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As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin

As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin

Paperback

By (author) Laurence Bergreen

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  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 702 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 216mm x 43mm | 885g
  • Publication date: 1 April 1996
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, MA
  • ISBN 10: 0306806754
  • ISBN 13: 9780306806759
  • Edition statement: Da Capo Press.
  • Sales rank: 1,264,083

Product description

Irving Berlin (1888--1989) was unable to read or write music and could only play the piano in the key of F-sharp major; yet, for the first half of the twentieth century he was America's most successful and most representative songwriter, composing such hits as "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Cheek to Cheek," "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "White Christmas," "Anything You Can Do," "There's No Business Like Show Business," and "God Bless America." As Thousands Cheer, winner of the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, explores with precision and sensitivity Berlin's long, prolific career; his self-doubt and late-blooming misanthropy; and the tyrannical control he exerted over his legacy of song. From his immigrant beginnings through Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood to his reclusive and bitter final years, this definitive biography reveals the man who wrote 1500 songs but could never quash the fear that, for all his success, he wasn't quite good enough.

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Author information

Laurence Bergreen is the author of acclaimed biographies of James Agee and Al Capone. A writer for numerous publications, including Esquire, Newsweek, New York Times, and American Film, he lives in New York City.

Editorial reviews

From the author of the uneven James Agee: A Life (1984): a long, detailed, yet dullish and superficial biography of "the greatest songwriter in our nation's history." Bergreen brings little that's new to the oft-told tale of Berlin's rise to international fame: the poor immigrant kid who became a nervy, popular singing waiter, then a hack deviser of parodies, then a rich celebrity - with the super, success of "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Familiar, too, is the domestic history: the death, soon after their honeymoon, of Berlin's first wife; his headline-making courtship, a decade later, of an upper-crust heiress with an anti-Semitic father. New interview material does fill out some of Berlin's later career: Hollywood projects in the Thirties and Forties; the B'way-and-world-tour of This Is the Army, his WW II morale booster; his disastrous B'way swan song, Mr. President. But the fresh anecdotes and details (some quite unflattering) are often given undue weight - perhaps because Berlin's family and closest associates (in accord with IB's wishes) declined to give Bergreen any assistance. With iffy evidence, then, Bergreen portrays Berlin as an insecure workaholic, a slave to popular tastes, a trigger-tempered tyrant, a sometime miser (though vastly generous too), and - especially in later years - a reclusive, depressed man without "the gift of friendship." (The tone is frequently patronizing: "Poor driven Irving," etc.) On the songs themselves, Bergreen is even shakier: most are barely mentioned; important, lesser-known songs are ignored; and the few stabs at critical analysis are obvious, unconvincing, or (on musical matters especially) muddled. Too shallow for aficionados, too long and flat for casual readers (who might enjoy the thrice-told anecdotes): a competent gathering of materials, delivered without style, wit, or passion. (Kirkus Reviews)

Back cover copy

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was unable to read or write music and could only play the piano in the key of F sharp major; yet, for the first half of the twentieth century he was America's most successful and most representative songwriter, composing such hits as "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Cheek to Cheek", "Let's Face the Music and Dance", "Puttin' on the Ritz", "White Christmas", "Anything You Can Do", "There's No Business Like Show Business", and "God Bless America". As Thousands Cheer, winner of the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, explores with precision and sensitivity Berlin's long, prolific career; his self-doubt and late-blooming misanthropy; and the tyrannical control he exerted over his legacy of song. From his immigrant beginnings through Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood to his reclusive and bitter final years, this definitive biography reveals the man who wrote 1500 songs but could never quash the fear that, for all his success, he wasn't quite good enough.

Table of contents

Discovery (18881914) * Lost Souls * Prince and Pauper * Tin Pan Alley * Reinventing Ragtime * Love and Death Recognition (19141924) * Broadway Bound * The Great American Composer? * Sergeant Berlin * From the Music Box to the Round Table Acclaim (19241945) * Mackays Millions * Ellin * Heartbreak House * Recovery * Hollywood Refuge * Minstrel of Peace * Minstrel of Was Retreat (19461989) * One-Upmanship * Tycoon * Irving Likes Us * The Cheering Stops * Coda Chronology * Songs by Irving Berlin * Scores for Stage Productions and Motion Pictures