Billy Rose, unsentimental showman of the people

Brandeis University News

“Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose, America’s Great Jewish Impresario” by Mark Cohen. Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2018. 233 pages, $29.95.If anything, Billy Rose was versatile.
Among his many talents was songwriting. As a composer, Rose penned a few hits, including “Tonight You Belong to Me,” “Me and My Shadow,” and “More Than You Know.”
But Rose was not like typical songwriters who were often emotional, sentimental and impulsive. Instead, he was methodical and a hard worker, writes biographer Mark Cohen in “Not Bad for Delancey Street: The Rise of Billy Rose, America’s Great Jewish Impresario.”
He also was a syndicated columnist. His column, “Pitching Horseshoes,” appeared in newspapers around the country.
And he was New York’s nightclub and theatrical restaurant king, who owned the Fifth Avenue Club, Casino de Paree, Billy Rose’s Music Hall and the Diamond Horseshoe, among others.
He was a producer, staging many plays, notably “Carmen Jones,” and spectacles — including Aquacade — a swimming exhibition at the 1939 World’s Fair.
But the three facets of Rose that warrant a biography are his Horatio Alger climb from poverty to riches; his understanding of what appealed to people, making him the greatest showman of his age; and his philanthropy and fundraising that led to the establishment of the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem.
He grew up extremely poor. His mother, Fannie Wernick, was a dynamo; his father, David Rosenberg, writes Cohen, “contributed the humiliations of poverty and the example of failure that outfitted Rose with what American billionaire Larry Ellison called ‘all the disadvantages for success.’ ”
By the time he died in 1966, Rose was a millionaire many times over.
That steep climb came at a price. Rose was considered sleazy, even a bit crooked, the author writes.
“The widow of a Rose employee said, ‘Likable, shmikable, he was a very gifted …

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