Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose, America’s Great Jewish Impresario

Mark Cohen. Brandeis Univ, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61168-890-0
Cohen—author of Overweight Sensation, a biography of 1960s comedian Allan Sherman—moves from the fringes of the entertainment world to the center of the action with a biography of show business legend Billy Rose, a songwriter, impresario, nightclub owner, art collector, and producer who for good measure was also a central figure in the American Jewish community of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. Cohen ably describes Rose’s mind-bending shows and productions, like a 1935 production entitled Jumbo that included horses, monkeys, and an elephant and was performed in New York City’s Hippodrome, and a production for the Fort Worth Centennial featuring an outdoor-theater restaurant constructed on an artificial lagoon that boasted the world’s largest revolving stage. Cohen also chronicles Rose’s efforts to aid European Jews caught up in the vortex of WWII and to support the newly created Israeli government by, among other things, helping engineer a cloak-and-dagger arrangement to secure military arms. Although Cohen doesn’t ignore Rose’s penchant for tough dealing, or his celebrity divorces (one from the original Funny Girl, Fanny Brice), he focuses on Rose’s successes and affectionately captures Rose’s outsize personality. Readers will find Rose entertaining company. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/16/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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