So…What’s Your Story?: Interview with Marilyn Michaels

So What's Your Story Marilyn Michaels Tamela d'Amico


(NOTE: Actual “history” is important to me, in this day and age of people finding out info on Tik Tok for their education. I’ve turned all highlighted fuchsia words into clickable links in this article. To appreciate Marilyn’s talent fully, you must watch and listen, to understand her seemingly effortless performances. My wish for her is that someone does a website that houses all of her work in one platform.)

Meet the unstoppable force of entertainment, the one and only Marilyn Michaels! From captivating audiences as a child prodigy to conquering Broadway stages and dominating the airwaves, Marilyn’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary. 

Starting her musical odyssey at the tender age of 7, Marilyn showcased her multilingual talents by singing in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, alongside her mother who was a Cantoress. By 14, she was a soloist in her father’s choir, surrounded by the operatic prowess of her uncle, the renowned Yiddish theater actor, Moishe Oysher.

A true dynamo, coming from a musical family, Marilyn’s artistic ambitions led her to The High School of Music and Art (LaGuardia), where she initially pursued music but pivoted seamlessly to art. As if that wasn’t enough, she began auditioning for Broadway shows and record labels with her original songs.

Her musical journey hit a crescendo when she signed a record deal in high school, recorded singles engineered by the iconic music producer Phil Ramone, and became the voice behind the 60’s hit “Tell Tommy I Miss Him.” Marilyn’s single soared up the charts, solidifying her status as a rising star.

Venturing beyond the studio, Marilyn lit up stages from clubs to the Catskills and Las Vegas showrooms. Her infectious talent caught the eye of many and National television soon became her playground, with appearances on The Hollywood Palace, The Ed Sullivan Show, and headlining at the illustrious Copa Cabana.

Not one to shy away from the spotlight, Marilyn’s star continued to rise. She toured nationally as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, signed with Jerry Weintraub, and graced television screens on shows like The Dean Martin Show and The Red Skelton Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The ’60s and ’70s saw her making waves on numerous variety and talk shows, leaving an indelible mark on The Kopykats (ABC Comedy Hour) which brought her to national prominence as an actress and impressionist to be reckoned with.

In the ’80s, Marilyn’s national exposure soared with the Look Who’s Turning Diet 7 UP campaign alongside Rich Little. The two of them are hands down the most notable and gifted impressionists in Hollywood history. She dazzled in Atlantic City showrooms and even graced the pages of Playboy in a pictorial paying homage to iconic ladies

The ’90s marked Marilyn’s triumphant return to Broadway in Catskills on Broadway, earning her Outer Critic Circle and Drama League Awards. A true Renaissance woman, Marilyn transitioned to television and radio hosting.

Beyond the stage and screen, Marilyn is an accomplished painter, showcasing her talents in New York and Palm Beach’s finest galleries. Her discography demonstrates her incredible vocal range and ability to bring various characters to life.

With a career spanning decades, Marilyn Michaels remains an entertainment legend, leaving an indelible mark on every stage she graces and…every witty social media post she writes. Her hilarious autobiography, How Not To Cook For the Rest of Your Life, available on Amazon.com, is a testament to her humor and resilience, making Marilyn Michaels a name etched in the annals of showbiz history. I only wish there was an Audible version of her book. Her author voice is so vivid that I laughed out loud numerous times; it feels like she’s speaking to you directly.

One more thing…

Very early on in her book, Marilyn states…”At 14, I auditioned for the film of The Diary of Anne Frank, but director George Stevens didn’t feel that I was the kind of girl who could stay quiet in the attic…”

That one hilarious sentence is the exact summation of what little and big I know about Marilyn Michaels. 

TD: Artist? Comedienne? Actress? Singer? Impressionist? Performer? Artist? Entertainer? Now Author? How do you want people to refer to you?

MM: Take your pick because they all apply…I have a lot of interests…I study history, I am really into it.. Art is a big part of my life because I paint, and in writing, I try to infuse the work with snippets of information about art or history…you will see as you read my book…the references are there…I suppose when I am performing they will refer to me as singer comedienne…something like that…but I was once even referred to as Sybil!

TD: What is the elevator pitch of your life story? What’s your story? Who is Marilyn Michaels?

MM: I am still trying to find that out. As a matter of fact.. there are so many facets and characters I do…ethnic and so forth…that I have an idea to do a documentary and call it… “Searching for Marilyn Michaels”…(like the Debra Winger doc years ago) I think it really applies to me…and of course all the characters and their alter egos would be a big part of it, but to put it more simply…Artist-Mother-Daughter.

TD: Growing up, what was your first inkling that you knew you must be a performer? 

MM: Well I come from a family of performers. My Dad sang with the Metropolitan Opera and I was the brat of the Met. I spent so much time there or downtown at the Yiddish theatres where my mom Fraydele Oysher was performing. SO, this was always my life and I was performing as a baby literally. I first walked on stage with my mom at 3 and then one matinee at the age of 7 and after that I began to do concerts. I was a prodigy kid,  but I didn’t know that. IT was normal to do what I did. 

TD: Who was the first person you figured out how to do an impression of vocally? Do you have a system for that or just a really great ear?

MM: I used to do voices around the house. It was a natural thing. I’d listen to Patti Page on the radio, later Connie Francis and I could just recreate the sounds. When I auditioned at the iconic Roxy Theatre at age 14, Rothafel, who was the impresario, asked me if I did impressions. So, I just did some for him…Sarah Vaughan…people like Barbra Streisand or Garland came much later when I was like 20…and yes, it has to do with the ear and the ability to project using various parts of the larynx/nasal /facial musculature. Wow, I never put it so succinctly! 

TD: Who did you look up to in the entertainment business as a child?

MM: First my Mom, who was a great performer, singer and comedienne on the Yiddish stage. She was my first role model and before I went on stage, I would sit in the back of the theatre and watch/study her. Later on, it was Judy Garland and Eydie Gorme. I also studied Morgana King. These were the first people. I was later influenced by Barbra Streisand,  but Lena Horne as well. And of course, I do impressions of all these ladies and more – 32 to be exact in the new CD LET THERE BE NIGHT…it’s really a tour de force.. There is a list of them on the back of the insert because not everyone can name all the ladies. Some who know Jazz artists might not be able to identify a theatre voice like that.

TD: Did you have any mentors? 

MM: My Uncle Moishe Oysher was a very great singer, a Cantor,  and I sang in the choir as soloist with my Dad being the Choir leader. So, yes, he played a huge part in influencing my work.T hen there was Sammy Davis Jr. I was lucky to have worked with him quite a few times and he wrote the liner notes for my first album for Warner Bros. There’s stuff with Sammy and I on YouTube…and I’m happy it is all documented! 

TD: How did you/do you prep as a performer?

MM: There’s a certain amount of rehearsing to get it all right. Fluid. To know well what you are doing and have it be as perfect as possible with your musicians. THEN….when it’s locked in, once you are on stage,  I become more of an improvisational artist…so that each performance, even though there is a blueprint, feels in the moment. But before a show, I am not the friendliest person because I am thinking only of what I have to do. Also, I talk as little as possible…rest as much as possible…with a bad back I am often lying down! I don’t do scales or anything like that. No particular warm up which by the way Barbra also confessed that she didn’t do. Maybe, if I have a cold, I would work a bit at the piano, but not normally.

TD: What is your favorite song to listen to? And what is your favorite song to sing?

MM: There is no one song. There are too many beauties to choose one. I’d say the catalogues of Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, Johnny Mercer, Sondheim, Harold Arlen…for openers…is my favorite material to do…but there are many forays into pop/rock as well. The recent CD, LET THERE BE NIGHT has all these songs on it with regard to what happens. Feelings at night, and here I am typing this in the wee hours of the morning! I am a sporadic sleeper and get very creative at night. “Blues In The Night,” “You And The Night and the Music,” even “The Queen of the Night” (Mozart) redone in a jazz version!

TD: What was that highlight moment in your career when you said to yourself, “Wow I’m really doing it!”?

MM: Oh, any opening night on Broadway or in Funny Girl…LA Dorothy Chandler Pavilion…just unreal…anytime I was standing next to Sammy Davis or Dean Martin, there was a true thrill…much more…the run through of Funny Girl at the Winter Garden Theatre when Jule Styne accompanied me and I sang the score for the company and then the cold run-through on the Winter Garden Stage where Barbra was performing it at the time…BTW my meeting with Streisand is well documented in my book HOW NOT TO COOK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE on Amazon.com or marilynmichaels.com, autographed.

TD: Any showbiz blunders you committed along the way that you want to share?

MM: I think walking off The Tonight Show, because they had run out of time, was probably not the best idea. Also, asking Woody Allen for more money…when he was really about people not getting very much. I often don’t play the game, and when I am unhappy, I split…has happened a few times. For the most part though, I am such a perfectionist, and it is very difficult to be that way.. the stress is tough… I know how it must look and sound and second best doesn’t work for me ever!! 

TD: Have you ever gotten the opportunity to sit with Barbra Streisand and commiserate about the Funny Girl years? If not would you still want to? (NOTE: I asked this question, prior to reading her memoir.)

MM: Well, my meeting with Barbra happened during my Funny Girl rehearsal period and we went to a movie together with some other people, but I don’t want to give away what went down. It’s in the book HOW NOT TO COOK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE which is not about cooking at all!  And, as you know, very super funny…my son Mark co-wrote it with me! So, one didn’t become chummy with Barbra…she is completely Barbra directed and that is not unusual. It’s rare that actresses or singers who share an unnamed competition will become BFFS.

TD: Now that Funny Girl has made its way back to Broadway, is there something about Fanny Brice that you want people to know that maybe they are not already aware of?

MM: Yes…She was truly the funniest woman…just a riot…brilliant! I wish most people who care would try to find some of her stuff on YouTube. It was a very apt part for me because I come from 2nd Ave and the Yiddish theatre and she was in fact a Yiddish dialect comedienne! Anything else is not Fannie Brice, anything else is false…So, whoever plays it should know who she is and how to get into her funny bone and her delivery! 

(TD NOTE: I recently saw the last Broadway production of Funny Girl and I will tell you, Fanny Brice and her history and character were no where on that stage, unfortunately. I can only hope the touring company gets it right. 

TD: Knowing the entertainment background that you came up in, who in this day and age, performer wise, would you say really has IT? Can you do an impression of them?

Hmm..I like Lady Gaga…her versatility is impressive…girl with a phenomenal voice is Morgan James. No, there are not many new actresses or singers I “do”, it’s something I am not dedicated to…my people are more iconic movie people and my characters ethnic and otherwise who will pop up in the documentary I have in my head.

TD: Why did you write your book? Tell me about it.

MM: Oh, it has so much stuff in it…so much fun…anecdotes about show business, but the new one I am working on…this is a piece and Mark is not involved with this one, it’s called.. HOW TO TALK DIRTY TO A WOMAN and OTHER ESSAYS. It”s about sex relationships and, of course, show biz…so, if you like those topics, you will flip over the new book!

TD: Who do you think should star in the biopic of your life?

MM: Oh I can’t even think about that… I don’t see a straight film about my life. I mean, I haven’t had any real scandal. You need some horrible things or addictions or scandals to have an interesting film made of your life…no…mine would be a comedic documentary. I mean, if I had a life that contained turning tricks on the side and inadvertently finding that my customers liked the sound of my voice when I hummed something to them…that might make an interesting biopic!

TD: I absolutely adore you and we have kept in contact for years over social media and we have never physically met. Crazy. When are we going to make that happen?

MM: I would love to attend one of your shows, if I could sit in a super comfortable booth lying down…my back is a mess!

TD: Anything else you want to share with readers?


Also, my son Mark has written his first novella… OLIGOPILOS a Stephen King style thriller. How did this happen? He said… being cooped up with his mother in a pandemic for two years…THIS is what comes out!! ( He is very funny) All will be on Amazon.com or marilynmichaels.com

TD: How can people find you? Links?

MM: marilynmichaels.com or peruse YouTube… there is so much stuff!

VISIT: Marilyn Michaels on FACEBOOK

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