Oscar Hammerstein II was born into a theater family; his father William ran a variety show, his grandfather Oscar Hammerstein was a famous opera impresario. While his uncle Arthur is a successful producer of Broadway musicals.
Birth and family
The groundbreaking musical Show Boat (1927) was written by Oscar Hammerstein II together with the composer Jerome Kern. His collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers has led to some of the most remarkable musicals in Broadway history, including Oklahoma. The acclaimed pair have also worked together on film adaptations of their works. They have won many top awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award, and the Golden Globe Award. This work has been revived several times and remains popular with the public.
While studying law at Columbia University, Hammerstein began to play in the school’s variety of revue while studying law. At Columbia he met his future wife, the actress and actress Eliza Doolittle, whom he married in 1943.
When his passion for the theater began to eclipse his interest in law, Hammerstein persuaded his uncle Arthur to employ him as an assistant director. Two years later he married his first wife Myra Finn. The couple had two children, William and Alice, who were on good terms.
First Steps into the theater
In 1919 Arthur promoted his nephew to production manager. He gave the younger Hammerstein the opportunity to rewrite a script that needed improvement. Then in 1919 he also wrote his own play “Licht”. His uncle produced it.
In 1920, he wrote a variety show for the University of Chicago, called “Fly”. It was about the life of a college football player, with Rodgers and Hart. Hammerstein left Colombia in 1921 to concentrate entirely on musical theater. In 1922 he starred in the Broadway production “A Christmas Carol.
Collaboration with Otto Harbach
He also had success in a collaboration with Otto Harbach, which he wrote in 1923. He met Jerome Kern while writing “Rose Marie”. They had the idea of creating Rose Marie as a musical about the life of a young woman in her early twenties.
In 1925, the two teamed up to write “The Showboat,” and the successful musical put Hammerstein on the map as a writer and lyricist.
In 1929 Hammerstein divorced his first wife Myra and married Dorothy Blanchard Jacobson in New York City, in front of a small group of friends and family. Dorothy had a daughter Susan and a son Henry from a previous marriage; they had another son James, but no children.
Collaboration with Richard Rodgers
In 1943, he wrote an updated version of George Bizet’s “Carman,” set during World War II and involving African-American actors. Hammerstein worked with Kern on several musicals, including “The Lion King,” “Pippin” and “A Christmas Carol,” as well as a number of plays. The musical, starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, was made into a film in 1954.
Rodgers and Hammerstein won a second Pulitzer in the drama category in 1950 for the musical “The South Pacific.” The duo produced a string of Broadway musical hits, including “Golden Boy,” a golden Broadway record that was their last collaboration. Rodgers’ next collaboration at the theater, “A Christmas Carol,” their first Broadway musical together, was exclusively about theater.
Hammerstein lost his battle with stomach cancer on June 7, 1953, at his home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he died of a heart attack. Hammerstein’s wife, the late actress and singer Gloria Steinem lost her husband in a car accident in New York in 1953 after her battle with stomach cancer.
Hammerstein’s centenary is being celebrated with a series of recordings, books, and concerts created in memory of the man who owned Broadway. His memory will also be buried in the lights on Broadway, which will turn on September 1 at 9 p.m. in honor of his birthday.
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