This comprehensive biography of Billy Rose...is a compelling story of a man who had a talent for promoting the theatrical arts ... Highly recommended for readers interested in Jewish American culture and New York show business in the mid-20th century.
Mr. Cohen quotes many people in his quest to peel away the legend of Billy Rose from the many contradictory truths, researching his subject on a vast scale—the endnotes run to 60 pages. But Mr. Cohen has a narrow agenda: He is interested less in the works of Rose than in the man himself. Thus we learn very little about the fascinating Jumbo, his musical in the form of a real-live circus with a wonderful Rodgers and Hart score ... this is no simple Horatio Alger tale of Ambition Rewarded. It is, rather, an ethnic parable, as we learn of Rose’s obsessive involvement in the American anti-Nazi movement and the foundation of Israel ... Mr. Cohen has a fascinating tale at his disposal, and he recounts it with relish. Then, too, he enjoys the advantage of a colorful cast of characters, including a circle of friends that runs from statesmen to gangsters while centering on Manhattan’s talent elite.
Cohen ably describes Rose’s mind-bending shows and productions, like a 1935 production entitled Jumbo that included horses, monkeys, and an elephant and was performed in New York City’s Hippodrome ... Although Cohen doesn’t ignore Rose’s penchant for tough dealing, or his celebrity divorces (one from the original Funny Girl, Fanny Brice), he focuses on Rose’s successes and affectionately captures Rose’s outsize personality. Readers will find Rose entertaining company.