Authors: Oscar Hammerstein II

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American librettist and lyricist

Author Works

Drama:

Always You, pr. 1919 (libretto and lyrics; music by Herbert Stothart)

Tickle Me, pr. 1920 (libretto with Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel; lyrics with Harbach; music by Stothart)

Jimmie, pr. 1920 (libretto with Harbach and Mandel; lyrics with Harbach; music by Stothart)

Pop, pr. 1921 (comedy with Mandel)

Daffy Dill, pr. 1922 (libretto with Guy Bolton; music by Stothart)

Queen O’Hearts, pr. 1922 (libretto with Mandel; lyrics with Sidney Mitchell; music by Lewis Gensler and Dudley Wilkinson)

Wildflower, pr. 1923 (lyrics with Harbach; music by Vincent Youmans and Stothart)

Mary Jane McKane, pr. 1923 (libretto and lyrics with William Cary Duncan; music by Youmans and Stothart)

Gypsy Jim, pr. 1924 (drama; with Milton Herbert Gropper; incidental music by Stothart)

New Toys, pr. 1924 (comedy; with Gropper)

Rose-Marie, pr. 1924 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by Rudolf Friml and Stothart)

Sunny, pr. 1925 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by Jerome Kern)

Song of the Flame, pr. 1925 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by George Gershwin and Stothart)

The Wild Rose, pr. 1926 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by Friml)

The Desert Song, pr. 1926 (libretto with Harbach and Mandel; lyrics with Harbach; music by Sigmund Romberg)

Golden Dawn, pr. 1927 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by Emmerich Kalman and Stothart)

Show Boat, pr. 1927 (libretto and lyrics; music by Kern; adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel)

Good Boy, pr. 1928 (libretto with Harbach and Henry Myers; music by Stothart and Harry Ruby; lyrics by Bert Kalmar)

The New Moon, pr. 1928 (lyrics; libretto with Mandel and Laurence Schwab; music by Romberg)

Rainbow, pr. 1928 (lyrics; libretto with Laurence Stallings; music by Youmans)

Sweet Adeline, pr. 1929 (libretto and lyrics; music by Kern)

The Gang’s All Here, pr. 1931 (libretto with Russell Crouse and Morrie Ryskind; music by Gensler; lyrics by Owen Murphy and Robert A. Simon)

Free for All, pr. 1931 (lyrics; libretto with Schwab; music by Richard A. Whiting)

East Wind, pr. 1931 (lyrics; libretto with Mandel; music by Romberg)

Music in the Air, pr. 1932 (libretto and lyrics; music by Kern)

Ball at the Savoy, pr. 1933 (lyrics; libretto adaptation of Alfred Grümwald and Fritz Löhner-Beda’s Ball im Savoy; music by Pál Ábrahám, sometimes written Paul Abraham)

Three Sisters, pr. 1934 (libretto and lyrics; music by Kern)

May Wine, pr. 1935 (lyrics; libretto with Mandel; music by Romberg)

Gentlemen Unafraid, pr. 1938 (libretto and lyrics with Harbach; music by Kern)

Very Warm for May, pr. 1939 (libretto and lyrics; music by Kern)

Sunny River, pr. 1941 (libretto and lyrics; music by Romberg)

Carmen Jones, pr. 1943 (libretto; music by Georges Bizet; adaptation of Henri Meilhac and Ludiovic Halévy’s opera Carmen)

Oklahoma!, pr. 1943 (libretto and lyrics; music by Richard Rodgers; adaptation of Lynn Riggs’s novel Green Grow the Lilacs)

Carousel, pr. 1945 (libretto and lyrics; music by Rodgers; adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s drama Liliom)

Allegro, pr. 1947 (libretto and lyrics; music by Rodgers)

South Pacific, pr. 1949 (lyrics; libretto with Joshua Logan; music by Rodgers; adaptation of James Michener’s collection Tales of the South Pacific)

The King and I, pr. 1951 (libretto and lyrics; music by Rodgers; adaptation of Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam)

Me and Juliet, pr. 1953 (libretto and lyrics; music by Rodgers)

Pipe Dream, pr. 1955 (libretto and lyrics; music by Rodgers; adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday)

Flower Drum Song, pr. 1958 (lyrics; libretto with Joseph Fields; music by Rodgers; adaptation of Chin Y. Lee’s novel Flower Drum)

The Sound of Music, pr. 1959 (lyrics; libretto by Howard Lindsay and Crouse; music by Rodgers)

Screenplays:

The Desert Song, 1929 (with Harvey Harris Gates, Otto Harbach, Frank Mandel, Sigmund Romberg, and Laurence Schwab; lyrics; adaptation of Harbach, Mandel, and Hammerstein’s libretto)

Viennese Nights, 1930 (with Romberg; lyrics; music by Romberg)

Children of Dreams, 1931 (with Romberg; lyrics; music by Romberg)

Show Boat, 1936 (adaptation of his libretto and lyrics; other Hammerstein lyrics added)

High, Wide and Handsome, 1937 (with George O’Neil; lyrics; music by Jerome Kern)

Swing High, Swing Low, 1937 (with Virginia Van Upp; adaptation of George Manker Watters and Arthur Hopkins’s play Burlesque)

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, 1939 (with Dorothy Yost, Richard Sherman, and Irene Castle; adaptation of Irene Castle’s books)

Broadway Rhythm, 1944 (with Harry Clark, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Kingsley, and Jack McGowan; adaptation of Kern and Hammerstein’s musical Very Warm for May)

State Fair, 1945 (with Paul Green and Sonya Levien; lyrics; music by Richard Rodgers; adaptation of Phil Stong’s novel)

State Fair, 1962 (with Richard Breen, Green, and Levien; adaptation of the 1945 screenplay)

Teleplay:

Cinderella, 1956 (libretto and lyrics; music by Richard Rodgers)

Biography

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein was born into a theatrical family. The son of William and Alice (Nimmo) Hamerstein, his father managed Hamerstein’s Victoria Theatre, an important New York vaudeville house. An uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, was a theatrical producer. The young man, however, chose to drop his middle names and to name himself after his grandfather, afterward known as Oscar Hammerstein I, who built twelve theaters and idealistically tried to popularize opera in New York. While the grandfather eventually failed, the grandson was to revolutionize American musical theater.{$I[A]Hammerstein, Oscar, II}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hammerstein, Oscar, II}{$I[tim]1895;Hammerstein, Oscar, II}

Oscar Hammerstein, II

(Library of Congress)

His family discouraged his interest in the theater. Educated at Columbia University, Hammerstein obediently studied law, but he began contributing to Columbia varsity shows in 1915. Rejected for military service in World War I and bored with law, he convinced Arthur Hammerstein to find him work. Thus employed, he married Myra Finn in 1917; they had two children. (Divorced, he married Dorothy Blanchard Jacobson in 1929; they had one son.)

His first attempts at playwrighting failed. At that time, musical theater generally consisted of reviews, star vehicles, musical comedies, and operettas. Reviews were unrelated skits, songs, and acts. The typical musical comedy focused on music and spectacle, with attractive girls and, usually, a thin, almost irrelevant, plot. Operetta (light opera) featured sometimes improbable romances, often in exotic settings or among the upper classes. Hammerstein wanted to integrate serious plots into a coherent whole, in which the libretto or book dictated the nature of the music.

He first succeeded in 1927, when his collaboration with composer Jerome Kern created Show Boat, often described as the first integrated American musical. Its plot and songs illumined character, and Hammerstein’s libretto dealt with serious themes, including racial relations, alcoholism, compulsive gambling, and the abandonment of a wife and child.

Following Show Boat, Hammerstein’s work met with little success until he collaborated with Richard Rodgers to create Oklahoma! That production was the idea of Theresa Heilburn of the Theatre Guild, which was near bankruptcy when she suggested that Green Grow the Lilacs, a play by Lynn Riggs, be turned into a musical; it had failed as drama. Rodgers, already famous for his witty and urban music written with Lorenz Hart, was in need of a new partner after Hart’s chaotic life and alcoholism ended the partnership. Deciding to do the Riggs play, Rodgers and Hammerstein hired Agnes de Mille as choreographer, thus opening the way for later director-choreographers such as Michael Kidd and Bob Fosse. With a cast of unknowns, financial backing was difficult to find, especially because the play, based on story and character, not spectacle, was unconventional, with its rural setting and costumes, lack of chorus line, and murder in the second act.

Investors reaped enormous profits. Oklahoma! integrated story, characters, and song more completely than did Show Boat and used ballet to illuminate the psychological conflict of the heroine. Songs logically evolved from the emotions of the characters. Opening on March 31, 1943, the play ran 2,212 performances and established a record before closing more than five years later. The touring company performed from 1954 until 1961. The play received a special Pulitzer Prize, an award rarely given a musical. The recording of the production was not the first original cast recording, as is sometimes stated, but was the first to present fully orchestrated lyrics and music of a commercial performance .

Oklahoma!’s story of romance among common people in a territory emerging as an American state was followed by other unlikely subjects. Carousel also featured a death, this time of the leading man. In this adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s tragic Liliom (1909), issues of class conflict and gender were raised; the hero is killed because he plans a robbery to obtain money to raise his daughter in an environment better than he has known. South Pacific, the next major Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, dealt specifically with racial attitudes. While Carousel was less successful than Oklahoma!, South Pacific was a stunning popular and critical success. It ran for 1,925 performances and won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical in 1949-1950; Antoinette Perry Awards went to Hammerstein and Logan for best book, Rodgers for best score, and to members of the cast, including Ezio Pinza, Mary Martin, and Juanita Hall.

While several of the plays that followed were successful, Rodgers and Hammerstein were never, together, to equal these achievements. Hammerstein’s writing continued to explore serious themes. In The King and I, based on the actual experiences of an Englishwoman who taught in Siam (later Thailand) in the nineteenth century, he explored the conflict between democracy and despotism. As in Carousel, the leading man dies. Flower Drum Song is based on the conflict between tradition and a changing world.

The Sound of Music was the final Rodgers and Hammerstein success, but, for this play, Hammerstein wrote only the lyrics. Again, the conflict is between despotism and freedom. Based on the memoirs of Maria von Trapp, the play records the story of a young girl who leaves her convent to marry the widowed father of seven children. She opens up their lives to music (they become the Trapp Family Singers), and she helps her family flee the tyranny of the Nazis. While reviewers criticized the sweetness of the show, it was a public favorite, the Broadway run lasting for 1,443 performances. The film, released in 1964, was the most popular to that time and won Academy Awards for best musical, best score, and best book. “Edelweiss,” frequently mistaken for a genuine Alpine folk song, was the last lyric written by Hammerstein before his death from stomach cancer.

BibliographyCitron, Stephen. The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Citron presents a thorough analysis of lives and works in arguing that Hammerstein and Lerner were the most influential forces in American musical theater.Fordin, Hugh. Getting to Know Him: A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II. New York: Da Capa, 1995. This biography makes extensive use of family archives and recollections.Green, Stanley, ed. Rodgers and Hammerstein Fact Book: A Record of Their Works Together and with Other Collaborators. New York: Lynn Farnol, 1980. Green offers comprehensive data about stage and screen productions and cast lists, including some amateur, touring, and overseas productions.Mordden, Ethan. Rodgers and Hammerstein. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992. Mordden’s work is a richly illustrated discussion of the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration.
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