In the East River, close to Mary Ellin’s penthouse house, her father had as soon as, at 8 years previous, practically drowned; when rescued, he was discovered nonetheless clutching the pennies he had earned that day promoting newspapers.
He typically appeared a “shaky, uncertain man,” Ms. Barrett wrote — drumming his fingers, molding the within of dinner rolls into compact balls, smoking too many cigarettes, chewing an excessive amount of gum, leaping when the phone rang, fiddling together with his piano.
Yet out got here hit after hit after hit; between his 20s and his 60s, he wrote about 1,500 songs.
Ms. Barrett got here to see her father’s drive because the product of nervousness and toughness that lingered from a ghetto childhood. He was “the street fighter,” she wrote, “not noisy and brawling but quiet, dogged,” by no means shaking the sense that he acted “with his back against the wall, writing, composing, negotiating his way out of a corner.”
Mary Ellin Berlin, who was born on Nov. 25, 1926, in Manhattan, grew up in a special universe. Her girlhood recollections included dinner events with the Astaires, the Goldwyns, the Capras and Somerset Maugham, who as soon as lay on the ground, balanced a glass of water on his brow and stood up with out spilling a drop.
Though she generally needed to chase her father for consideration and felt alienated by the celebrity of her mother and father — her mom, Ellin Mackay, was an heiress and a well-liked novelist — Mary Ellin felt much less resentment than enchantment along with her success. When she relentlessly invited individuals to the household’s theater home seats for her father’s 1946 Broadway megahit, “Annie Get Your Gun,” one aggravated buddy advised her to knock it off.