I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby: Dorothy Fields and Her Life in the American Musical Theater

Applause Bks. Jan. 2021. 212p. ISBN 9781493050949. $24.95. THEATER
Even now, 50 to 90 years after they were written, prolific lyricist and librettist Dorothy Fields’s (1904–74) songs still resonate, among them “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love” (all written in the late 1920s to 1930s), and “Big Spender” (written in the 1960s). In this star-studded biography, Pressley explores how Fields permeated the Broadway scene, starting in the 1920s, and racked up Tony and Academy Awards, despite having written plenty of unsuccessful songs, despite having parents who tried to keep her out of show business, and despite the stock market collapse of 1929. Pressley offers a vivid snapshot of the 20th-century U.S. music scene: the linguistic gymnastics of vaudevillian comedy, supper club revues, the old guard of Broadway giving way to the new generation, and the introduction of song and dance into Hollywood films. Pressley relies on reviews and quotes from contemporaries of Fields’s, including Jimmy McHugh, Cy Coleman, and Rodgers and Hammerstein, in this scrupulously researched exploration of a tough, yet sensitive artist who worked tirelessly, struggled against conventional expectations for women, and enjoyed soaring success.
VERDICT This story of a woman artist realizing her dreams will resonate with readers reinterested in the evolution of American musical theater.
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