There’s no business like show business, indeed. I’ve been an unabashed Merman fan for almost 40 years. No other woman in the history of Broadway was as influential or beloved.
For much of her stage career, Merman had one serious rival: Mary Martin. In real life, there was no personal rivalry and both women had tremendous respect for what the other could do. Martin wasn’t the singer that Merman was (no one was), but she was an immensely durable talent. Maria von Trappe and Peter Pan anyone?
The two legends teamed up twice: Once in 1953 and in a one-off on Broadway in 1977. The 1953 pairing was on a 50th Ford Anniversary television special. As part of this hour long show, the two marshaled their unparalleled resources for a medley duet that has gone down in performance history as a high-water mark. To my ear, it has never been topped.
Sixty years later, it is still as astonishing as it was in June 1953. And you’ll note, following the intro, it’s just two women, two chairs and a pool of light. No sets, special effects, back up dancers or synthesizers. It’s pure talent unleashed. And it was LIVE. I believe the current vernacular is “awesome.”