Packed with fascinating information, this is an impressive labor of love that should appeal to all Broadway fans.



What happens when Broadway’s musicals try to go Hollywood?

Mordden (On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide, 2015, etc.) is probably the authority on the American musical and the perfect person to write about the important role of American songwriters and composers who looked west to ply their trade in Hollywood. As the author makes clear, these plans didn’t always work out. Hollywood had its mogul, control-freak producers who didn’t necessarily appreciate musicals, forced too many writers to work on a film, frequently cast the wrong people, and were fond of eliminating way too many songs in order to make a “better” movie. When silent films became talking films, they were able to add music and songs, little by little. The Jazz Singer showed it could be done. Irving Berlin’s great songs in films made audiences happy, but they still remained “Berlin-catalogue films” rather than true musicals. Realizing they needed the quality and prestige of the Broadway songwriters, Hollywood started hiring. The Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, brought consummate artistry to these new films. Top Hat, Shall We Dance, and Porgy and Bess showed what could be achieved, almost—Berlin was rarely involved in “planning or executing a project.” Then came Rodgers and Hart, whose Love Me Tonight is one of the great Hollywood musicals, perhaps the “greatest of all.” Here the songwriters’ art merged beautifully with “cinema’s ability to mash time and space together.” Jerome Kern’s Show Boat has both “epic” story and music. In 1962, Hollywood filmed with “respect” to Broadway by keeping Robert Preston for The Music Man. The pace picks up as Mordden describes a series of good film musicals, from Gypsy to The King and I to The Sound of Music. He’s not, however, much impressed by the many bio-musicals made about these songwriters. De-Lovely, about Cole Porter, is an “excrescence.”

Packed with fascinating information, this is an impressive labor of love that should appeal to all Broadway fans.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-939540-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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