At the time that Mary Ellin Barrett’s parents met, her father Irving Berlin was the world’s most popular, famous, and financially successful songwriter. He had started as a penniless Russian Jewish immigrant, an uneducated child who had scrounged for a living by singing to the drunken wastrels of New York’s sleazy bowery. A dozen years after the death of his first wife (who passed away just months after their marriage), Berlin met the much younger Ellin Mackay, daughter of Clarence Mackay, a fabulously wealthy businessman. Ellin was Catholic, well educated, socially prominent, and an heiress, but she nonetheless fell in love with Irving Berlin. Her father was appalled, and threatened to cut her out of his life and fortune if she married Berlin. For the 1920s newspapers, the romance was a sensation and made headlines around the US and in Europe. This is the starting point for Mary Ellin’s touching and charming portrait of her father and the family that supported and sustained him.
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