Written by Presented by Leslie Gross, Town Clerk and written by Joan G. Kent, Town Historian Friday, 26 March 2010 00:00
The first Easter Parade, attended by Ellin Mackay, was undoubtedly at his $6 million “Harbor Hill” estate in Roslyn. Little did she know that the most important one would be in a musical comedy written by her husband.
Ellin Mackay was born March 22, 1903. Her mother was the former Katherine Duer, a society leader and successful writer. An aunt, Alice Duer Miller, was to become the author of the popular World War II poem, The White Cliffs of Dover. Ellin was also a granddaughter of John W. Mackay, one of the Nevada pioneers who made fortunes from the Comstock Lode. He parlayed his fortune into diversified business interests that made him a billionaire.
Ellin was a debutante during the 1922-23 season when her father gave her a ball at the Ritz-Carlton. Then she met Irving Berlin, a struggling songwriter.
Irish Catholic Clarence Mackay nearly disowned his daughter Ellin when she married Berlin, an orthodox Jew, in 1926. Ironically, it was Berlin, a shrewd manager of the millions he earned with his music, including Easter Parade, who bailed his father-in-law out financially when Mackay lost his fortune during the Depression.
There was very little rain on the parade of Ellin and Irving. Berlin wrote several songs just for her, including Always and The Song Is Ended.
They had been married for 62 years in 1988 when Ellin, referred to as “a successful novelist” in her New York Times obituary, died at the age of 85. Berlin was 101 when he died the following year.
The film Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, won an Academy Award for Best Musical Score. It also received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best American Musical. It was considered the most successful picture of Astaire’s career and it was the highest-grossing musical of the year.