Shelf Life

The Soprano: Marguerite Piazza has been such a fixture in Memphis — on stage, in her charity work, on the social scene — it's easy to forget she was once a national star of stage and screen (the TV screen). Or perhaps it isn't a matter of forgetting. It's a matter of not knowing Pagliacci Has Nothing on Me! (Lulu), Piazza's autobiography, co-written with the help of her daughter Marguerite Bonnett. In it, you'll learn of Piazza's journey from girlhood in New Orleans to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and the cast of Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. You'll watch as she plays the country's finer supper clubs beginning in the mid-1950s and traveling constantly for the next 15 years. And of who's who, Piazza knew her fair share: Judy Garland, Gypsy Rose Lee, Kitty Carlisle, Richard Nixon, Jack Paar, Ed Sullivan, a Kennedy or two, and Danny Thomas. You'll also note that when she wasn't working, she was at home in Memphis with a houseful of children. Piazza isn't shy about describing some rocky times, but the good times outweigh the bad. Faith sustained her. Talent and hard work got her through. And she's not finished, despite the fact that Piazza was born, she says in characteristic high humor, "a thousand years ago."

Praying on the Right Side of the Brain: Faith informs another new book by a Memphian: Sybil MacBeth, a math professor by trade but an author by design in Praying in Color (Paraclete Press). The wife of Rev. Andrew MacBeth, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, MacBeth was faced not by her own medical crises but by those of several close friends, and where traditional, worded prayer failed her one day, doodling with those loved ones in mind didn't. That doodling drew her on a "new path to God," and today MacBeth is spreading the good news. She's also earning some notice. "What Sybil's doing is . . . so far as I know — the first innovative, post-modern, truly American approach to personal prayer," says Phyllis Tickle, another Memphian and a nationally recognized writer on contemporary religious practices. But don't you worry if you can't draw worth a damn. MacBeth admits that she can't either. A piece of skilled artwork, she emphasizes, isn't the point. God is. 

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