Ethel Agnes Zimmermann was born in Astoria on Jan. 16, 1908, the only child of German immigrants Edward and Agnes Zimmermann. Ethel’s father was a bookkeeper, who lived to age 98.
Her mother was a schoolteacher, and she lived to be 91.
Their daughter graduated from W.C. Bryant High School, class of 1924, and was going to be a secretary. Census records show she lived with her family in an apartment building at 29-08 31 Ave. in Astoria. Blessed with a powerful belting mezzo-soprano voice and perfect enunciation, she started performing gigs in nightclubs. She changed her name from Zimmermann to Merman to better fit it on a marquee sign. She was on her way, crossing between Broadway and motion pictures with ease. With her singing and personality she became larger than life. She made history when she married her fourth husband, Academy Award-winner Ernest Borgnine, in 1964 and separated from him only days later, making it one of Hollywood’s shortest marriages.
Merman performed up until the end of her life — always in demand and always giving a strong performance. She passed away at age 76 on Feb. 15, 1984.
Her childhood apartment building appears to be in fine condition for a structure that is almost 100 years old today.