AS THOUSANDS CHEER: The Life of Irving Berlin by Laurence Bergreen

AS THOUSANDS CHEER: The Life of Irving Berlin

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the author of the uneven James Agee: A Life (1984): a long, detailed, yet dullish and superficial biography of ""the greatest songwriter in our nation's history."" Bergreen brings little that's new to the oft-told tale of Berlin's rise to international fame: the poor immigrant kid who became a nervy, popular singing waiter, then a hack deviser of parodies, then a rich celebrity--with the super, success of ""Alexander's Ragtime Band."" Familiar, too, is the domestic history: the death, soon after their honeymoon, of Berlin's first wife; his headline-making courtship, a decade later, of an upper-crust heiress with an anti-Semitic father. New interview material does fill out some of Berlin's later career: Hollywood projects in the Thirties and Forties; the B'way-and-world-tour of This Is the Army, his WW II morale booster; his disastrous B'way swan song, Mr. President. But the fresh anecdotes and details (some quite unflattering) are often given undue weight--perhaps because Berlin's family and closest associates (in accord with IB's wishes) declined to give Bergreen any assistance. With iffy evidence, then, Bergreen portrays Berlin as an insecure workaholic, a slave to popular tastes, a trigger-tempered tyrant, a sometime miser (though vastly generous too), and--especially in later years--a reclusive, depressed man without ""the gift of friendship."" (The tone is frequently patronizing: ""Poor driven Irving,"" etc.) On the songs themselves, Bergreen is even shakier: most are barely mentioned; important, lesser-known songs are ignored; and the few stabs at critical analysis are obvious, unconvincing, or (on musical matters especially) muddled. Too shallow for aficionados, too long and flat for casual readers (who might enjoy the thrice-told anecdotes): a competent gathering of materials, delivered without style, wit, or passion.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1990
ISBN: 0306806754
Publisher: Viking