Merrill, Robert (I) Biography

biography of Merrill, Robert (I)

Moishe Miller
4 June 1917, Brooklyn, New York, USA
23 October 2004, New York City, New York, USA (natural causes)
6' 0"
One of the Metropolitan Opera's most enduring and acclaimed baritones, Brooklyn-born Robert Merrill was born Moishe Miller on June 4, 1919 (some sources list 1917), the son of Polish émigrés. His father, Abraham, was a shoe salesman and mother Lillian was an operatic soprano who performed in concert before her marriage. His parents changed their last name to Miller upon their arrival in the United States. His mother was the one who encouraged and guided Robert during his early operatic training after an initially promising career as a semipro pitcher subsided. Overweight and unhappy as a child, he was further hampered by a stuttering problem that only went away when he sang. His first audition for the Metropolitan Opera in 1941 was not successful. He made ends meet by singing for bar mitzvahs and weddings. Robert finally made his operatic debut in 1944 voicing the role of Amonasro in "Aida" in Trenton, New Jersey, then successfully joined the Met the following year, taking his first company bow in December as Germont in "La Traviata." Displaying an amazingly vigorous yet smooth and effortless baritone, other roles in his standard repertoire would include the title role in "Rigoletto," Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," "Tonio in "Pagliacci" and Escamillo in "Carmen." He was deemed one of the finest Verdi baritones of his generation. Unlike most of his peers, Robert extended himself willingly into the radio, film, nightclub and TV arenas. He even performed in Vegas. A featured soloist on radio's RCA Victor Show in 1946, he abandoned the Met for a time to jump at a chance to co-star in a film. This led to a volatile falling out with the Met's general manager, 'Rudolf Bing' (qv). Robert's part in the innocuously-titled Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) with 'Dinah Shore' (qv) and 'Alan Young (I)' (qv) (_"Mister Ed" (1958)_ (qv)), in which he played an on-the-lam crook, was an unmitigated disaster. Realizing his mistake, he returned quickly to the company after several public apologies to Mr. Bing. Robert's first marriage to the Met's reigning soprano, 'Roberta Peters' (qv), lasted but three months. They remained friends, however, and would perform together from time to time. They were both frequent guests on 'Ed Sullivan (I)' (qv)'s variety show, _"Toast of the Town" (1948)_ (qv), during the 1950s and 1960s. Two children were born from his second marriage to pianist Marion Machno. Robert continued to sing at the Met until 1976, performing sporadically after that as a recitalist. He died of natural causes in 2004.
Gary Brumburgh /

-   'Marion Machno' (1954 - 23 October 2004) (his death); 2 children

-   'Roberta Peters' (qv) (1952 - 1952) (divorced)

-   Best known for his full, effortless baritone voice.

-   Had aspirations of being a baseball player; was a huge baseball fan.

-   Opera singer. Debut with New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1945.

-   Co-wrote, with Fred Jarvis, the novel "The Divas" in 1978. The novel, a roman a clef about the romantic comings and goings in a major opera company, sold moderately well.

-   His desire to branch into movie stardom, in the 1951 film _Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952)_ (qv), brought him into direct conflict with the Metropolitan Opera's autocratic General Manager, Sir 'Rudolf Bing' (qv). Making the film would have conflicted with some of Merrill's Met assignments. Bing felt that grand opera and the movies did not mix, having fired Met mainstays 'Lauritz Melchior' (qv) and 'Helen Traubel' (qv) for similar reasons earlier. When Merrill refused to budge in the matter, he was also fired. Eighteen months later, the film having failed at the box office, Merrill was reinstated only after practically begging Bing for another chance. Relations between the two men were cordial, but never really friendly, after that. Merrill retired shortly after celebrating his 30th anniversary with the Met in 1975.

-   He retired from the Met in 1976 but returned to its stage in 1983, when the company marked its centennial.

-   Was a lifelong Yankees fan. Beginning in 1969, he followed a tradition that lasted three decades, singing the season-opener rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Yankee Stadium.

-   Earned admiration for his interpretations of dozens of operatic roles, including Escamillo in "Carmen" and Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," reportedly his favorite opera.

-   Sang with popular stars ranging from 'Frank Sinatra' (qv) to 'Louis Armstrong (I)' (qv). He performed as a soloist with many of the world's great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, and made appearances for several presidents, including 'Franklin D. Roosevelt' (qv), 'Harry S. Truman' (qv), 'Dwight D. Eisenhower' (qv), and 'John F. Kennedy' (qv).

-   A lifetime baseball fan, whose recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before New York Yankees home games for many years, Merrill died while watching the first game of the 2004 World Series on television.

-   His lifelong passion for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades. Ironically, he died peacefully at home while watching the first game of the world series between the St. Louis Cardinals and, the eventual winners, the Boston Red Sox.

-   First inspired to sing as a teenager when he wandered in off the street to the Met and caught a performance of "Il Trovatore."

-   Sang for several presidents, including 'Franklin D. Roosevelt' (qv), 'Harry Truman' (qv), 'Dwight D. Eisenhower' (qv), and 'John F. Kennedy' (qv).

-   First singing role model was 'Bing Crosby' (qv).

-   Remained in the shadows of baritone 'Leonard Warren (I)' (qv) during his early years at the Met. Following Warren's sudden death onstage at the Met in 1960, Merrill became the principal baritone.

-   Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 364-365. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.

-   He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6763 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

-   Upon his death, his remains were interred at Sharon Gardens Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York. His location plot is Temple Israel New Rochelle, Block F, Lot 12A, space 1.

-   He sang in many of legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini's broadcasts of operas in concert on NBC Radio, and all of these performances have been preserved on LP and CD.

-   TV commercial for Gillette (1993)

-   TV commercial for Diet Coke (1997)

-   Vocally, there is no reason why you cannot sing for 30 or 40 years. I'm going to go on as long as I'm enjoying it, as long as I'm having a ball.

-   I keep feeling that I'm just beginning, that I'm just a beginner. I've never taken the Met for granted. At the old house, whenever I walked in, I had that marvelous feeling - what am I doing here, a kid from Brooklyn?

-   "The Washington Post" (USA), 27 October 2004, Vol. 127, Iss. 327, pg. B6, by: Martin Weil, "Robert Merrill [Dies] at 87; Leading Operatic Baritone"

-   "The Washington Post" (USA), 27 October 2004, Vol. 127, Iss. 327, pg. C1+C4, by: Tim Page, "Robert Merrill, The Mensch of the Metropolitan Opera"

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Acting in movies

  1. Anger Management (2003)
  2. Great Moments in Opera (1997) (TV)
  3. Night of 100 Stars III (1990) (TV)
  4. Wolf Trap Presents Victor Borge: An 80th Birthday Celebration (1990) (TV)
  5. The Annual National Board of Review Awards (1987) (TV)
  6. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (1986) (TV)
  7. Toscanini: The Maestro (1985)
  8. "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962) {(1984-08-07)}
  9. The Metropolitan Opera: Centennial Gala (1983) (TV)
  10. Sinatra: The First 40 Years (1980) (TV)
  11. Sinatra and Friends (1977) (TV)
  12. The 19th Annual Grammy Awards (1977) (TV)
  13. "The CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People" (1973) {Danny Kaye's Look-In at the Metropolitan Opera (#2.2)}
  14. Annie and the Hoods (1974) (TV)
  15. "Evening at Pops" (1970) {(1973-08-19)}
  16. "The David Frost Show" (1969) {(#4.159)}
  17. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1972-01-18)}
  18. "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" (1971) {(#2.1)}
  19. Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man (1970) (TV)
  20. "He Said, She Said" (1969) {(1970-08-17)}
  21. "The David Frost Show" (1969) {(#2.118)}
  22. "The David Frost Show" (1969) {(#2.216)}
  23. "The Red Skelton Show" (1951) {There's No Business Like Show Business, But When There's No Business, Show Business Goes Out of Business Just Like Any Other Business (#19.17)}
  24. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1970-11-02)}
  25. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#24.13)}
  26. "The Joan Rivers Show" (1968) {(1969-02-24)}
  27. "The Red Skelton Show" (1951) {The Boston Pops Show (#18.30)}
  28. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#23.14)}
  29. "The Joey Bishop Show" (1967) {(#2.110)}
  30. "The Kraft Music Hall" (1967) {Don Rickles' Brooklyn (#2.2)}
  31. "I've Got a Secret" (1952) {(1967-01-09)}
  32. "The Mike Douglas Show" (1961) {(1967-08-07)}
  33. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#20.30)}
  34. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#20.41)}
  35. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#21.14)}
  36. Clown Alley (1966) (TV)
  37. "The Bell Telephone Hour" (1959) {Music of the Movies (#8.13)}
  38. "The Red Skelton Show" (1951) {Our Man Fink (#15.30)}
  39. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#19.36)}
  40. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#20.13)}
  41. "The Bell Telephone Hour" (1959) {Music in Manhattan (#8.2)}
  42. "The Bell Telephone Hour" (1959) {The Sound of Music (#7.7)}
  43. "The Steve Lawrence Show" (1965) {(1965-11-22)}
  44. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1965-03-18)}
  45. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1965-06-14)}
  46. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1965-12-07)}
  47. "I've Got a Secret" (1952) {(1964-06-08)}
  48. "I've Got a Secret" (1952) {(1964-12-07)}
  49. "The Bell Telephone Hour" (1959) {Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary (#6.14)}
  50. "The Jack Paar Program" (1962) {(#2.32)}
  51. "The Red Skelton Show" (1951) {A Man's Dump Is His Castle (#14.3)}
  52. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1964-08-12)}
  53. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(1964-11-17)}
  54. Opening Night at Lincoln Center (1962) (TV)
  55. President Kennedy's Birthday Salute (1962) (TV)
  56. "The Bell Telephone Hour" (1959) {(#5.1)}
  57. "The Jack Paar Program" (1962) {(#1.12)}
  58. "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962) {(#1.12)}
  59. "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962) {(#1.18)}
  60. "The Merv Griffin Show" (1962) {(#1.37)}
  61. "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1962) {(#1.5)}
  62. "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" (1957) {(1962-03-29)}
  63. "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" (1957) {(1961-03-16)}
  64. "Tonight Starring Jack Paar" (1957) {(1961-04-20)}
  65. America Pauses for Springtime (1959) (TV)
  66. "The Voice of Firestone" (1949) {Highlights from Bizet's Carmen (#10.34)}
  67. "The Voice of Firestone" (1949) {Salute to Jerome Kern's 74th Birthday (#10.26)}
  68. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#12.39)}
  69. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#11.39)}
  70. "The Patrice Munsel Show" (1956) {(#1.6)}
  71. "The Voice of Firestone" (1949) {(#7.41)}
  72. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#7.12)}
  73. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#8.32)}
  74. "The George Jessel Show" (1953) {(#1.29)}
  75. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#8.7)}
  76. Easter Parade of Stars Auto Show (1953) (TV)
  77. "The Jackie Gleason Show" (1952) {Alice Plays Cupid (#1.17)}
  78. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#7.9)}
  79. Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952)
  80. Carmen (1952) (TV)
  81. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#4.19)}
  82. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#5.7)}
  83. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#5.39)}
  84. In Town Today (1951) (TV)
  85. The 23th Annual Academy Awards (1951) (TV) {{SUSPENDED}}
  86. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#4.42)}
  87. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#4.45)}
  88. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#5.1)}
  89. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#5.13)}
  90. "Toast of the Town" (1948) {(#5.2)}
  91. "Your Show of Shows" (1950)
  92. Don Carlo (1950) (TV)
  93. "Cavalcade of Stars" (1949) {(#1.35)}
  94. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#2.37)}
  95. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#3.14)}
  96. "Your Show of Shows" (1950) {(#1.1)}
  97. "Your Show of Shows" (1950) {(#2.3)}
  98. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#1.49)}
  99. "The Milton Berle Show" (1948) {(#2.12)}
  100. Senorita from the West (1945)