The Girl Who Fell Down: A Biography of Joan McCracken

Lisa Jo Sagolla, Author Northeastern University Press $35 (304p) ISBN 978-1-55553-573-5
While biographies of great cultural icons abound, the greatest stories are often those of the tragic also-rans, the unheralded power behind the throne. Simultaneously the tale of a genuine innovator and an all-but-forgotten minor celebrity, dance historian and choreographer, Sagolla's biography of the dancer and actor Joan McCracken is a kind of literary rescue mission, an attempt to save her from the dreaded fate of cultural anonymity. An accomplished ballet dancer and the originator of the""Girl who Falls Down"" role in the premiere run of Oklahoma! on Broadway, McCracken helped to define a new type of stage icon: the dancer-comedienne. From there she proceeded to develop a successful stage career, sign a film contract with MGM, marry the famed choreographer Bob Fosse and become an early television personality, an inaugural member of the Actors Studio and one of Truman Capote's inspirations for the protagonist of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Yet while McCracken's star shone brightly albeit briefly (she died at 44 after a lifetime battle with diabetes) on the Broadway stage, her career as a whole was a bizarre parade of missed opportunities, personal tragedy and failing health. Sagolla's skills as a researcher and scholar are formidable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for her instincts as a biographer. Such pains are taken to establish her subject's""historical significance"" that the book takes on an air of dreary piety. McCracken is endlessly described as""trailblazing"" and""pioneering,"" and the text is so liberally peppered with quotations from her critical accolades as to border on the ridiculous. Amidst this storm of interviews and source material, McCracken's personality shines through only occasionally, leaving the reader with a strong sense of her place in history, but little idea of who she was. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Reviewed on: 09/15/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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