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The Girl Who Fell Down: A Biography of Joan McCracken Hardcover – September 18, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While biographies of great cultural icons abound, the greatest stories are often those of the tragic also-rans, the unheralded power behind the throne. Simultaneously the tale of a genuine innovator and an all-but-forgotten minor celebrity, dance historian and choreographer, Sagolla's biography of the dancer and actor Joan McCracken is a kind of literary rescue mission, an attempt to save her from the dreaded fate of cultural anonymity. An accomplished ballet dancer and the originator of the "Girl who Falls Down" role in the premiere run of Oklahoma! on Broadway, McCracken helped to define a new type of stage icon: the dancer-comedienne. From there she proceeded to develop a successful stage career, sign a film contract with MGM, marry the famed choreographer Bob Fosse and become an early television personality, an inaugural member of the Actors Studio and one of Truman Capote's inspirations for the protagonist of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Yet while McCracken's star shone brightly albeit briefly (she died at 44 after a lifetime battle with diabetes) on the Broadway stage, her career as a whole was a bizarre parade of missed opportunities, personal tragedy and failing health. Sagolla's skills as a researcher and scholar are formidable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for her instincts as a biographer. Such pains are taken to establish her subject's "historical significance" that the book takes on an air of dreary piety. McCracken is endlessly described as "trailblazing" and "pioneering," and the text is so liberally peppered with quotations from her critical accolades as to border on the ridiculous. Amidst this storm of interviews and source material, McCracken's personality shines through only occasionally, leaving the reader with a strong sense of her place in history, but little idea of who she was. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Publisher

26 illus.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Northeastern; 1st edition (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555535739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555535735
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,755,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book about an artist who participated in some of the most significant moments in American cultural history. Joan McCracken was just a name to me before I read this book. I knew she had been in a minor Rodgers and Hammerstein show called ME AND JULIET and that she was Bob Fosse's second wife, but that was it. She catapulted to fame in the original cast of OKLAHOMA, was a founding member of The Actors Studio and an early performer in the new medium of television, as well as being an active mentor to many artists including her husbands Jack Dunphy (later Truman Capote's lover) and Bob Fosse. As a performer, Joan McCracken created a whole new "type" in the American musical-the hoydenish comic pixie who could dance up a storm. She was the prototype for a long line of sensational entertainers that includes Carol Haney, Shirley MacLaine and Sandy Duncan, among many others. But there was a lot more to Joan McCrakcen than her professional credentials. Personally she was a complex individual usually described as a loner. James Mitchell said, "she was wonderful to work with...however, she was not a stable woman." She liked to paint and walk on the beach rather than party. Although she never went to college, she nonetheless (through the influence of Dunphy) developed a formidable intellect. She was a political Conservative, which seems to upset author Sagolla, rationalizes, "like her antiunion statements, McCracken's tirade against taxes was more likely the result of political naïveté than of true conservative leanings." She was prone to fantasy and some thought she experimented with hallucinogenic drugs. As a diabetic in the days before much was known about its treatment, her health was always precarious and she tried to keep her condition a secret.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
From its opening pages about the Broadway debut of "Oklahoma!" to the tragic last days of its subject, THE GIRL WHO FELL DOWN is a wondrous profile of the "Zelig-like" Joan McCracken. At every crucial moment, at every critical juncture of dance in America, Joan McCracken was there making vital contributions. When one of America's early ballet companies is taking its first, formative steps, McCracken is there as a leading dancer. When Agnes de Mille is revolutionizing Broadway choreography, Joan McCracken is there, bringing de Mille's work to life while stealing the show at the same time.

During the first glittering moments of television's Golden Age, McCracken is an early star of its finest dance and dramatic productions. When it comes to situation comedy, she "out-Lucy's" Lucille Ball before there is an "I Love Lucy."

In the early fifties, Joan McCracken bluntly tells a gifted young dancer he'll never be "the next Fred Astaire" and should instead focus on becoming a choreographer. She goes on to marry the dancer while nurturing and guiding him to a successful career. He goes on to become Bob Fosse.

Lisa Jo Sagolla's comprehensive research interestingly and entertainingly leads the reader through McCracken's entire life, from her childhood as the fortunate daughter of a popular Philadelphia sportswriter, to her successes and failures in every medium of show business, to her final loss in a lifelong battle against diabetes. Dr. Sagolla's precise prose provides a passport to the past, making the reader feel he or she has stepped into a time machine and is not just reading about history, but is there watching it unfold.
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Sagolla's meticulous research reveals an exacting study of the life and person of Joan McCracken. From McCracken's beginnings in ballet to her Broadway debut to her experiences in Hollywood and the Actor's Studio, The Girl Who Fell Down chronicles an inside look at the dance and theatre world from the perspective of a free spirit whose bohemian nature occasioned her to be at times ahead of the women of her generation. The factual history is highlighted with contextual vignettes that are socially enlightening without the sensationalism of 'the business.' Includes the often inconstant life of theatre, her lesser-known mentorship to Bob Fosse, her debilitating illness, her frustrations with Hollywood and the many personalities along the way, as well as privy notes on McCracken's love of painting, decorating and fashion and her changing personal relationships over the years. The book paints a generously informative portrait of the dancer-comedienne pioneer. Historically thorough and enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover
This extremely readable, informative biography is both the hauntingly sad tale of an enchanting brief candle of a performer and an inside, knowing evocation of the New York theater world of the 40s and 50s. Joan McCracken's singing and dancing eight times a week on Broadway while diabetic, and her premature demise no doubt accelerated by her stage exertions, are heartbreaking to read. The author's explanations of dance steps and narrative accounts of ballets and show choreography are extraordinarily well done in converting dancer shop talk into something palpable and understandable for the lay reader. This book is a reminder that history, artistic and otherwise, is made not just by the superfamous. A show business career like McCracken's is more typical, and more illuminating to read about, than made-to-order rehashes of Stars A to Z. In the retrospect of fifty years, it is fascinating to read Sagolla quoting McCracken commenting on early television being too "commercial" and the servant of too many masters. Sagolla's book becomes not just a portrait of a singular performer but an oblique statement about changing times in the American entertainment industry. A well researched, engaging read to the end.
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