Irving Berlin's American Musical Theater

By Jeffrey Magee | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
“THIS IS AMERICA”

If Broadway saw nothing new from Irving Berlin between the two Lindsay and Crouse shows, it was not for lack of effort. He had many more projects brewing in that period but none reached the stage. The singular impression these projects make is one of retrospection and nostalgia—in topic, style, and affect—sometimes marked by an overripe patriotism, and dated ethnic and racial portrayal. “Stars on My Shoulders” (1948–49) explores the postwar life of a retired general, who, feeling forgotten, considers a run for the presidency when some of his former soldiers give him a boost. Berlin wrote several scenarios and nine songs for the show, and act 1 was scripted before the project ran aground.1 The idea and some of its songs got refracted in White Christmas (the retired general) and Mr. President (the decent, old-fashioned man in the White House). In 1955, Berlin wrote a scenario for an “all-negro show” called “Cindy Lou” intended as a Cinderella story conceived for Eartha Kitt (in the title role), Duke Ellington (as her father, the “King of Jazz”), and Ethel Waters as the fairy godmother (“a maid for a night-club singer”) who helps Cindy Lou get the man of her dreams, a newly returned veteran of the Korean War.2

Between 1952 and 1956, Berlin also made great strides in developing a musical based on the story of the Mizner brothers, Wilson and Addison. Wilson, one of Berlin’s friends in his early years, was known as a playboy, gambler, and sometime playwright. Addison became known as an architect for Florida’s rich during the boom in real estate there during the 1920s. Interest in the brothers had resurfaced after the publication of Cleveland Amory’s Last Resorts (1952), which brings out Addison’s role in the Florida land boom. The initial plan, based on Amory’s book and titled “Palm Beach,” was to create another Merman vehicle with a script by Lindsay and Crouse.3 When that project fell through, Berlin’s attention shifted to developing a show based on another new book: Alva Johnston’s The Legendary Mizners (1953), for which the playwright S. N. Behrman had acquired the rights. Berlin—and for one month, George S. Kaufman—joined the project, now titled “Sentimental Guy,” with an eye toward a musical focusing on the brothers’ vicissitudes. Behrman finished the act 1 script, and Berlin wrote at least a dozen songs for the show, but act 2 foundered, despite Berlin’s earnest efforts to drive the plot scenario to the end.4 The script made the conventional coupling of a marriage plot and a show business plot. For it, Berlin wrote yet another counterpoint song in which two characters debate the relative merits of Dallas and New York.5 The show stalled

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