The story of how Mary grew from an angry child, constrained by privilege and a parent’s overwhelming gift, to become not just a theater figure in her own right but also a renowned author of books for young readers (including the classic Freaky Friday) and, in a final grand turn, a doyenne of philanthropy and the chairman of the Juilliard School.
I’ve never read one more entertaining (and more revealing) than Mary Rodgers’s Shy. Her voice careens between intimate, sardonic, confessional, comic. The book is pure pleasure — except when it’s jaw-droppingly shocking ... two of the most vividly (if scarily) rendered parents I’ve ever encountered ... 'Daddy' is the first word in the book, and it provokes the first of Green’s many illuminating footnotes, which enrich the pages of “Shy” like butter on a steak ... Dick and Dorothy are at least implicitly present throughout Shy, and Mary’s takes on them are alternately horrific and hilarious ... But it’s the showbiz world they all lived in that lifts the book into the pantheon of Broadway narratives ... Chronology is imperfect when a life like Mary’s is rendered by a mind like Mary’s; one of the book’s alternative titles, Green tells us, was 'Where Was I?' She jumps back and forth between her many decades, digression dangling from an anecdote, in turn hanging from an aside. Sometimes, you’re left in slightly irritating (if amusing) suspense...Would I have preferred a more straightforward narration? Not a chance, for it could have deadened her invigorating candor.
... delectable ... most compellingly, an account of a woman finding her power and her voice ... Mary puts it all out there ... has been expertly assembled by Jesse Green ... Less pleasing are the myriad annotations. While it’s useful to learn the particulars about, say, D. D. Ryan...Green sometimes comes off as the boorish guy who won’t let you finish telling a story because he’s sure he can tell it faster and funnier ... Never mind. Shy is wonderful, and so is the unassuming Rodgers.
Rodgers was known for her sharp wit, and Green seems to have pulled very few of her verbal punches. The account of her relationship with Sondheim is so wincingly intimate in some details that you have to wonder if Green (or the publisher) thought it would be better to wait until Sondheim was no longer around to read it, a suspicion reinforced by the fact that “Shy” is being published eight years after Rodgers’s death and less than nine months after Sondheim’s ... She gleefully skewers frenemies like playwright Arthur Laurents, and she’s equally forthright (if less nasty) about lifelong friends like producer-director Hal Prince ... Shy lives up to its 'alarmingly outspoken' subtitle but rarely seems mean-spirited, thanks to Rodgers’s sense of humor, clever way with words and refusal to indulge in self-pity. A woman whose good work as a composer was overshadowed by the titanic gifts of her father and best friend could easily feel bitter, but Rodgers calmly insists, 'I’m happy with what I achieved.' And she gives a matter-of-fact account of an average theater artist’s life: a few hits, plenty of flops, workaday stints writing for television and movies ... Rodgers’s delightfully gossipy tell-all is also a frank, thoughtful chronicle of one woman’s journey through experience to understanding — and a lot of fun to read.