Oscar Hammerstein was perhaps the most influential lyricist of the American theater. Together with collaborator Richard Rodgers, he helped define the modern musical, winning eight Tonys and two Academy Awards in the process. Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to some of the most enduring songs and shows in history — from Showboat to Oklahoma! to South Pacific and The Sound of Music. Fifty years after his death, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals continue to pack houses on Broadway and throughout the world. But he was not the only Hammerstein to influence musical theater. Oscar Hammerstein’s grandson joins Diane to talk about how his family changed Broadway.

Guests

  • Oscar Andrew Hammerstein a painter, writer, lecturer and Hammerstein family historian.

Transcript

  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. American songwriter Irving Berlin once said of Oscar Hammerstein, the difference between Oscar and the rest of us lyricists is that he is a poet. Oscar Hammerstein's great musical legacy reaches back three generations beginning with his immigrant grandfather who helped create the Times Square Theater District in New York. Oscar Hammerstein's grandson has written a history of his family's influence on American musical theater and it's titled "The Hammersteins" and Oscar Andy Hammerstein joins me in the studio. Throughout the hour, we'll hear music, we'll have phone calls, we'll have tweets and messages on Facebook. Good morning to you, Andy.

  • 11:08:02

    MR. OSCAR ANDREW HAMMERSTEINAnd a snowy good morning to you, too, Diane.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMIt's good to see you and tell us first your place in the Hammerstein line.

  • 11:08:10

    HAMMERSTEINOf course, my grandfather was the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein and his grandfather was Oscar Hammerstein the First and in-between the two Oscar Hammersteins, there were some sons who also worked in the business, William Hammerstein who ran a vaudeville house and Arthur Hammerstein, who produced operettas.

  • 11:08:29

    REHMTell me about your family's work in the Theater District long before you were born.

  • 11:08:39

    HAMMERSTEIN(laugh) Okay. Well, my great, great grandfather Oscar Hammerstein the First who was never called Oscar Hammerstein the First when he was alive, but we call him the First to not be confusing. He started building theaters up in Harlem, the original Apollo Theater was his and he also started building theaters in the 34th Street district as well, but I suppose he's best known for spearheading the development of Times Square as a theater district by building the Olympia Theater in 1895, which was really a three-theater complex that sat 6,000 people.

  • 11:09:15

    HAMMERSTEINIt was his hope back then that he could corner the market on Broadway theater in Times Square. He misjudged that wildly and was out of business, but not down for the count. Anyway, he went on to build more theaters in the same area. He built the Republic Theater and the Victoria Theater and the Lou Fields Theater and he did all this right at the turn of the century before building in 1906 the Manhattan Opera House back on 34th Street, which still stands and it's known as the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.

  • 11:09:48

    REHMHe was an immigrant. Why was this so much in his blood?

  • 11:09:53

    HAMMERSTEINThat's a very good question. There's speculation and the speculation is as a good German Jew in the 1880s who was assimilated into his culture in Germany and who thought of himself as a German first and a Jew second, I think that opera served as a very -- as a bridge, you might say, because opera is the sung story. It's the rabbi and the cantor. It's a continuation if you are post-Judaic and I think our family took that impetus. He brought that passion of opera-loving to this country with him when he arrived at the age of 15.

  • 11:10:34

    REHMSo then your family's legacy, your grandfather's early years, what instruments did he play? What did he think about music? How did his father influence him?

  • 11:10:53

    HAMMERSTEINOscar the Second or Oscar the First?

  • 11:10:56

    REHMOscar the Second.

  • 11:10:57

    HAMMERSTEINOh, well, with Oscar the Second -- Oscar the Second played piano badly and he was -- the reason why he got into the theater, well, he always loved the theater. It would be hard not to love the theater if your uncle did operettas, your father did vaudeville and your grandfather did opera. And his father didn't want him to go into the business. He wanted him to have a respectable trade because it had caused so much heartache watching Oscar the First bankrupt the family over and over again, so he made Oscar promise not to go into the theater.

  • 11:11:27

    REHMSo he went to law school for a little while?

  • 11:11:30

    HAMMERSTEINHe did, he did to Columbia University to study law at the request of his father, promising never to get involved in the theater, though he loved the theater and clearly was moonlighting in the Varsity shows at Columbia. And when his father died in 1914, he soon after got married and his wife got pregnant and he needed a job besides clerking at a law firm, which didn't pay that much back then. So he went to his uncle Arthur and said, listen, I really love the theater. I know I promised my father, but I really want to get a job. I'll be willing to start at the bottom in the worst job you can give me.

  • 11:12:03

    HAMMERSTEINSo Arthur had to weigh the pros and cons of Oscar breaking his promise to his now deceased father and he -- you know, he understood that Willie Hammerstein had suffered greatly under his own father, Oscar the First, but Arthur had had a wonderful career as an operetta producer and he said, go ahead, I'll give you a job as second-assistant stage manager on a show called "You're in Love" in 1919 and that's how it began.

  • 11:12:28

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein, he's a painter, writer, lecturer and adjunct- professor at Columbia University. He has written about an extraordinary musical theater family, "The Hammersteins." If you'd like to join us, the phones are open, 800-433-8850 and you can join us by e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Tell us about "Showboat" and why it made such a huge splash when it opened.

  • 11:13:12

    HAMMERSTEINWell, first of all, it was a tonic, you might say, for what had been both complaisant and redundant fairytale operettas of the 20s. In the old days, a show was really just an excuse to put on talent and the idea of an integrated plot or a narrative that really undergirded the show was kind of laughable. I mean, you would have plots, but if you didn't follow the plot, it didn't really matter throughout the 20s and "Showboat" broke with that on a number of levels.

  • 11:13:49

    HAMMERSTEINFirst of all, Oscar and Jerry Kern had a year to work on the show and both of them were very interested in the integrated musical for their time. And it is something of a -- it's different because it is not just a melodrama, but it also has elements of realism. It's a bit of a hybrid and it talks not only about miscegenation in the post-civil war South, but also it's a musing upon fate itself for some deserved their happy-ever endings and others don't. It was quite realistic for the time.

  • 11:14:38

    REHMAnd in it we have what has been called the first protest song on Broadway.

  • 11:15:24

    HAMMERSTEINThe wonderful thing about this song is that Oscar disappears inside the lyric. You don't get a feeling of the author. You get a feeling of Joe singing the song. He writes for a man who is not educated, who is speaking from his heart. In some ways, this is the beauty of Oscar. He is letting the character do the talking and the more you let that character do the talking, the more you subsume your own voice. To that extent, I think Oscar the Second was an artist.

  • 11:16:54

    REHMAnd of course, that is the gorgeous voice of Paul Robeson singing that. Your grandfather was undergoing a rather stormy personal life at that time?

  • 11:16:57

    HAMMERSTEINOh, yes, he was. Well, he was in a difficult marriage that had some fooling around going on on part of his wife and I think at that time, he went traveling by boat and that's where he met his second wife, my grandmother, Dorothy Hammerstein. And so the area around "Showboat" marks a giant transitional time for Oscar Hammerstein the Second. He falls in love across a crowded room as it were and he writes what may be the most influential musical of musical theater history. Some may argue "Oklahoma," but it marks the high point in the first half of his career. He has moved from "Rose Marie" through a number of operetta songs up to "Showboat" and then the 30s come.

  • 11:17:54

    REHMBut tell me about that agonizing divorce from Myra.

  • 11:18:00

    HAMMERSTEINWell, Oscar was a workaholic and the marriage was never an easy fit to begin with. It turned out that Myra was having an affair and probably not the only one, but she was having an affair with the writer Guy Bolton and when that occurred, Oscar the Second at first tried to ignore it. Then he tried -- then he had a nervous breakdown and he had to recover from that.

  • 11:18:41

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein, we're talking about his new book "The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family."

  • 11:20:46

    REHMNow, Andy, this song and this play really changed how everything worked on Broadway. Tell us how.

  • 11:20:56

    HAMMERSTEINFrom the first note, from the first note. The one thing that would have preceded this in shows that preceded this would've been a high-kicking chorus number where everyone would have a chance to get to their seats if they were late, something late. It was a throwaway number, something to just say, we're full of energy, we're full of life, you're going to have a good time. This markedly different -- this show starts on the first note. The first song comes out and it's telling the people, get to your seats, we're telling a story here and we the authors are taking it seriously, so you had better take it seriously, too. And that cued the audience to sit down and shut up because this was a serious endeavor.

  • 11:22:31

    REHMAnd that from the 1955 motion picture soundtrack sung by Gordon MacRae. You know, Andy, there was this sense that both his partnership with Rogers and his own work moved away from sort of comic sentiment pure entertainment into the social issues.

  • 11:23:06

    HAMMERSTEINYes, yes, it did. Well, there are two actual answers to that setup. The first one is that he didn't do musical comedy, he did musical plays. There'll be laughs in a musical play, but it's not a comedy. It's not about legs and laughs. It's about love and death, very much the way operas are. And that's an important distinction 'cause love and death are serious business and his shows, no matter how whimsical they might be at times, are serious business. His best shows are the shows where he deals with these things, "Oklahoma," "Carousel," "South Pacific," King and I" and to some extent, "Sound of Music."

  • 11:24:28

    REHMWhy is this song so important, Andy?

  • 11:24:31

    HAMMERSTEINWell, this is the sung story. Now, Steven Sondheim says there are three things that Oscar Hammerstein left in his wake and this is probably the most important one. The first two is the delayed love song, the duet between the major leads in the first act. "If I Loved You," "People Will Say We're in Love," "Make Believe," even "Surry With the Fringe on Top" in some ways, are all songs that allow us to develop character before they throw the two lovers together.

  • 11:25:01

    HAMMERSTEINThe second convention is starting your show right off the bat with "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." That cues the audience you're taking yourself seriously, but this, this song, this eight minute tour de force compresses an entire first act into a single song and it is so distinctive and so different from the normal popular song because it develops character and it also takes the plot around corners. Here you have a man and anti-hero who's not all that likeable the more you listen to him going on about what it would be like to have a boy. And we don't know much about the boy, but we start to learn a lot about him and all the experiences that he has had.

  • 11:25:39

    HAMMERSTEINThen he realizes that the boy might be a girl and he has a whiplash moment and all of a sudden, he's realizing he's got to do anything it takes to save this girl from boys like himself. And the next thing you know, this plot has gone around every corner and developed so much character that it drops you off in a completely different place than where you first started.

  • 11:26:52

    REHMI wish there were a camera in here watching you mouth and move these words.

  • 11:27:01

    HAMMERSTEINI do love this song, I do love this song. I think this is the essence of musical theater. This is the sung story. If you didn't see -- if you came into the second act of this show and all you'd had was this song, you'd know what had happened. You know that this is not going to be a love song because you know this man is doomed. This man will be dead by the end of the first act.

  • 11:27:25

    REHMBut of course, there are other works that come, "South Pacific," "The King and I." "South Pacific" opened on Broadway, 1949, ran for over five years.

  • 11:27:44

    HAMMERSTEINYes.

  • 11:27:44

    REHMExtroardinary.

  • 11:27:45

    HAMMERSTEINIt was an extraordinary show. It's still a marvelous show to watch. It's as alive today and it resonates with today's audiences. I think any time we have the military that we are concerned about, this show takes on the resonance that it originally had.

  • 11:29:14

    REHMThis song is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

  • 11:29:24

    HAMMERSTEINAnd maybe...

  • 11:29:26

    REHMMore so.

  • 11:29:27

    HAMMERSTEIN...maybe more so. In some ways, Oscar got a lot of flack for this song. They said he was being preachy and I remember the story goes that he took the song to James Michener and said -- he wrote "Tales of the South Pacific" from which this was adapt and he said, people are telling me I should take this song out. What do you think? And he said, by all means, do not, this is the core of the show. Without this song, there is no show. And I think that James Michener was quite correct. I don't think Oscar would've taken the song out anyway, but I'm glad to have the story about that.

  • 11:29:58

    REHMBut he was being courteous. He was...

  • 11:30:00

    HAMMERSTEINHe was being courteous.

  • 11:30:00

    REHM...being courteous.

  • 11:30:02

    HAMMERSTEINAnd Oscar had a deep humanitarian civil libertarian streak that has gone through his entire life that crops up here and there. Crops up big time in "Showboat," crops up big time in "South Pacific" and in his personal life. He was a liberal with a small l. Back in the 1940's and 1950's when it was a tough go in J. Edgar Hoover's America and he has a long FBI file to show for it, but he endorsed and championed the rights of individuals to speak and think the way they thought.

  • 11:30:38

    REHMHow did the FBI pursue him? To what extent were they interested in what he was saying and doing?

  • 11:30:49

    HAMMERSTEINPhone, mail and tagging him. He was easily tagged, trailed, mailed, phoned. He was -- he had no secrets.

  • 11:30:59

    REHMBecause?

  • 11:30:59

    HAMMERSTEINBecause -- well, first of all, when "Showboat" came out, there were some states that still had misignation laws on the books. So they explicitly banned him from presenting "Showboat" or even for traveling through their states. Also, let's see, there were other reasons. Besides "Showboat," there was also -- let's see, what are the other ones? Well, he was obviously a champion of civil liberties as well. I'm blanking on what I should put in here, but he was never afraid to confront intolerance and I think that comes out of this theater upbringing because in the theater, everything is a meritocracy.

  • 11:31:49

    HAMMERSTEINYou work with people who have talent regardless of their gender or their anything, of their race or anything. If you can sell tickets, that's the world Oscar grew up in. And so he found it hard to swallow to see racism and other kinds of bias.

  • 11:32:07

    REHMWell, and even in the "Sound of Music," we're talking about the views of Austrians to take over Austria by the Third Reich. We're talking about domestic violence in "Carousel."

  • 11:32:25

    HAMMERSTEIN"Carousel," sure.

  • 11:32:26

    REHMYou're talking about racist views in "South Pacific." But then we get to "The King and I." Tell us about "The King and I."

  • 11:32:39

    HAMMERSTEINWell, the thing I loved about "King and I" was -- there's a song in the show called "A Puzzlement," which is -- what Oscar was critiquing, I suppose, was absolute power and absolute certainty. He was -- a song was all about the word but and here is a king who was supposed to be chosen by God to rule subjects and he's obsessing about but. It's a puzzlement (laugh). And how can you do that if you're an absolute ruler?

  • 11:33:11

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein, we're talking about his new book titled "The Hammerstein's: A Musical Theatre Family."

  • 11:34:38

    REHMAnd of course, that is the lovely Marni Nixon dubbing for Deborah Kerr in the motion picture from 1956 "The King and I." How marvelous.

  • 11:34:54

    HAMMERSTEINYes. It brings to mind a certain -- how interesting the movie versions as opposed to the theater versions. And the best example that I think of is actually, "Carousel," to go backwards just a little bit. When "Carousel" was written in 1945, everyone had lost a brother, a father, a son in the war, so a story about a man trying to make amends from beyond the grave is a truly resonant story for the audiences of 1945.

  • 11:35:21

    HAMMERSTEINBy the time it was made into a movie, it was like 1955. And while it was a popular movie, it didn't resonate with the American audience of 1955 in the same way because now it was the conformist '50s and it was as much about trying to get the wayward girl to fit into her group as it was about a story about a man trying to seek redemption from beyond the grave. So it's interesting when you listen to the film versions of the musicals, how just a little change in time can often change the perception of the show. It's the same show, different audience.

  • 11:35:58

    REHMBut this show is timeless, this "The King and I" just continues to move audiences either in film or on stage. The music just -- and Yul Brynner in that movie.

  • 11:36:17

    HAMMERSTEINOne can't help also say that it has -- a great deal of its popularity has to do with the fact that it can cast a lot of children and that the love relationship is relatively chased by comparison to the other shows, so it's a big revival gem because of those reasons.

  • 11:36:36

    REHMHow old were you when you saw your first musical for which your grandfather had written the music?

  • 11:36:50

    HAMMERSTEINBefore I could logically answer that question honestly.

  • 11:36:53

    REHMHow wonderful.

  • 11:36:54

    HAMMERSTEINI honestly -- there must've been a revival in 1959 that I must've been hearing through my tantrums, you know.

  • 11:37:01

    REHMHow marvelous. So they took you to theater...

  • 11:37:05

    HAMMERSTEINYes.

  • 11:37:06

    REHM...quite, quite early.

  • 11:37:07

    HAMMERSTEINWell, also my father was a director, so I was on the road a lot watching rehearsals for a lot of shows, so I was kind of a back stager from the time I was a little baby.

  • 11:37:19

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein, his new book is titled "The Hammerstein's: "A Musical Theatre Family."

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd I hope you're enjoying this program of conversation and music all about "The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family." The grandson of Oscar Hammerstein who wrote the lyrics to most of our favorite Hollywood and Broadway production is with me, Oscar Andrew Hammerstein. Here's an e-mail from Zachary who says, "Oscar was investigated by the FBI for his involvement in the Hollywood anti-Nazi league and alleged communist activity in the 1930s. This lead to his having to write a letter to the U.S. State Department in 1953 refuting the anti-American charges against him in order to renew his passport. How did these events affect his outlook on politics and issues of social justice?"

  • 11:41:21

    HAMMERSTEINWow. That's a big question. First of all, he started the anti-Nazi league in 1936, while he was out working for hire for the movies in Hollywood. And back then, this did not merit a page or two in his FBI file because everybody was anti-Nazi in 1936. It became retroactively stuck into his file in about 1943 when they were trying to hunt as much stuff down on him as they could.

  • 11:41:48

    HAMMERSTEINThey did that because of a number of reasons that had to do with our feelings about Russia growing very cold after World War II. They were our allies and when asked by investigators whether he would ever work with communists Oscar said, I would be happy to work with communists if they loaded my gun to shoot fascists. And that sort of shut up the critics for a while.

  • 11:42:16

    HAMMERSTEINHowever, after a bit of time, they loaded up again and came after him basically because he felt that the Hollywood 10, which was a group of people who were accused of communist sympathies, some of whom had more sympathies that others, were all being lumped together and black-listed out in Hollywood. And the same was true of a group of writers here on the East Coast as well. The point Oscar made was that he was -- he believed in his bones that a person ought not be punished for what he thought and what he said. And back in the 1940s and the 1950s, that was a pretty tall order for people, especially with the witch hunts and the red scares because back in those days, everybody thought there was a communist under every bed.

  • 11:43:03

    HAMMERSTEINSo he basically said, I'm going to defend their right to think and feel the way they do. I don't agree with them, but I defend their right to think that way. When pressed, he said, I'm not a communist, I'm a liberal. And he was very clear about that. A lot of people conflate the two, but they're not the same thing. He also said that he felt that they had every right to think the way they felt and that he was going to defend their rights and that he was up in J. Edgar Hoover's face defending -- putting benefits together for legal funds for the Hollywood 10, basically for them to express their right to free speech in this country of living.

  • 11:43:45

    REHMLet's go now to Frisco, Texas. Good morning, Bernie, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:55

    BERNIEGood morning. Once again, the Hammerstein family has made a good day for me.

  • 11:43:57

    HAMMERSTEINThank you.

  • 11:44:00

    BERNIEI have two points. The first is the marvelous epigram that I use in my classes. I'm 83 and still teach. And that comes from "South Pacific." Who can explain it? Who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons. Wise men never try. I don't know where that came from out of a man's mind, but it is -- to me, it is glorious. And the other thing is I wonder how a big city boy knew about the surrey with the fringe on top.

  • 11:44:26

    HAMMERSTEINThat's a good question. That's a very good question. First of all, I think the first quote comes from "Some Enchanted Evening" and I guess it refers to love. Who can explain it? Who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons. Wise men never try. That is -- if more people took that advice to heart, there would be a lot of less useless argument in the world. And what was the second one again?

  • 11:44:50

    REHMThe second one -- I'm sorry.

  • 11:44:54

    HAMMERSTEINThat's all right.

  • 11:44:57

    REHMWhat was the second one, Bernie?

  • 11:44:59

    BERNIEHow did a city boy...

  • 11:45:02

    HAMMERSTEINOh, that's it, thank you.

  • 11:45:03

    REHMThe fringe on top.

  • 11:45:04

    HAMMERSTEINThat's a good question. He always -- it's funny about Oscar because Oscar fancied himself the gentleman farmer, which is ironic because not only did he -- was he all thumbs as a human being, he couldn't even drive himself anywhere. He never got his driver's license, so he had this -- I don't know, you might say illusion about himself that wasn't borne out by fact, but he did move out to Bucks County where he wrote a lot of his songs and I think he sought a lot of solace from the country. For example, the show "Allegro" was all about the juxtaposition between simple country life and the fast pace of the city life and he clearly romanticized would be the best way to put the simple characters that he put words -- that he wrote words for in songs.

  • 11:45:49

    HAMMERSTEINHe seemed to feel that simpler characters were easier to express their feelings because their feelings were not moderated or modulated by doubt. That what you heard was what you got, you know.

  • 11:46:03

    REHMNow, wasn't "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" one of his favorites or his favorite?

  • 11:46:08

    HAMMERSTEINIt was his favorite. It was his most favorite song and you can understand it as he was asked why and he said, well, there -- you know, the idea of two boneheaded young teenagers beginning to fall in love just makes him weep uncontrollably.

  • 11:46:25

    REHMI love it. Thanks for calling, Bernie. Let's go to Greece, New York. Good morning.

  • 11:46:32

    TOMHello.

  • 11:46:32

    REHMTom, you're on the air.

  • 11:46:34

    TOMYeah, hello. You've already talked a lot about this. I should have known that you would, but this is about the song, you've got to be taught to hate and fear. I'm not sure if that's the title. Then -- it's from "South Pacific" and I was going to ask that was a controversial song for that day, but I was wondering who was -- did they come up with the idea -- Rodgers and Hammerstein -- did they come up with the idea for it ready to begin with and -- I mean, at the same time or something or whose idea was it first.

  • 11:47:08

    TOMAnd then I was wondering -- I was just wondering -- I mean, you mentioned that your grandfather was Jewish and I wondered if, maybe, you know, he'd experienced some anti-Semitism that always had been sort of the -- maybe the origin of his feelings to write the words for that song.

  • 11:47:26

    HAMMERSTEINThe song you're talking about is "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" and I don't actually have any stories about any sense of anti-Semitism that he experienced. He was a man who lived his entire life inside the walls of the theater. And inside the walls of the theater is a very different place where, as I said before, the meritocracy doesn't -- it does not bias -- there's no bias against being gay or being Jewish or being black or anything of those sorts. And it's really about talent, so I think he had an understanding of intolerance. I don't think that it was specifically as a result of his being Jewish.

  • 11:48:10

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Newport, R.I. Good morning, Steve, you're on the air.

  • 11:48:22

    STEVEGood morning, Diane, thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:48:25

    REHMSure.

  • 11:48:25

    STEVEMy late mother was named Shirley Rich and she was the casting director for "South Pacific" and "The King and I" and she always was fond of telling the story -- and I'm not sure how accurate it was, but this is the story I got growing up. That she was doing the casting for "The King and I" and a strange looking bald man walked out on stage, sat down cross-legged and started playing an interesting musical instrument. And after about 30 seconds, I think your grandfather, Oscar, turned to my mother and said, "That's it, he's the one." I just thought you would find that interesting. She revered your grandfather.

  • 11:49:04

    HAMMERSTEINThat's a -- you have the story just about right. I’m actually going to read a small part from the book because it best describes who you're speaking about, which is Yul Brynner, if you don't mind.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMNot at all.

  • 11:49:15

    HAMMERSTEIN"Yul Brynner had perhaps the weirdest background in the history of theater. Born in Russia, schooled in China and brought up by gypsies who taught him to play the seven-stringed guitar he became an acrobat after a brief stint singing 'Cabaret.' Severe injuries curtailed his acrobatic career and he became addicted to opium. He went to Switzerland for rehab where he hung out with Xong Cocto, Collette and Marcel Marceau and decided to study acting. He worked for, of all things, the U.S. Office of War Information as a foreign language radio broadcaster and directed some television including the justifiably acclaimed Omnibus all before he answered the Rodgers and Hammerstein casting call."

  • 11:49:58

    HAMMERSTEINIn fact, when they got -- when they turned to each other and said almost like (word?), that's our king. They actually had in mind a kind of short dumpy unpleasant kind of a king. And when they got him, they go, okay, we can write for this. They were going to write for Gertrude Lawrence anyway. So they got a chance to write for the king as well. So it became not just a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence, but a breakout role for Yul Brynner who ended up playing it for I can't count how many decades.

  • 11:50:26

    REHMAh. Here's an e-mail from Bert who says, "I understand the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York City today the home of David Letterman's 'Late Night Show' was originally the Hammerstein Opera House. Is that true?"

  • 11:50:47

    HAMMERSTEINClose. It was the Hammerstein Theatre. There was no real Hammerstein Opera House. There was a Manhattan Opera House down on 34th Street, but the Hammerstein Theatre that he is talking about was built in 1927 and inaugurated by a show -- what was the name of that show -- "Golden Dawn." And it was built by Oscar Hammerstein the First's son, Arthur, who was Oscar the Second's uncle. And it was his hope to get into theatre producing having been a producer. He want to also be a theater manager like his father and like his father, could barely hold onto it for more than a few years, but yes.

  • 11:51:22

    REHMAnd Peter goes on to say, "Why isn't 'Flower Drum Song' ever performed? Wasn't that written while Rodgers and Hammerstein were at the top of their composing powers?"

  • 11:51:36

    HAMMERSTEINWell, it wasn't at the top of their composing powers. They had actually suffered two flops just prior to it, "Me and Juliet" and then "Pipe Dream." The thing about "Flower Drum Song" is it's a story about the conflict between generations -- immigrant -- the immigrant experience and the conflict between the generation that comes to this country and then the generation that grows up in this country. And the problem with those inter-generational conflicts is that they're topical and they have an expiration date. Those kind of shows they fall out of favor because the story line becomes dated.

  • 11:52:14

    REHMAnd didn't your late father produce "Flower Drum Song?"

  • 11:52:20

    HAMMERSTEINMy late father did direct it on the road and he produced it later on, yes.

  • 11:52:27

    REHMThere is the "Sound of Music," which for many of us, remains that Christmas classic, that New Year's classic. Your grandfather died before the musical movie came out, but oh, my.

  • 11:53:58

    REHMHow I hate interrupting Julie Andrews or speaking of her, she's been a guest on this program numerous times. What a voice, what a musical.

  • 11:54:14

    HAMMERSTEINI agree. I actually do agree. People have accused it of being a little saccharin. I'll have none of that. I think it's a wonderful show. I think it has all the depths of the other shows and in this case, Oscar and Dick didn't write the libretto like they had in previous times. They just wrote the music, but I think the music adds so much to the show. It originally was supposed to be a play with incidental music written by Lindsay and Crouse, but Mary Martin, who believed Oscar and Dick to be her lucky charm, thought that it would deserve a little of the Rodgers and Hammerstein treatment.

  • 11:54:52

    HAMMERSTEINAnd Rodgers and Dick said -- Oscar and Dick said we're not just going to put incidental music. If you want us to write, we're going to write into this and make it a musical and she went, by all means. So they did. The sad part about the fact that Oscar never really got a chance to see Julie Andrews in this. He did get a chance to see her in Cinderella and it is my contention that Julie Andrews was the perfect woman to play Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals. It's ironic that she came on the scene to much later than their golden age.

  • 11:55:25

    REHMAnd then those children at the end of that movie.

  • 11:56:31

    REHMAnd of course, that's Bill Lee's voice dubbed in for Christopher Plummer, another one of those Hollywood secrets. Oh, Andy, I have so enjoyed talking with you.

  • 11:56:49

    HAMMERSTEINThe pleasure's been all mine, thank you.

  • 11:56:51

    REHMWe should go for at least another two hours on all these beautiful songs.

  • 11:56:58

    HAMMERSTEINYou name the day.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMOscar Andrew Hammerstein, his new book is titled "The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family." Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:22

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.

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