Oscar Hammerstein II biography
Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895, in New York City. In 1925, Hammerstein and Jerome Kern co-wrote Show Boat. In 1943, he and Richard Rodgers won a Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma!, and, in 1950, they won another for South Pacific. The 1950s brought a string of Tony Award-winning works for the team. While still in his professional prime, Hammerstein died of stomach cancer on August 23, 1960, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Oscar Hammerstein II was born in New York City on July 12, 1895, to a family who worked in theater. His father, William, managed a vaudeville theater, while his grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was a famed opera impresario. Hammerstein's uncle Arthur was a successful producer of Broadway musicals.
While Hammerstein was studying pre-law at Columbia University, he began acting in the school's Varsity Show revues.
As his passion for theater began to eclipse his interest in law, Hammerstein talked his Uncle Arthur into employing him as an assistant stage manager. Two years later, he married his first wife, Myra Finn. The couple had two children, named William and Alice.
In 1919, Arthur promoted his nephew to production stage manager, affording young Hammerstein the opportunity to rewrite scripts in need of improvement.
Librettist and Lyricist
Also in 1919, Hammerstein wrote his own play, called The Light, and his uncle produced it. Despite the play's relative failure, Hammerstein forged ahead with his writing. In 1920, he collaborated with a Columbia undergrad named Richard Rodgers in writing a Varsity Show called Fly with Me. Not long after, Hammerstein dropped out of grad school at Columbia to concentrate his efforts entirely on musical theater.
Hammerstein first found success as a librettist with Wildflower, a collaboration with Otto Harbach produced in 1923. He achieved even greater success with 1924's Rose Marie, which he created in collaboration with Harbach as well as Herbert Stothart and Rudolf Friml. While writing Rose Marie, Hammerstein met Jerome Kern. In 1925 the duo teamed up to write Show Boat. The successful musical put Hammerstein on the map as a writer and lyricist. Kern and Hammerstein went on to write a total of eight musicals together.
Hammerstein divorced his first wife, Myra, in 1929 and remarried to Dorothy Blanchard Jacobson. Hammerstein's second marriage yielded one son, named James. He also eventually dissolved his duo with Jerome Kern to partner up exclusively with that former Columbia undergrad, Richard Rodgers. The Rodgers and Hammerstein team quickly produced a smash hit: In 1943, their first Broadway musical together, Oklahoma!, won a Pulitzer Prize.
In 1950 the duo scored a second Pulitzer with the musical South Pacific. The 1950s and early 1960s produced a string of Tony-winning works for the team, including The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1960).
Death and Legacy
While still in his professional prime, Oscar Hammerstein II lost his battle with stomach cancer on August 23, 1960. He died at his house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
In Hammerstein's memory the lights on Broadway were turned off at 9 pm that September 1.
In 1995 Hammerstein's centennial was celebrated all over the world with recordings, books and concerts created to commemorate the "man who owned Broadway." The following Broadway season, three of Hammerstein's musicals ran on Broadway at the same time: Show Boat, The King and I and State Fair. All three won Tony Awards—Show Boat and The King and I for Best Musical Revival, and State Fair for Best Musical Score.