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David Merrick - The Abominable Showman: The Unauthorized Biography (Applause Books) Hardcover – April 1, 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

Whether it's Broadway in the 1930s or movies in the 1970s, you're sure to see the name David Merrick associated with both brilliant successes and embarrassing flops. Such is the nature of the business, especially when it involves one of the most dynamic, hard-hearted, arrogant driving forces in theater production. Kissel, a theater critic for the New York Daily News, writes with unabashed frankness about the rise and fall (and rise again) of Merrick's career as a producer. The way Merrick wielded his mighty political power from Broadway to Hollywood left his contemporaries to hate but admire him; to this day he inspires awe. His establishment of the "commercial theater," though panned at the time, and his contributions to that movement are now studied at the finest theater schools. From the immense success of the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly, to the great flop of a musical version of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, to a memorable 1970s version of The Great Gatsby, the Merrick legacy is embedded in American entertainment--and Kissel leaves open the possibility that the master can strike again. Mary Frances Wilkens

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 565 pages
  • Publisher: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books; 1st edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557831726
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557831729
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,289,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Hallinan on December 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This may be an unfair review. The author has done an admirable job of tracking the Monster of Broadway through his sometimes-vile, sometimes almost inspiring life, from his miserable childhood through his reign as (arguably) the most important and prolific producer in Broadway history. The problem (for me -- maybe I missed something) is that at the end of the book I still didn't understand what made Merrick such a cruel, even sadistic human being, someone who delighted in terrorizing the talent and investors he worked with, who treated the women in his life like paper towels, to be used and then either tossed away or shredded, and whose control over his negative impulses was so nonexistent he disrupted the production process of the shows he staged. Merrick picked on those with less power than he, started idiotic fights with critics who could actually hurt his shows, and in the entire span of his life apparently never knew someone he didn't eventually either desert or brutalize. So it's a fascinating book, but at times I think it would have been better if the author had slowed down and given us more close-ups. For example, Jerome Robbins was almost as difficult as Merrick, and on "GYPSY" they also had Ethel Merman in the mix:oil and fire and more oil. How did they manage to be in the same room? A lot more attention to interactions like those might have told us something. But what I missed most was the internal interaction between the David Merrick who was abusive and destructive by default and the one who responded to some deeply emotional plays that were not obvious hits -- "The Elephant Man" and "Marat/Sade," for example -- and spent his time and energy fighting to bring them to America.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
but if you want to know how to manipulate the press, offend everyone and run Broadway - this is a book for you.

I read this in the original hard back version and was appalled at the typos and incorrect information ( I worked on 42nd Street) -- but overall - this is fascinating look into the megalomania that was David Merrick. I was hoping the Kindle version could have updated/corrected the flawed text version, but alas - it was the same.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How ironic that the biography of a man who devoted his life to seeking recognition and respect couldn't get an Amazon review until nine years after its publication. David Merrick was a deeply flawed man of incredible intelligence and business sense about Broadway. There will never be anyone like him of this stature on Broadway. It's a great story -- both inspiring and sad.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wish that Mr. Kissel would have stayed out of his own way. Mr. Merrick was a force to be dealt with and Mr. Kissel lets his own prejudices and opinions get in the way sometimes. Having said that, though, I find it a fun read.
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