Some stars it's maybe better not to see out of costume. Any followers unfamiliar with the well-known highlights of Merm's 50-year career--like when George Gershwin told the 20-year-old saloon chirper never to take a lesson--will of course be pleased to get the show-by-show lowdown from Girl Crazy to Anything Goes to Annie Get Your Gun to Gypsy (Merman can act!). And one can't help but be disarmed to learn that Ethel Agnes Zimmermann's best friend is still ""Josie Traeger, who worked as a secretary with me at the B-K Vacuum Booster Brake Company in Long Island City"" or that she regularly spends afternoons shmoozing with the help at Lamston's or working at the Roosevelt Hospital gift shop (""If I hadn't been a singer or a secretary, I think l'd have loved being a saleslady""). But Merman's unabashed, honest, and crass lowbrow-ness (""The only things I read are gossip columns"") wears thin at book length, and theater buffs will be disappointed to find neither a sense of showbiz savvy beyond her own performances nor even a sense of what makes that brassy delivery more than just loud. And the flat, chatty tone throughout can't really dramatize or deepen Merman's candid but self-protective comments on her beloved parents, her four marriages (three losers and one wonderful--but difficult--guy), and the death of her daughter. This is, in fact, the old-fashioned sort of Broadway autobio that more textured items have made almost, but not quite, obsolete: enough names (buddies I. Edgar Hoover & Clyde Tolson, the Duke & Duchess, Cole Porter), song titles, anecdotes, and confidences to give the fans just the hard-edged silhouette of a star on stage and at home.