Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!

Written by Darryl W. Bullock
Review by Jo Haraf

In a slim volume including fifteen black and white photographs, an historical timeline, and a discography, Darryl Bullock describes the indescribable: Florence Foster Jenkins, a woman born for exclamation points! An accomplished pianist, a fundraiser for military charities, and a generous patron of the arts, Florence might have been just another early 20th-century New York heiress if not for her ear-splitting vocals, over-the-top feathered costumes, and unquenchable need to perform at Carnegie Hall—a feat she finally achieved in her 76th year.

With the same affection shown by Florence’s manager-lover and her legions of adoring fans, Bullock writes of a “discordant diva” whose trills could not be distinguished from the “screeching of a faulty radiator.” Yet, socialites, servicemen, and celebrities including Cole Porter, Enrico Caruso, Al Hirschfeld, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Tallulah Bankhead attended Florence’s concerts. Bullock’s biography is a tuneful accompaniment to the eponymously named movie in which Meryl Streep—another American original—embodies the beloved Madame Florence on the appropriately larger-than-life-sized screen.