This week's Observer summarizes several biographies of the inimitable Ethel Merman and comes to the conclusion that though the woman's musical talent was fascinating, her interior life was terminally "uninteresting," and that Ethel's lack of "perspective" and "insight" helped make her such a success. The Observer article quotes Gypsy scribe Arthur Laurents, who said of Merman: "She knows all the small talk, but you can't sit down and talk to her, you just can't...She doesn't calculate. She doesn't weigh things. She just blunders ahead." Sounds like Ethel was a raging bore — she had no close friends, only acquaintances (probably because she could only talk about the weather), and her romantic life was a shambles, though according to Observer writer Robert Gottlieb, she barely noticed.
But she never showed up late to rehearsal, she never flashed her privates to an audience of musical lovers, and she never wasted a penny. If she was remotely introspective, perhaps Merman would have realized (or cared?) that despite all her superficial success, her life was ultimately empty. Of course, this all goes back to Britney Spears (because doesn't everything?): Maybe Britney's problem is not that she's stupid, it's that she's not stupid enough?
The way I see it, Britney blithely went about her career from the ages of 10-22, but then started thinking about what it all meant. What did her gyrating hips really signify at the end of the day? What part of her Lolita image could she really call her own? So she decided to have kids because that would be something concrete that she could hold onto, separate from her image. (Didn't really work, did it?)
Ethel Merman, on the other hand, was blindly ambitious and never, ever turned her gaze inward. She never suffered from stage fright because she would say, "What's there to worry about? I know my lines." Perhaps, as Moe pointed out to me this morning, to be successful in this post-60s navel-gazing world, you need to be a Scientologist or a Republican so that instead of finding your own answers to life's difficult questions, you dumbly accept explanations from Xenu or Dick Cheney instead.
Merman's Monumental Career: Everything Came Up Roses [New York Observer]