtain. No matter that Champion was a friend of old: Merrick was, by Kissel's account, a veritable monster who ruled by tantrum and menace--weapons allegedly honed by old anger and new cocaine. Was Merrick crazy as a fox or just plain crazy? Did his meshugaas help or hinder his fabulous productions? The questions are asked throughout, but the answers are impeded by turgid writing and an erratic overview that shrugs off much of consequence. Kissel's at his best when dealing with the post-stroke Merrick, where the focus is insistently sharp and the pathos keen. (Photographs) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
The chief theater critic for the New York Daily News has written a frank portrait of Broadway's most famous producer, a man as renowned for his outrageous behavior and sharp business practices as for the string of hits that began in 1954 with Fanny , continued through the '60s and '70s with Gypsy , Hello, Dolly! and prestigious British imports like Marat/Sade and climaxed in 1980 with the lavish stage version of 42nd Street , which ran for nine years. As documented in his source notes, Kissel has talked to most of Merrick's associates, whose comments scathingly depict him as cruel to subordinates, contemptuous of the artists who created his shows and awful to his many wives. The book is not gratuitously mean, however; Kissel admires Merrick's taste and promotional skills and argues convincingly that his difficult personality stemmed from his extremely unhappy Midwestern childhood. His story is also a social history in miniature of the changing American theater, showing the decline of the middle-class, middlebrow audience that supported Merrick's productions and the rise of nonprofit theaters in which, as one playwright remarks, "No one can make a living except the administrators." Virtually inactive since a debilitating stroke in 1983, Merrick remains the standard against which all commercial producers measure themselves. No theater buff will want to miss this strong--and by no means entirely unsympathetic--biography. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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