Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

ROBERT MERRILL (1917–2004)

The great baritone Robert Merrill, my Westchester neighbor and a beloved member of the Dutch Treat Club since 1946, died at his home while watching the first game of the 2004 World Series. He joined the Dutch Treat (DT) Club soon after his Metropolitan Opera debut, and it remained a constant for the rest of his life. We both lived in New Rochelle and often, around eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning, he would call me and say, “Let’s go into town.”

The DT elders would try to seat him at the head table at our prestigious luncheon club. But he preferred to park elsewhere and greet new members. After lunch, we would go around the corner to Pete’s Tavern, the oldest saloon in New York. Once in a while, he said, “Let’s go and terrorize the ‘21’ Club.” We spent many an afternoon there, but, of course, we didn’t demolish the place, and he didn’t drink all that much. Maestro Emery Davis, the society bandleader, and Bruce Snyder, the Keeper of the Flame of the venerable watering hole, will confirm this account.

Bob loved the showbiz crowd at the Friars Club, but his true loves were the marvelous, eclectic souls who populate the DT. He loved the camaraderie and fellowship, and if we didn’t have a performer, he would sing for us. He was always on the bill at our annual dinners and once belted out some ribald lyrics written especially for the occasion by Richard Rodgers.

Merrill grew up in Brooklyn with an undying faith in the Dodgers. He remembered watching them as a boy through a hole in the rightfield fence. Bob actually became a fairly good minor league pitcher before singing became his most enduring passion. In addition to performing many baritone roles at the Met, he also starred on the radio, in film, on TV, and, occasionally, in Las Vegas nightclubs.

Because of his love for baseball, he was often asked to sing the national anthem at Yankee Stadium and did so for many years, either in person or through a recording. He prized his Yankees jersey, number 11/2, given to him by Billy Martin, and one year, he managed the Yankees in the Old Timers’ Day game. In a late inning, with the great DiMaggio at the plate, “Manager Merrill” flashed the bunt sign! The Clipper complied and laid down a perfect sacrifice.

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