Meredith Willson – Want To Go Deeper?

People often ask me how they can access more resources surrounding the amazing musical career of Meredith Willson. Sadly, many of Meredith’s autobiographical books are no longer in print, but if you do a bit of searching, you can usually find a nice used copy at fairly reasonable prices. Let’s start with these titles…

(BM-001) – 1948 – The Country Life PressThis is Meredith’s first autobiographical book, written in 1948. Here, Meredith tells fun stories from his growing-up years in Mason City, taking us all the way through to his years with NBC Radio. As the sub-title states – “a blend of nostalgic reminiscences, hilarious anecdote, and sound musical comment.” Read more here.
(BM-004) – 1955 – Henry Holt & Co. – Meredith’s second autobiography – Eggs was released in 1955 and it’s a hilarious romp through Willson’s career – recounting the many goof-ups, mistakes, and other assorted boners Meredith has made over the years. A true study in self depreciation, this book is released during the dark years (1952-1957) – between the end of his brilliant music career in radio and before the release of The Music Man on Broadway. The last chapter hints at a new musical production he and Rini are working on together and his hopes that it won’t be yet another bad egg! Read more here.
(BM-006) – 1959 – G.P. Putnam – This one is a must read for those who want to know the “behind-the-scenes” story of how Meredith went from his successful radio career – which ended in 1952 – to writing The Music Man – which premiered at The Majestic Theatre on Broadway on December 19, 1957. Every chapter is a gem as Meredith gives the details on how very difficult it was to piece together his Mason City childhood stories – many times through trial and error – into what eventually became his masterpiece – The Music Man. Read more here.
(M-0070) This Long-Play (LP) record is very hard to find – but if you do – buy it! It features Meredith Willson at the piano, informally commenting on the show, telling its story, and singing the songs with his wife Rini. The recording effectively recreates the backer’s audition Meredith and Rini presented to producer Kermit Bloomgarden which secured the production a home on Broadway. Following the release of the album in 1959, Meredith and Rini embarked on a 20-city tour of the United States, recreating the story of ‘The Music Man’ in talk and song. The album release also coincided with the publication of Meredith Willson’s third autobiography But He Doesn’t Know The Territory.

Read more about this amazing LP record – released in 1959 – and listen to it here!

Meredith Willson, of course, had other books published. In 1952, Meredith tried his hand at writing a mystery novel – Who Did What To Fedalia? Not bad, but I’m glad Meredith stuck with writing music. And, of course, there were the two books published that basically were the Broadway scripts for The Music Man (1958) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960).
(BM-011) (BM-012) – 2009 – The University of Minnesota Press Since the original copies of Meredith Willson classics can be hard to find, The U of M Press published these two paperbacks to help us out! Hooray for reprints!

So, now, let me offer you these other fine biographical resources written by others…

(BM-009) – 2003 – Savas Publishing – Sadly, John Skipper – long-time journalist from Mason City – died in 2022, and of all of the biographical resources out there, I believe John’s book contains the best of the best. Not the easiest book to find, but well worth the effort.
(BM-010) – 2005 – Author House – Bill Oates does a fine job of giving the big overview of Meredith’s career. A highly recommended resource for getting all the facts and figures.
(BM-015) – 2021 – Oxford Press – With the resurgence of The Music Man on Broadway, Dominic McHugh offers a fine overview of Meredith’s career on Broadway – from The Music Man to Unsinkable Molly Brown to Here’s Love to 1491.
(BH-153) – 2022 – Rowman & LittlefieldA fun read that does a good job filling in some of the gaps missing from other biographical resources. A must have for Meredith Willson groupies!

Check out all of our Meredith Willson webpages here on Our Iowa Heritage website.

Well, I hope this little shopping list helps you. With a bit of hunting on-line, you can stir up most of these resources and it will be well worth your efforts. May the Good Lord Bless & Keep You.

DYK-March 1, 2023

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