Joel Grey, the Tony and Academy Award-winning Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret finally tells his remarkable life story. Born Joel David Katz to a wild and wooly Jewish American family in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932, Joel began his life in the theater at the age of 9, starting in children’s theater and then moving to the main stage. He was hooked, and his seven decades long career charts the evolution of American entertainment - from Vaudeville performances with his father, Mickey Katz to the seedy gangster filled nightclubs of the forties, the bright lights of Broadway and dizzying glamour of Hollywood, to juggernaut musicals like Cabaret, Chicago, and Wicked.
Master of Ceremonies is a memoir of a life lived in and out of the limelight, but it is also the story of the man behind the stage makeup. Coming of age in a time when being yourself tended to be not only difficult but also dangerous, Joel has to act both on and off the stage. He spends his high school years sleeping with the girls-next-door while carrying on a scandalous affair with an older man. Romances with to-die-for Vegas Showgirls are balanced with late night liaisons with like-minded guys, until finally Joel falls in love and marries a talented and beautiful woman, starts a family, and has a pretty much picture perfect life. But 24 years later when the marriage dissolves, Joel has to once again find his place in a world that has radically changed.
Drawing back the curtain on a career filled with show-stopping numbers, larger-than-life stars and even singing in the shower with Bjork, Master of Ceremonies is also a portrait of an artist coming to terms with his evolving identity. When an actor plays a character, he has to find out what makes them who they are; their needs, dreams, and fears. It’s a difficult thing to do, but sometimes the hardest role in an actor’s life is that of himself. Deftly capturing the joy of performing as well as the pain and secrets of an era we have only just started to leave behind, Joel’s story is one of love, loss, hard-won honesty, redemption, and success.
Joel Grey's iconic Cabaret Emcee leers throughout his chronicle of a life hiding his homosexuality. He "had worked for years to rise above the cheap tricks of the vaudevillian the fag impersonations of a sleazy nightclub comedian," but found his greatest triumphs there (Tony, Oscar, and Golden Globe wins). Early success, touring with his father's Borscht Capades) was through his Jewishness, which was also something better hidden in the shadow of the Holocaust. Eventually he had a nose job to counter anti-Semitism. There are heterosexual interludes including a 24-year-marriage to the "love of his life," Jo Wilder. His first homosexual experience is at 10, and his entire memoir filters his life and career through the ambivalence about his sexual identity. After a threesome with a cantor and the cantor's wife, Grey begins a "lifelong relationship with therapy." The reader is pulled along, knowing that this 5'5" song-and-dance entertainer, with over seven decades on stage, in film, and on TV, will forever be prized by anyone who has seen him perform (most notably in Cabaret, Chicago, George M). Emotion kicks in when his first child dies, when his wife leaves, when he loses his friend Larry Kert to AIDS, and when he realizes that his mother will never accept him for who he is. The reader cheers when Grey finds playing in The Normal Heart, the AIDS cri de coeur, transformative.