Oscar Hammerstein II
Hammerstein c. 1940
Born
Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II

(1895-07-12)July 12, 1895
New York City, U.S.
DiedAugust 23, 1960(1960-08-23) (aged 65)
Alma materColumbia University (BA)
Occupations
Years active1914–1960
Spouses
  • Myra Finn
    (m. 1917; div. 1929)
  • (m. 1929)
Children
Parent
Relatives
Musical career
Genres

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II (/ˈhæmərstn/; July 12, 1895 – August 23, 1960) was an American lyricist, librettist, theatrical producer, and (usually uncredited) director in musical theater for nearly 40 years. He won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Many of his songs are standard repertoire for vocalists and jazz musicians. He co-wrote 850 songs.

He is best known for his collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers, as the duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, whose musicals include Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Described by Stephen Sondheim as an "experimental playwright",[1] Hammerstein helped bring the American musical to new maturity by popularizing musicals that focused on stories and character rather than the lighthearted entertainment that the musical had been known for beforehand.

He also collaborated with Jerome Kern (with whom he wrote Show Boat), Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml, Richard A. Whiting, and Sigmund Romberg.

Early life

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II was born on West 125th Street in New York City,[2] the son of Alice Hammerstein (née Nimmo) and theatrical manager William Hammerstein.[3] His grandfather was the German theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein I. His father was from a Jewish family, and his mother was the daughter of British parents.[4] He attended the Church of the Divine Paternity, now the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York.[5]

Although Hammerstein's father managed the Victoria Theatre and was a producer of vaudeville shows, he was opposed to his son's desire to participate in the arts.[6]

Hammerstein attended Columbia University (1912–1916)[7] and studied at Columbia Law School until 1917.[8] As a student, he maintained high grades and engaged in numerous extracurricular activities. These included playing first base on the baseball team, performing in the Varsity Show and becoming an active member of Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.[9]

After his father's death, in June 1914, when he was 19, he participated in his first play with the Varsity Show, entitled On Your Way. Throughout the rest of his college career, Hammerstein wrote and performed in several Varsity Shows.[8][10] Following his graduation, he sat on the judging committee for the show and continued to contribute to several musicals, including Fly With Me, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.[11]

Early career

After quitting law school to pursue theater, Hammerstein began his first professional collaboration, with Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel.[12] He began as an apprentice and went on to form a 20-year collaboration with Harbach. Out of this collaboration came his first musical, Always You, for which he wrote the book and lyrics. It opened on Broadway in 1920.[13] In 1921 Hammerstein joined The Lambs club.[14]

Throughout the next forty years, Hammerstein teamed up with many other composers, including Jerome Kern, with whom Hammerstein enjoyed a highly successful collaboration. In 1927, Kern and Hammerstein wrote their biggest hit based on Edna Ferber's bestselling eponymous novel, Show Boat, which is often revived, as it is considered one of the masterpieces of American musical theater. "Here we come to a completely new genre—the musical play as distinguished from musical comedy. Now ... the play was the thing, and everything else was subservient to that play. Now ... came complete integration of song, humor and production numbers into a single and inextricable artistic entity."[15] Many years later, Hammerstein's wife Dorothy bristled when she overheard someone remark that Jerome Kern had written "Ol' Man River". "Indeed not", she retorted. "Jerome Kern wrote 'dum, dum, dum-dum'. My husband wrote 'Ol' Man River'."[16]

Other Kern–Hammerstein musicals include Sunny, Sweet Adeline, Music in the Air, Three Sisters, and Very Warm for May. Hammerstein also collaborated with Vincent Youmans (Wildflower), Rudolf Friml (Rose-Marie), and Sigmund Romberg (The Desert Song and The New Moon).[17]

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Main article: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Hammerstein watching an audition at the St. James Theatre on Broadway, 1948

Hammerstein's most successful and sustained collaboration began when he teamed up with Rodgers to write a musical adaptation of the play Green Grow the Lilacs.[18] Rodgers' first partner, Lorenz Hart, originally planned to collaborate with Rodgers on this piece, but his alcoholism had spiraled out of control, rendering him incapacitated.[19] Hart was also not certain that the idea had much merit, and the two therefore separated.[20] The adaptation became the first Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, entitled Oklahoma!, which opened on Broadway in 1943.[19] It furthered the revolution begun by Show Boat, by thoroughly integrating all the aspects of musical theater, with the songs and dances arising out of and further developing the plot and characters.[15]

William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird wrote that this was a "show, that, like Show Boat, became a milestone, such that subsequent historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theater began to identify eras according to their relationship to Oklahoma!"[21] After Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein were the most important contributors to the musical-play form—with such masterworks as Carousel, The King and I and South Pacific. "The examples they set in creating vital plays, often rich with social thought, provided the necessary encouragement for other gifted writers to create musical plays of their own".[15]

The partnership went on to produce not only the aforementioned, but also other Broadway musicals such as Allegro, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music, as well as the musical film State Fair (and its stage adaptation of the same name), and the television musical Cinderella, all featured in the revue A Grand Night for Singing. Hammerstein also wrote the book and lyrics for Carmen Jones, an adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, with an all-black cast that became a 1943 Broadway musical and a 1954 film, starring Dorothy Dandridge.[22]

Advocacy

An active advocate for writers' rights within the theater industry, Hammerstein was a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. In 1956, he was elected as the eleventh president of the nonprofit organization.[23] He continued his presidency at the Guild until 1960; he was succeeded by Alan Jay Lerner.[24]

Personal life

Hammerstein with his first wife, Myra Finn, photographed aboard a ship

Hammerstein married his first wife, Myra Finn, in 1917; the couple divorced in 1929.[10][25] He married his second wife, the Australian-born Dorothy (Blanchard) Jacobson (1899–1987), in 1929.[26] He had three children: William Hammerstein (1918–2001)[27] and Alice Hammerstein Mathias (1922–2015)[28] by his first wife, and James Hammerstein (1931–1999)[29] by his second wife, with whom he also had a stepson, Henry Jacobson, and a stepdaughter, Susan Blanchard.[26] His son William married the screenwriter Jane-Howard Hammerstein.[30]

Hammerstein died of stomach cancer on August 23, 1960, at his home Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, aged 65,[31] nine months after the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway.[32] The final song he wrote was "Edelweiss", which was added near the end of the second act during rehearsal.[33][34] The lights of Times Square were turned off for one minute,[35] and London's West End lights were dimmed in recognition of his contribution to the musical.[36] He was cremated, and his ashes were buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.[37] A memorial plaque was unveiled at Southwark Cathedral, England, on May 24, 1961.[38]

After Hammerstein's death, The Sound of Music was adapted as a 1965 film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.[32][39]

Reputation

Hammerstein was one of the most important "book writers" in Broadway history—he made the story, not the songs or the stars, central to the musical and brought musical theater to full maturity as an art form.[10][40] According to Stephen Sondheim, "What few people understand is that Oscar's big contribution to the theater was as a theoretician, as a Peter Brook, as an innovator. People don't understand how experimental Show Boat and Oklahoma! felt at the time they were done. Oscar is not about the 'lark that is learning to pray'—that's easy to make fun of. He's about Allegro", Hammerstein's most experimental musical.[41]

His reputation for being sentimental is based largely on the movie versions of the musicals, especially The Sound of Music, in which a song sung by those in favor of reaching an accommodation with the Nazis, "No Way to Stop It", was cut. As recent revivals of Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The King and I in London and New York show, Hammerstein was one of the more tough-minded and socially conscious American musical theater artists. According to Richard Kislan, "The shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein were the product of sincerity. In the light of criticism directed against them and their universe of sweetness and light, it is important to understand that they believed sincerely in what they wrote."[42] According to Marc Bauch, "The Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are romantic musical plays. Love is important."[43]

According to The Rodgers and Hammerstein Story by Stanley Green,

For three minutes, on the night of September first, the entire Times Square area in New York City was blacked out in honor of the man who had done so much to light up that particular part of the world. From 8:57 to 9:00 p.m., every neon sign and every light bulb was turned off and all traffic was halted between 42nd Street and 53rd Street, and between eighth Ave and the Avenue of the Americas. A crowd of 5,000 people, many with heads bowed, assembled at the base of the statue of Father Duffy on Times Square where two trumpeters blew taps. It was the most complete blackout on Broadway since World War II, and the greatest tribute of its kind ever paid to one man.[44]

Major works

Main article: Rodgers and Hammerstein § Work

Year Title Ref.
1943 Oklahoma!
1945 Carousel
1945 State Fair
1947 Allegro
1949 South Pacific
1951 The King and I
1953 Me and Juliet
1955 Pipe Dream
1957 Cinderella
1958 Flower Drum Song
1959 The Sound of Music

Songs

According to The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, edited by Amy Asch, Hammerstein contributed the lyrics to 850 songs,[45] including "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and "Make Believe" from Show Boat;[46] "Indian Love Call" from Rose-Marie;[47] "People Will Say We're in Love"[citation needed] and "Oklahoma" (which has been the official state song of Oklahoma since 1953) from Oklahoma!;[48] "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel, "Some Enchanted Evening", from South Pacific; "Getting to Know You"[49] and "Shall We Dance" from The King and I; and the title song as well as "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound of Music.[citation needed]

Several albums of Hammerstein's musicals were named to the "Songs of the Century" list as compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Corporation:[50]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Results Ref.
1938 Academy Awards Best Song "A Mist over the Moon" (from The Lady Objects) Nominated [51]
1941 "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (from Lady Be Good) Won [52]
1945 "It Might as Well Be Spring" (from State Fair) Won [53]
1946 "All Through the Day" (from Centennial Summer) Nominated [54]
1951 "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" (from The Strip) Nominated [55]
1960 Grammy Awards Best Show Album (Original Cast) The Sound of Music Won [56]
1992 Trustees Award Won [57]
1944 Pulitzer Prize Special Citations and Awards Oklahoma! Won [58]
1950 Drama South Pacific Won [59]
1950 Tony Awards Best Musical Won [60]
Best Libretto Won
Producers (Musical) Won
1952 Best Musical The King and I Won [61]
1956 Pipe Dream Nominated [62]
1959 Flower Drum Song Nominated [63]
1960 The Sound of Music Won[a] [64]
1996 Best Original Score State Fair Nominated [65]

Legacy

His advice and work influenced Stephen Sondheim, a friend of the Hammerstein family from childhood. Sondheim has attributed his success in theater, and especially as a lyricist, directly to Hammerstein's influence and guidance.[10]

The Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theater is presented annually. The York Theatre Company of New York City is the administrator of the award.[68] Past awardees are composers such as Stephen Sondheim and performers such as Carol Channing.[69]

Oscar Hammerstein was a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.[70]

Notes

  1. ^ Tied with Fiorello!.

References

  1. ^ Hunter-Tilney, Ludovic (October 15, 2010). "Lunch with the FT: Stephen Sondheim". The Financial Times. Archived from the original on December 10, 2022. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  2. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein is Dead; Librettist and Producer was 65 and". The New York Times. August 23, 1960. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  3. ^ ""MOVIES" FOR "NEWSIES."; Summer Camp for Street Merahants [sic] to be Aided by Films". The New York Times. June 19, 1914.
  4. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 11
  5. ^ Bradley, Kathryn A. (June 25, 2013). The liberal Protestant influence on the musical plays of Oscar Hammerstein II circa 1943–1959 (Thesis). University of St Andrews [Divinity PhD Thesis]. hdl:10023/3552.
  6. ^ Hischak 2007, p. xxix
  7. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II legendary composers". Retrieved October 31, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Hischak 2007, p. 9
  9. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 26
  10. ^ a b c d "The Stars : COMPOSERS, LYRICISTS & WRITERS : Oscar Hammerstein II". Broadway: The American Musical. PBS. Retrieved August 22, 2020. Oscar went to Columbia University in preparation for a career in law. It was at Columbia, however, that Oscar's career in theater actually began when, at age 19, he joined the Columbia University Players as a performer in the 1915 Varsity review "On Your Way". He participated heavily in the Varsity shows for several years, first as a performer and later as a writer. .... In 1929 Oscar divorced his wife of 12 years, Myra Finn, and married Dorothy Blanchard Jacobson.
  11. ^ Vinciguerra, Thomas J. "Sing a Song of Morningside". thevarsityshow.com. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  12. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 47
  13. ^ "Always You Is Amusing", The New York Times, January 6, 1920
  14. ^ "The Lambs ®, established 1874". www.the-lambs.org. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c "American Musical Theatre: An Introduction" Archived February 21, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, theatrehistory.com, republished from Lubbock, Mark (1962). The Complete Book of Light Opera. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. pp. 753–56. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  16. ^ Jones, Dylan, The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music, Picador Press, 2012, p. 99
  17. ^ Biography, Songwriters Hall of Fame Archived December 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine songwritershalloffame.org
  18. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 184
  19. ^ a b Castleden, Rodney (July 1, 2020). Creative Encounters: That Changed the World. Canary Press eBooks. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-908698-43-8.
  20. ^ Carter, Tim (July 31, 2020). Oklahoma!: The Making of an American Musical, Revised and Expanded Edition. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-19-066522-7.
  21. ^ Everett, William A. and Laird, Paul R. (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, p. 124, ISBN 0-521-79639-3
  22. ^ Camara, Jorge (April 20, 2011). "GOLDEN GLOBE WINNERS OF YESTERYEAR – CARMEN JONES". GoldenGlobes.com. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved August 22, 2020. The winner of the Golden Globe for the Best Comedy/Musical Picture of 1954 was Carmen Jones. The film, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was an adaptation of Georges Bizet's famous opera "Carmen," respected the music, but used a script and new English lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical fame.
  23. ^ Hillshafer, Linda (June 1, 2020). "Stories of Standards—All the Things You Are". KUVO. Retrieved August 22, 2020. Hammerstein was a member of the Dramatists' Guild of America and was elected its eleventh president in 1956. He died of stomach cancer in 1960.
  24. ^ McHugh, Dominic (2014). Alan Jay Lerner: A Lyricist's Letters. Oxford University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-19-994928-1. Retrieved August 22, 2020. ... Lerner was elected president of the Dramatists Guild on February 18, replacing Oscar Hammerstein. .... The reason for Hammerstein's need to stand down as president, however, was sad: he was suffering from cancer....
  25. ^ Hamersly, Lewis Randolph; Leonard, John William; Mohr, William Frederick; Knox, Herman Warren; Holmes, Frank R. (1947). Who's who in New York City and State. L.R. Hamersly Company. p. 444. Retrieved August 22, 2020. ... m. Myra Finn, Aug. 22. 1917, N. Y. C. (div. May 13, 1929); (2) May 14, 1929, Dorothy Blanchard in Baltimore: ch.: William, Alice, James. ...
  26. ^ a b Cook, Joan (August 4, 1987). "Dorothy Hammerstein Dies; Designer Was Lyricist's Wife". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  27. ^ Jones, Kenneth (March 11, 2001). "William Hammerstein, Director and Son of Oscar Hammerstein II, Dead at 82". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  28. ^ Asch, Amy (September 19, 2011). "Getting to Know Her: Meet Alice Hammerstein Mathias, Oscar's Daughter". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  29. ^ Jones, Kenneth (January 7, 1999). "Producer-director James Hammerstein, Son of Oscar Hammerstein II, Dead at 67". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  30. ^ "JANE-HOWARD HAMMERSTEIN Obituary (1934 - 2022) - New York, NY - New York Times". Legacy.com. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  31. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II Is Dead", The New York Times, p. 1, August 23, 1960
  32. ^ a b Corliss, Richard (March 2, 2015). "Can Even a Cranky Guy Fall for 'The Sound of Music'?". Time. Retrieved August 22, 2020. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loved the movie big time, festooning it with 10 nominations and five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, at the 1966 ceremony. ..... Though Hammerstein died at 65 in 1960, nine months into The Sound of Music's Broadway run, the movie has proved how lasting that heritage would be. .....
  33. ^ Maslon, Lawrence. The Sound of Music Companion (2007), p. 177, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1-4165-4954-4
  34. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II" Archived April 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine rnh.com, accessed November 2011
  35. ^ "Blackout on Broadway to Honor Hammerstein". The New York Times. September 1, 1960. p. 52.
  36. ^ "London Honors Hammerstein". The New York Times. August 26, 1960. p. 14.
  37. ^ "Rites for Hammerstein". The New York Times. August 25, 1960. p. 29.
  38. ^ "Hammerstein Honored". The New York Times. May 24, 1961. p. 32. Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, widow of the lyricist, unveiled a plaque today to his memory in Southwark Cathedral .... Mr. Hammerstein's will provided £2000 to support two choir-boys at Southwark Cathedral.
  39. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966)". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  40. ^ "Interview: Stephen Sondheim". Academy of Achievement. Archived from the original on December 12, 2010. Retrieved May 8, 2010. People underestimate what [Hammerstein] did in the way of musical theater. He was primarily an experimental writer, and what he was doing was marrying the traditions of opera and American musical comedy, using songs to tell a story that was worth telling. The first real instance of that is Show Boat, which is a watershed show in the history of musical theater, and Oklahoma!, which is innovative in different ways ... Now, because of the success of Oklahoma!, and subsequent shows, most musical theater now tells stories through songs. But that was not true prior to 1943, the year of Oklahoma!
  41. ^ Rich, Frank (March 12, 2000). "Conversations with Sondheim". The New York Times Magazine. pp. 38–ff.
  42. ^ (Kislan 1995, p. 141)
  43. ^ Bauch 2003, p. 155
  44. ^ Green, Stanley (1963). The Rodgers and Hammerstein Story. J. Day Co. p. 12. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  45. ^ Jones, Kenneth (December 1, 2008). "Complete Lyrics" of Hammerstein, in Stores Now, Required Climbing Ev'ry Mountain". Playbill. Archived from the original on December 4, 2008.
  46. ^ Brideson, Cynthia; Brideson, Sara (June 23, 2015). Ziegfeld and His Follies: A Biography of Broadway's Greatest Producer. University Press of Kentucky. p. 457. ISBN 978-0-8131-6090-0.
  47. ^ Tyler, Don (April 2, 2007). Hit Songs, 1900-1955: American Popular Music of the Pre-Rock Era. McFarland. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-7864-2946-2.
  48. ^ Capace, Nancy (January 1, 1999). Encyclopedia of Oklahoma. Somerset Publishers, Inc. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-403-09837-8.
  49. ^ Hammerstein, Oscar II (2008). The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II. Knopf. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-375-41358-2.
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  55. ^ "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
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  57. ^ "Trustees Award". Grammy Awards. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
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  65. ^ "1996 Tony Awards". Tony Awards. Retrieved September 5, 2023.
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  67. ^ "Columbia Names Stein To Theater Post", The New York Times, February 13, 1983
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  69. ^ Gans, Andrew."Rivera, Vereen, Hirsch, Huffman and More to Salute Walton June 6" Playbill, May 31, 2005
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Further reading