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Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II ( ; July 12, 1895 – August 23, 1960) was an American writer, theatrical producer, and (usually uncredited) theatre director of musicals for almost forty years. Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards and was twice awarded an Academy Award for "Best Original Song", and much of his work is part of the unofficial Great American Songbook. He wrote 850 songs. Hammerstein was the lyricist and playwright in his partnerships; his collaborators wrote the music. Hammerstein collaborated with composers, including Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg, but his most famous collaboration was with Richard Rodgers.

Hammerstein's name is often mispronounced . Hammerstein himself, however, pronounced it .

Biography

Hammerstein was born Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein to William Hammerstein and Alice Nimmo in New York Citymarker. His grandfather was German-born Jewish theater impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, and his mother was the daughter of Scottish and English parents. Hammerstein was raised in the Episcopalian religion.

Although Hammerstein's father managed the Victoria Theatre for his grandfather and was an producer of vaudeville shows (he is generally credited with inventing the "pie-in-the-face" routine), he was opposed to his son's desire to participate in the arts. Hammerstein attended Columbia University from 1912-1916 and studied at Columbia Law School until 1917. It was not until his father's death on June 10, 1914 that 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.

Early career

After quitting law school to pursue theater, Hammerstein began his first professional collaboration, with Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel. 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 Broadwaymarker in 1921.

Throughout the next forty years, Hammerstein teamed with many other composers, including Jerome Kern, with whom Hammerstein enjoyed a highly successful collaboration. In 1927, Kern and Hammerstein had their biggest hit, Show Boat, which is often revived and is still considered one of the masterpieces of the American musical theatre. "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."

Other Kern-Hammerstein musicals include 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).

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Hammerstein's most successful and sustained collaboration began when he teamed up with Richard Rodgers to write a musical adaptation of the play Green Grow the Lilacs. Rodgers' first partner, Lorenz Hart, was originally going to collaborate with Rodgers on this piece, but his alcoholism had become out of control, and he was unable to write. Hart was also not certain that the idea had much merit, and the two therefore went separate ways. The adaptation became the first Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, entitled Oklahoma!, which opened on Broadway in 1943. It furthered the revolution begun by Show Boat, by thoroughly integrating all the aspects of musical theatre, with the songs and dances arising out of and further developing the plot and characters. William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird wrote that this was a "show, that, like "Show Boat", became a milestone, so that later historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theatre would begin to identify eras according to their relationship to "Oklahoma." "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".

The partnership went on to produce such Broadway musicals as Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me & 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 wrote the book and lyrics for Carmen Jones, an adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen with an all-black cast.

Death

Hammerstein died of stomach cancer in his home in Doylestown, Pennsylvaniamarker at 65, shortly after the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway. The final song he wrote was "Edelweiss", which was added during rehearsals near the end of the second act. Many think it is an Austrian folk song, even though it had been written specifically for the show. After his death, The Sound of Music was made into the hit 1965 film adaptation, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The lights of Times Square were turned off for one minute, and London's West Endmarker lights were dimmed in recognition of his contribution to the musical. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried at the Ferncliff Cemeterymarker in Hartsdale, New Yorkmarker. A memorial plaque was unveiled at Southwark Cathedralmarker, England, on May 24, 1961. He was survived by his second wife Dorothy (Blanchard) Jacobson and his three children, William Hammerstein and Alice Hammerstein Mathias by first wife Myra Finn, and James Hammerstein by Blanchard.

Reputation

He was probably the best "book writer" in Broadway history - he made the story, not the songs or the stars, central to the musical and brought it to full maturity as an art form. 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."

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 favour 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." According to Marc Bauch, "The Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are romantic musical plays. Love is important."Hammerstein believed in love; he did not believe that it would always end happily.

Songs

Hammerstein contributed the lyrics to 850 songs, according to The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, edited by Amy Asch. Some well-known songs are "Ol' Man River" from Show Boat, "Indian Love Call" from Rose Marie, "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Oklahoma" (which has been the official State song of Oklahoma since 1953) from Oklahoma!, "Some Enchanted Evening", from South Pacifiic, "Getting to Know You" from The King and I, and the title song, "The Sound of Music" as well as "Climb Every Mountain".

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 Corporationmarker:
  • The Sound of Music — # 36
  • Oklahoma! — # 66
  • South Pacific — # 224
  • The King and I — # 249
  • Show Boat — # 312


Awards and legacy

Hammerstein won two Oscars for best original song—in 1941 for "The Last Time I Saw Paris" in the film Lady Be Good, and in 1945 for "It Might as Well Be Spring" in State Fair. He is the only person named Oscar ever to win an Oscar. In 1950, the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."

Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards, six for lyrics or book, and two as producer of the Best Musical (South Pacific and The Sound of Music). Rodgers and Hammerstein began writing together before the era of the Tonys: Oklahoma! opened in 1943 and Carousel in 1945, and the Tony Awards were not awarded until 1947. Rodgers and Hammerstein received a special Pulitzer Prize award for Oklahoma! in 1944. The Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater Studies at Columbia University was established in 1981 with a $1 million gift from his family.

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

The Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre is presented annually. The York Theatre Company in New York is the Administrator of the award. The 2008 awardee is George S. Irving; past honors have gone to composers such as Stephen Sondheim and performers such as Carol Channing.

Notes

  1. Fordin, p. 11
  2. Hischak, p. xxix
  3. Hischak, p. 9
  4. Fordin, p. 47
  5. "American Musical Theatre: An Introduction", theatrehistory.com, republished from The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 753-56, accessed December 3, 2008
  6. Biography, Songwriters Hall of Famesongwritershalloffame.org
  7. Fordin, p. 184
  8. Everett, William A. and Laird, Paul R. (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, p. 124, ISBN 0521796393
  9. "Oscar Hammerstein II Is Dead", The New York Times, p. 1, August 23, 1960
  10. Maslon, Lawrence. The Sound of Music Companion (2007), p. 177, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1416549544
  11. "Blackout on Broadway to Honor Hammerstein", The New York Times, p. 52, September 1, 1960
  12. "London Honors Hammerstein", The New York Times, p. 14, August 26, 1960
  13. "Rites for Hammerstein", The New York Times, p. 29, August 25, 1960.
  14. "Hammerstein Honored", The New York Times, p. 32, May 24, 1961: "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."
  15. Rich, Frank. "Conversations with Sondheim", The New York Times Magazine, pp. 38ff, March 12, 2000
  16. Kislan, p. 141
  17. Bauch, p. 155
  18. Jones, Kenneth. "Complete Lyrics" of Hammerstein, in Stores Now, Required Climbing Ev'ry Mountain", playbill.com, December 1, 2008
  19. Special Awards and Citations, Pulitzer Prize pulitzer.org, accessed December 1, 2008
  20. "Columbia Names Stein To Theater Post", The New York Times, February 13, 1983
  21. Hammerstein biography on PBS, pbs.org, accessed November 29, 2008
  22. York Theatre history yorktheatre.org, accessed December 8, 2008
  23. Gans, Andrew. "Tony Winner Irving Receives Oscar Hammerstein Award Dec. 8", playbill.com, December 8, 2008


References

  • Bauch, Marc (2003), The American Musical, Tectum Verlag DE, ISBN 382888458X
  • Fordin, Hugh (1995), Getting to Know Him:A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0306806681
  • Hischak, Thomas s. (2007), The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313341400
  • Kislan, Richard (1995), "The Musical: A Look at the American Musical Theater", Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 155783217X


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