On the Non-Jewishness of Ethel Merman

On the Non-Jewishness of Ethel Merman

The Merm, as she was sometimes called, was a leading popular singer of the 20th century, appearing on Broadway (“Annie Get Your Gun”), in films (“Call Me Madame”), and on TV. Everyone loved her powerful brassy voice.

An impressive biography, by Brian Kellow, called “Ethel Merman: A Life” (2011), has this to say about her non-Jewishness:

Page 4: “The belief that Ethel was Jewish was a subject on which she could become downright snappish. There is no persuasive evidence that she harbored any significant degree of anti-Semitism, but it is clear that she did not like being thought of Jewish herself. Perhaps she simply resented being taken for something and someone she was not and felt compelled to set the record straight.”

Page 120: “One factor that kept Ethel from being widely accepted outside of New York was the ongoing perception of many that she was Jewish. ‘She seemed like the darling of the Bronx, Brooklyn, whatever,’ [dancer Marge] Champion recalled. And for me, coming from another part of the country, that said ‘Jewish.'” She herself didn’t care, but, writes Kellow, “many people in rural areas and small cities perceived Ethel to be the essence of Jewish New York show business – and for them. unfortunately, that was a negative.”

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