Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa... and Me
My Improbable Journey from Cháteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta
By Tony Cointreau
Ethel Merman and Mother Teresa had a lot in common. At first glance, that might seem highly unlikely, but in my years with them both, I discovered that though the differences were huge, surprisingly, there were also great similarities.
Often I would be in a restaurant with Ethel Merman, "the Queen of Broadway," who was known for her loud voice and brassy persona onstage, and after dinner I would ask her, “Would you please, very quietly, so no one else can hear, sing your favorite song for me?”
And—always—she would then begin to sing, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name...”
Not many people knew about it, but Ethel also served as a volunteer at Roosevelt Hospital for many years, beginning when her mother was hospitalized after a devastating stroke, and continuing until Ethel herself was too ill to work any more. She was wonderful with sick people. She would sit at their bedsides and hold their hands and comfort them, something you might have expected from Mother Teresa.
One morning as I sat next to Mother Teresa, who was considered a living saint, on her balcony in Calcutta, she was particularly tired after a long meeting with some of her Sisters. I leaned close to hear her weakening voice over the sounds of traffic from the main road below, expecting to hear words of wisdom.
“How much does your hotel cost?” she whispered. When I told her, she said, “I don’t mean per week, I mean per day.”
“That is per day, Mother,” I said. “I did not take a vow of poverty.”
“No,” she laughed, “you took a vow of luxury.”
I knew her sense of humor well, and was not surprised at her laughter—something you might have expected from Ethel Merman.
Ethel Merman and Mother Teresa, along with a remarkable woman named Lee Lehman (the wife of Robert Lehman, the chairman of Lehman Brothers), were like mothers to me, and the three of them helped to heal the parts of me that had been damaged as a child. Their humor, their support, and their compassion finally gave me the unconditional love I had been seeking my whole life.
Published by Prospecta Press
February 15, 2014
Ebook : ISBN 978-193521233-1 $12.99
Hardcover w/dust jacket: ISBN 978-193521234-8 $24.95
312 pages - 24 page insert with photos - 6" x 9"