Name at birth: Ethel Agnes Zimmerman
Ethel Merman's brassy voice and knock-'em-dead style made her a favorite with Broadway audiences for four decades. She sang "I Got Rhythm" in the 1930 George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, and in 1946 she played sharpshooting cowgirl Annie Oakley in the original Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun. That show's hit number, "There's No Business Like Show Business," became Merman's signature tune. She also played the incredibly pushy stage mother, Mama Rose, in the original Broadway run of Gypsy in 1959. Ethel Merman continued performing into the 1970s, often appearing on TV as a beloved symbol of Broadway sass. She also had a memorable turn as a nagging mother-in-law in the slapstick movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963, with Mickey Rooney and ZaSu Pitts).
Ethel Merman was married four times; the fourth marriage, to actor Ernest Borgnine in 1964, lasted 32 days… Like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Merman was once a guest villainess (“Lola Lasagne”) on the 1960s TV series Batman… Ethel Merman was one of several actresses to follow Carol Channing as the star of the Broadway show Hello Dolly… Annie Get Your Gun was revived on Broadway in 1999, with Bernadette Peters (and then Reba McIntyre) starring as Annie Oakley… Ethel Merman openly lied about her age during her lifetime, and her birth year is listed in reference books as being anywhere between 1906 and 1912; most modern biographers believe that 1908 was the actual year of her birth.