Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II (/ˈhæmərstn/; July 12, 1895 – August 23, 1960) was an American lyricist, librettist, theatrical producer, and (usually uncredited) director in the musical theater for almost 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.

Oscar Hammerstein II
Hammerstein circa 1940
Hammerstein circa 1940
Background information
Birth nameOscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II
Born(1895-07-12)July 12, 1895
New York City, U.S.
DiedAugust 23, 1960(1960-08-23) (aged 65)
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Associated acts
Alma materColumbia University (BA)

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 lifeEdit

Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II was born in New York City, the son of Alice Hammerstein (née Nimmo) and theatrical manager William Hammerstein.[2] 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.[3] He attended the Church of the Divine Paternity, now the Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York.[4]

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.[5]

Hammerstein attended Columbia University (1912–1916) and studied at Columbia Law School until 1917.[6] 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, a mostly Jewish fraternity.[7]

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][9]

Early careerEdit

After quitting law school to pursue theater, Hammerstein began his first professional collaboration, with Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel.[10] 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.[11] In 1921 Hammerstein joined The Lambs club.[12]

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."[citation needed] 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'."[13]

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).[14]

Rodgers and HammersteinEdit

Hammerstein watching an audition at the St. James Theatre

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.[15] 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.[16] Hart was also not certain that the idea had much merit, and the two therefore separated.[17] The adaptation became the first Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, entitled Oklahoma!, which opened on Broadway in 1943.[16] 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.[18]

William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird wrote that this was a "show, that, like Show Boat, became a milestone, such that that subsequent historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theater began to identify eras according to their relationship to Oklahoma!"[19] 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".[18]

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.[20]


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.[21] He continued his presidency at the Guild until 1960; he was succeeded by Alan Jay Lerner.[22]


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

Hammerstein died of stomach cancer on August 23, 1960, at his home Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, aged 65,[23] nine months after the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway.[24] The final song he wrote was "Edelweiss", which was added near the end of the second act during rehearsal.[25][26] After Hammerstein's death, The Sound of Music was adapted as a 1965 film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.[24][27]

The lights of Times Square were turned off for one minute,[28] and London's West End[29] lights were dimmed in recognition of his contribution to the musical. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.[30] A memorial plaque was unveiled at Southwark Cathedral, England, on May 24, 1961.[31] He was survived by his second wife, Dorothy, his three children, and two stepchildren.[32]

Personal lifeEdit

Hammerstein married his first wife, Myra Finn, in 1917; the couple divorced in 1929.[9][33] He married his second wife, the Australian-born Dorothy (Blanchard) Jacobson (1899–1987), in 1929.[34] He had three children: William Hammerstein (1918–2001)[35] and Alice Hammerstein Mathias (1922–2015)[36] by his first wife, and James Hammerstein (1931–1999)[37] by his second wife, with whom he also had a stepson, Henry Jacobson, and a stepdaughter, Susan Blanchard.[34]


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.[38][39] 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.[40]

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."[41] According to Marc Bauch, "The Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are romantic musical plays. Love is important."[42]

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 8th 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."[43]


According to The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, edited by Amy Asch, Hammerstein contributed the lyrics to 850 songs,[44] including "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and "Make Believe" from Show Boat;[45] "Indian Love Call" from Rose-Marie;[46] "People Will Say We're in Love"[citation needed] and "Oklahoma" (which has been the official state song of Oklahoma since 1953) from Oklahoma!;[47] "Some Enchanted Evening", from South Pacific; "Getting to Know You"[48] 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:[49]

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

Awards and nominationsEdit

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. 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."[50]

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. They won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Oklahoma![51] and, with Joshua Logan, the annual Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950 for South Pacific.[52] The Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater Studies at Columbia University was established in 1981 with a $1 million gift from his family.[53]

Year Award Category Title Results Ref.
1938 Academy Award Best Original Song "A Mist over the Moon", The Lady Objects Nominated [54]
1941 "The Last Time I Saw Paris", Lady Be Good Won
1945 "It Might as Well Be Spring", State Fair Won
1946 "All Through the Day", Centennial Summer Nominated
1951 "A Kiss to Build a Dream On", The Strip Nominated
1950 Tony Award Best Musical South Pacific Won [55]
Best Book of a Musical Won
Best Producer of a Musical Won
1952 Best Musical The King and I Won
1956 Pipe Dream Nominated
1996 Best Original Score State Fair Nominated
1961 Grammy Awards Best Musical Theater Album The Sound of Music Won [56]


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.[38]

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.[57] Past awardees are composers such as Stephen Sondheim and performers such as Carol Channing.[58]

Oscar Hammerstein was a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.[59]


  1. ^ Hunter-Tilney, Ludovic (October 15, 2010). "Lunch with the FT: Stephen Sondheim". The Financial Times. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  2. ^ ""MOVIES" FOR "NEWSIES."; Summer Camp for Street Merahants [sic] to be Aided by Films". The New York Times. June 19, 1914.
  3. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 11
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Hischak 2007, p. xxix
  6. ^ Hischak 2007, p. 9
  7. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 26
  8. ^ Hischak 2007, p. 9
  9. ^ a b "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.
  10. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 47
  11. ^ "Always You Is Amusing", The New York Times, January 6, 1920
  12. ^ "The Lambs ®, established 1874". www.the-lambs.org. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  13. ^ Jones, Dylan, The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music, Picador Press, 2012, p. 99
  14. ^ Biography, Songwriters Hall of Fame Archived December 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine songwritershalloffame.org
  15. ^ Fordin 1995, p. 184
  16. ^ a b Castleden, Rodney (July 1, 2020). Creative Encounters: That Changed the World. Canary Press eBooks. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-908698-43-8.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ a b "American Musical Theatre: An Introduction" Archived February 21, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, 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
  19. ^ Everett, William A. and Laird, Paul R. (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, p. 124, ISBN 0-521-79639-3
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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....
  23. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II Is Dead", The New York Times, p. 1, August 23, 1960
  24. ^ 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. .....
  25. ^ Maslon, Lawrence. The Sound of Music Companion (2007), p. 177, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1-4165-4954-4
  26. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II" Archived April 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine rnh.com, accessed November 2011
  27. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966)". Oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  28. ^ "Blackout on Broadway to Honor Hammerstein". The New York Times. September 1, 1960. p. 52.
  29. ^ "London Honors Hammerstein". The New York Times. August 26, 1960. p. 14.
  30. ^ "Rites for Hammerstein". The New York Times. August 25, 1960. p. 29.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ "In Memoriam". State Magazine.
  33. ^ 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. ...
  34. ^ a b Cook, Joan (August 4, 1987). "Dorothy Hammerstein Dies; Designer Was Lyricist's Wife". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  35. ^ Jones, Kenneth (March 11, 2001). "William Hammerstein, Director and Son of Oscar Hammerstein II, Dead at 82". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  36. ^ Asch, Amy (September 19, 2011). "Getting to Know Her: Meet Alice Hammerstein Mathias, Oscar's Daughter". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  37. ^ Jones, Kenneth (January 7, 1999). "Producer-director James Hammerstein, Son of Oscar Hammerstein II, Dead at 67". Playbill. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  38. ^ a b "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin': 1943–1960". Broadway: The American Musical. October 20, 2004. PBS. Oscar Hammerstein II. ...perhaps the most influential lyricist and librettist of the American theater. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  39. ^ "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!
  40. ^ Rich, Frank (March 12, 2000). "Conversations with Sondheim". The New York Times Magazine. pp. 38–ff.
  41. ^ (Kislan 1995, p. 141)
  42. ^ Bauch 2003, p. 155
  43. ^ Green, Stanley (1963). The Rodgers and Hammerstein Story. J. Day Co. p. 12. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
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  45. ^ 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.
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ Capace, Nancy (January 1, 1999). Encyclopedia of Oklahoma. Somerset Publishers, Inc. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-403-09837-8.
  48. ^ Hammerstein, Oscar, II (2008). The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II. Knopf. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-375-41358-2.
  49. ^ "Entertainment - Songs of the Century". edition.cnn.com. CNN. March 7, 2001. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
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  51. ^ "Special Awards and Citations". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved December 1, 2008.
  52. ^ "Drama". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved December 3, 2013.
  53. ^ "Columbia Names Stein To Theater Post", The New York Times, February 13, 1983
  54. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II – Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
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  56. ^ "Oscar Hammerstein II – Artist". Grammys.com. Retrieved April 25, 2020.
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  58. ^ Gans, Andrew."Rivera, Vereen, Hirsch, Huffman and More to Salute Walton June 6" Playbill, May 31, 2005
  59. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame members". Theaterhalloffame.org. Retrieved February 9, 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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