Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa...and Me: A Memoir by Tony Cointrau

Ethel Merman Mother Teresa… and Me: A Memoir. Tony Cointreau. Prospecta Press, LLC. February 2013. 312 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9781935212348.

Adversity can produce many forms of dysfunction but also many forms of sensitivity and compassion that become a gift to those who are hungry for same.  It so often arises out of one’s own hunger for connection.  Tony (Jacques) Cointreau’s childhood was far from pretty, with a case of brutal abuse and really tough, nasty relatives who seemed to delight in inflicting discomfort if not actual pain on Tony.  Next to that were his parents who raised Tony on the “Real men don’t cry,” belief and showed zilch affection. Yes, they were the wealthy family famous for building the famous liquor business but that seemed to be the only bright side of this family who alternated living in the United States, Paris and Europe.  What a troupe!

This memoir charts the psychological nightmares, panic attacks, and other illnesses arising from this inhuman childhood, but Tony Cointreau seems to have been made of tougher stuff and the right people were always there to later bring him through each crisis.  This, the mid-1900s and later, was a time when therapy was not deemed a normal, helpful exercise. 

Tony, however, was gifted with surrogate mothers in the form of Lee Lehman, wife of the financier Lehman; Ethel Merman, a singer of momentous talent but also with a heart of gold; and Mother Teresa who truly saw God in every human being (despite what some biographies have said in denial).  This isn’t name dropping; Tony had a deeply meaningful relationship with these women and also had the support and friendship of numerous other famous people like Pierre Cardin and more. You truly get to know the surrogate “mothers” and this is a delightful, poignant aspect of this memoir that makes it very special. Tony’s lover is a relatively silent but dominantly supporting character throughout this account.

For Tony became a renowned singer in the USA and Paris, later took over the family business for a brief period and finally was drawn to Mother Teresa’s work in caring for the dying poor.

Outlining the above is not a spoiler at all; to read this memoir is a rich, inspiring experience, with a little something for everyone within its memorable pages.  Very nicely done!

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