“Jerome Robbins, by Himself: Selections from His Letters, Journals, Drawings, Photographs, and an Unfinished Memoir” by Jerome Robbins and edited by Amanda Vaill— In His Own Words

Robbins, Jerome, “Jerome Robbins, by Himself: Selections from His Letters, Journals, Drawings, Photographs, and an Unfinished Memoir’, edited by Amanda Vaill, Knopf, 2019.

In His Own Words

Amos Lassen

Jerome Robbins, master choreographer, creator of memorable ballets, titan of Broadway musicals, l show doctor and director, now shares himself, in his own words, through letters, journals, notes, diaries, never before published. While not exactly an autobiography, this is probably the closest we will get to one.  Amanda Vaill edited, and has provided a commentary. She is the  author of Robbins’s biography, “Somewhere” (2006).

Robbins has so much to his credit— he reinvented the Broadway musical, created a unique American ballet, gave new boundaries to dance by integrating dance it with character, story and music. As Associate Artistic Director, Ballet Master, and Co-Artistic Director, with George Balanchine, he changed the New York City Ballet “with daring and brio for more than fifty years. His  choreography challenged ballet’s classical idiom and was known as the king of Broadway, the most sought-after director-choreographer and show doctor. He gave shape to On the Town (1944), Call Me Madam (1950), The King and I (1951), Wonderful Town (1953), Peter Pan (1954), The Pajama Game (1954), Silk Stockings (1955), West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Funny Girl (1964), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), and many other classic musicals, Robbins won four Tony Awards, two Oscars, and an Emmy. He shocked and betrayed those he loved and worked with when he gave names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. (“I betrayed my manhood, my Jewishness, my parents, my sister,” he wrote in a diary. “I can’t undo it.”) 

Now, Amanda Vaill, uses the vast and closely held Robbins archives to put together a selection of his writings that provide us with us a sense of his extraordinary range as a man, a thinker and an artist. We get surprising and revealing glimpses into his mind and his heart of this towering cultural giant. 

We have correspondence with George Balanchine, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Robert Graves, Lincoln Kirstein, Arthur Laurents, Tanaquil Le Clercq (the fourth of Balanchine’s four wives, with whom Robbins was also in love), Laurence Olivier, Stephen Sondheim and many, many others.

It is said that Amanda Vaill knows more about Robbins than any other living person. She is a wonderful writer and a great organizer and explicator of Robbins’ letters, journal entries, and unfinished memoir by Robbins. We find many answers to questions about Robbins.

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