As the noted composer-lyricists Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz wrote (and the late great Judy warbled brilliantly), “The world is a stage, the stage is a world of entertainment.”
Tunesmith E.Y. Harburg (1896–1981) composed the lyrics for such hits as “April in Paris” and the Depression-era classic “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” If he had written only one song, however, he’d be in the pantheon—that ditty, heard in a 1939 movie, was “Over the Rainbow,” from The Wizard of Oz. Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist reminds us of his charms.
Musical charms are the province of 1927’s Show Boat, considered the most important musical in Broadway history, the brilliant collaboration of Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern. According to the publisher, Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical, is the first book to take the interracial casting as the show’s defining feature.
“Show Boat... comes perilously close to being the best musical comedy the town has seen in several seasons.” Though this December 28, 1927, New York Times review was written before the present NYT critic was born, it handily affirms the long-running import of Broadway Musicals: From the Pages of the New York Times.
Pages proliferate in Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood. Founded in 1905, the paper has branched out well beyond Tinseltown, with offices worldwide covering myriad media (think “dirt”), with its Web site considered “must” reading daily.
Known for his celebrity biographies (Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, et al.), Donald Spoto takes on an English dynasty in The Redgraves: A Family Epic. This distinguished acting clan has spanned four generations of film, theater, and TV appearances; family doyenne Vanessa Redgrave, who recently appeared on Broadway, has won Oscars, Tony, Golden Globe, and Emmy Awards.
Though Mary Pickford (1892–1979 never got an Emmy or a Tony, she did snag an Oscar in 1930—quite a coup for an actress known primarily for silent films. “America’s Sweetheart” was a mover and shaker par excellence; Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies takes a fascinating glimpse of Hollywood’s beginnings.
A superstar of more recent vintage is profiled (and what a profile!) in Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand by novelist/biographer William J. Mann, who traces the meteoric rise of the Jewish kid from Brooklyn who, starting at age 24, conquered Broadway, movies, TV, recordings, Vegas, etc.— and is still at it.
As the stars get bigger, so too does the movie biz—an expansion that noted critic and historian David Thomson has covered extensively in more than 20 books. His Big Screen: The Story of the Movies is a beguiling, wide-ranging narrative about today’s films and their signal role in modern life.
From the big screen to the small, where a British drama has held sway on PBS in record-breaking viewership. Last year the program entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most critically acclaimed English-language television show for the year”; now The Chronicles of Downton Abbey can sate viewers’ anticipation until 2013’s third season.
For those nay-sayers who claim the movie biz is going to the dogs, we enthusiastically agree: think of the bravura feats performed by Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. Now comes the canine of canines, the Jack Russell terrier whose astounding performance in The Artist gave audiences pause. See the movie, read the memoir—Uggie: My Story. Twice.
PW’s Top 10: Performing Arts
Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist by Harriet Hyman Alonso. Wesleyan Univ. Press, Dec.
Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical by Todd Decker. Oxford Univ. Press, Nov.
Broadway Musicals: From the Pages of the New York Times by Ben Brantley. Abrams, Oct.
Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood by Tim Gray. Rizzoli, Oct.
The Redgraves: A Family Epic by Donald Spoto. Crown Archetype, Oct.
Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies by Christel Schmidt. Univ. Press of Kentucky, Nov.
Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand byWilliam J. Mann. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct.
Big Screen: The Story of the Movies by David Thomson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Oct.
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era for Family, Friends, Lovers, and Staff by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis. St. Martin’s, Nov.
Uggie—My Story: A Memoir by Uggie. Gallery Books, Oct.
Read and sort all our picks from this fall's performing arts titles in the spreadsheet below: