Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Wine, Women, and Words" by Billy Rose


As a reader and a writer, I'm very much influenced by authors from the golden era of New York Manhattan.  Robert Benchley is my top favorite, but then I like other writers such as James Thurber and Dorothy Parker as well.  It isn't their subject matter, or even their love for Manhattan life, but more to the fact that they had to produce a certain amount of words per month or day, and usually, they have to be funny, or at least amusing.   In 2014, for my blog, I wrote a story a day, and I loved the discipline and the ability to do something like that.   To be honest, I could care less if the story was good, I was just happy I did it.  For the historical record, I do love those pieces.  So, with that in mind, and again, especially Benchley, I use him and others as a role model to study their sentence structures, and how to tell a joke.  The joke part I'm not good at, and only readers and critics can decide if my work is worth merit or not.  Still, I found this fascinating and cheap paperback from the late 1940s by Billy Rose, called "Wine, Women, and Words." 

Rose was a very successful Broadway producer of spectacular shows and musicals.  He was also a songwriter of some note, writing the lyrics to Me and My Shadow," "Great Day" (with Edward Eliscu), "Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight" (with Marty Bloom), "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" (with Mort Dixon) and "It's Only a Paper Moon."  Some observed that he may have been there when these songs were written, and his real talent is selling the song.  Nevertheless, a classic Broadway hustler.   What is not known about him in detail is that he also wrote for a newspaper column, and "Wine, Women, and Words" are a collection of these writings, mostly from the late 1940s.  He was at the time a total success and very wealthy man, so I suspect he didn't need to write for money but did it because he's a very talented prose stylist.  I always believed a true writer has to write, no matter what.  

Not everything he wrote was gold, but sometimes an excellent bronze piece.  He had a genius for capturing a character, which was plenty in Manhattan in those days, and I admire his stance and sense of history about the location (Broadway) and his egotism, which is not off-putting.    Throughout the book, he writes about his wife Eleanor Holm, who seemed to be a character of great wit and interest as well.  Reading about her after reading this book, I was a tad depressed that they had a costly divorce.  Still, I think for a writer who writes a column, and for a showbiz figure, life is lived by the moment.  And usually, they use that moment for their work.  It's a nice payoff. 

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