This isn't quite theater history, but it dances around the edges.
With a caveat which I'll explain in a moment, here's a video of Ethel Merman on a talk show singing "You Can't Get a Man with Your Gun" from the Irving Berlin musical, Annie Get Your Gun," arguably -- neck-and-neck with Gypsy -- her most famous role, which she created in 1946. (When my parents were in their 80s they still talked about seeing her in the show on a trip to New York.) She later revived the role in a 1966 production at Lincoln Center.
Though this is only her performing the number on the Mike Douglas Show in 1975 when they did a week in Nashville at Opryland, there is something significant that sets it apart. When Ethel Merman would sing songs she'd made famous, she almost exclusively would sing them...well, as Ethel Merman. They were fun to see, but they weren't The Performance that had the character insights she brought to the stage role. Just her belting the songs out as popular tunes. (The closest I saw her perform the songs as if onstage was during a tremendous medley with the Boston Pops. I've looked for a video of that, but to no avail thus far.)
This, though, is totally different. It's Ethel Merman singing “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” – in character (!), with costume and prop. She actually recreates the number, with verses I’ve never heard and complete with “curtain call” reprise.
This is one of those moments I particularly wish my folks were still around, because I know they'd go crazy getting to see this. Happily, I was able to appreciate it for them.
The interview afterwards is brief and nothing special, though for people who enjoy Jimmy Dean sausages but never saw the real guy, who was a country music singer I think he may have been co-host for the week, and that's him on the panel who she's talking to about what seems to be some mishap earlier in the show.
But stick around, because at the 7:45 mark, she and Mike Douglas perform another of her famous songs, the counterpoint classic, "You're Just in Love," from another Irving Berlin show, Call Me Madam.
The video is a little faded, but after 40 years so are most people.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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