Oscar Hammerstein II Biography

Oscar Hammerstein II was an award-winning American librettist, theater producer, and director of musicals. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life, career, and achievements.

Oscar Hammerstein II
Quick Facts

Birthday: July 12, 1895

Nationality: American

Famous: Lyricists & Songwriters T V & Movie Producers

Died At Age: 65

Sun Sign: Cancer

Also Known As: Oscar Greeley Clendenning Ritter von Hammerstein II

Born Country: United States

Born in: New York, New York, United States

Famous as: Lyricist

Height: 6'3" (190 cm), 6'3" Males

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Hammerstein, Myra Finn

father: William Hammerstein

mother: Alice Nimmo

children: Alice Hammerstein Mathias, James Hammerstein, William Hammerstein

Died on: August 23, 1960

place of death: Doylestown, Pennsylvania, United States

Cause of Death: Stomach Cancer

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Founder/Co-Founder: New Dramatists, Rodgers and Hammerstein

More Facts

education: Columbia University

awards: Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Grammy Trustees Award

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Oscar Hammerstein II was an award-winning American librettist, theater producer, and director of musicals. In his career spanning over 40 years, he won eight ‘Tony Awards’ and two ‘Academy Awards.’ He also co-wrote over 800 songs. Although he was the son of a vaudeville-theater manager, he had initially joined ‘Columbia Law School.’ However, he quit law school soon to venture into theater. He collaborated with Jerome Kern, producing hits such as ‘Show Boat.’ He was part of the duo ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein,’ with Richard Rodgers. Some of their most popular works were ‘Oklahoma!,’ ‘Carousel,’ ‘South Pacific,’ ‘Pipe Dream,’ ‘Me and Juliet,’ ‘Flower Drum Song,’ and ‘The Sound of Music.’ ‘Oklahoma!’ even won a ‘Pulitzer Prize.’ He was the 11th president of the ‘Dramatists Guild of America.’ He died of stomach cancer in Pennsylvania in 1960. Following his death, all lights were dimmed on ‘Broadway,’ in his honor. He is still remembered as the “man who owned Broadway.”

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Oscar Hammerstein II
Childhood & Early Life
  • Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II was born in New York City, on July 12, 1895, to William Hammerstein and his wife, Alice Hammerstein (née Nimmo). His was a family that was heavily involved in theater. His father was a vaudeville-theater manager. His grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was a popular opera impresario. Hammerstein's uncle, Arthur, was a producer of ‘Broadway’ musicals.
  • Although he belonged to a family with deep connections with the entertainment industry, Hammerstein initially attended ‘Columbia University.’ He studied at ‘Columbia Law School,’ but eventually quit it in 1917, to plunge into theater.
  • In school, he was engaged in extracurricular activities, apart from scoring well in academics. He was part of the school’s baseball team and was also a member of the ‘Pi Lambda Phi’ fraternity.
  • His father died of Bright's disease on June 10, 1914, when he was still a student at ‘Columbia.’ Following his father’s death, he participated in his first play with the ‘Varsity Show,’ titled ‘On Your Way.’
  • After quitting the ‘Columbia Law School,’ he worked with his uncle as his assistant stage manager.
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Career
  • After dropping out of law school to venture into theater, Hammerstein collaborated with Herbert Stothart, Frank Mandel, and Otto Harbach. He went on to work with Harbach for the next 20 years. Soon, he produced his first musical, ‘Always You,’ writing both the book and the lyrics. It opened on ‘Broadway’ in the year 1920. The following year, Hammerstein joined the social club named ‘The Lambs.’
  • Earlier, in 1919, he had written his own play, ‘The Light,’ which was produced by his uncle.
  • He found his first breakthrough as a librettist with ‘Wildflower,’ a collaborative work with Harbach, in 1923. His next collaboration, ‘Rose Marie’ (1924), had him work with Rudolf Friml. It was more successful than his previous work. He came in touch with Jerome Kern while writing ‘Rose Marie.’ Kern and Hammerstein then co-wrote ‘Show Boat’ in 1925 , which was a phenomenal success.
  • Kern and Hammerstein teamed up to write more musicals together, such as ‘Sweet Adeline,’ ‘Three Sisters,’ ‘Music in the Air,’ and ‘Very Warm for May.’ Some of Hammerstein’s other collaborations were with Vincent Youmans (for ‘Wildflower’) and with Sigmund Romberg (for ‘The Desert Song’ and ‘The New Moon’).
  • Hammerstein’s next successful collaboration was with Richard Rodgers, for the musical adaptation of the play ‘Green Grow the Lilacs.’ Rodgers was initially supposed to work with Lorenz Hart. However, Hart’s issues with alcoholism rendered him incapable of writing. Thus, Hammerstein stepped in, and what resulted was the masterpiece called ‘Oklahoma!’ It premiered on ‘Broadway’ in 1943.
  • ‘Oklahoma!’ won the ‘Pulitzer Prize Special Award’ in 1944. Following this, Rodgers and Hammerstein contributed to the musicals ‘Carousel,’ ‘South Pacific,’ and ‘The King and I.’ In 1950, ‘South Pacific’ won a ‘Pulitzer’ in the ‘Drama’ category.
  • The duo also produced the ‘Broadway’ musicals ‘Me and Juliet,’ ‘Allegro,’ ‘Pipe Dream,’ and ‘Flower Drum Song.’ They created the musical film ‘State Fair’ and its stage adaptation bearing the same name. The TV musical ‘Cinderella’ was also one of their collaborative efforts. Such works were featured in the revue named ‘A Grand Night for Singing.’ ‘The Sound of Music’ (1959) was the duo’s final collaboration. "Edelweiss" from ‘The Sound of Music’ was the last song that Hammerstein had written before his death.
  • Additionally, Hammerstein wrote the book and lyrics for ‘Carmen Jones,’ which was an adaptation of ‘Carmen,’ Georges Bizet's opera that had an all-black cast. It was adapted into a ‘Broadway’ musical in 1943. It was also made into a 1954 film that starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.
  • He had co-written more than 800 songs in his career. Some of them are "Indian Love Call" from Rose-Marie; "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and "Make Believe" from ‘Show Boat’; "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Oklahoma" from ‘Oklahoma!’ “Oklahoma” was declared the the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Hammerstein won two ‘Academy Awards’ for the ‘Best Original Song’: one in 1941, for "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from the film ‘Lady Be Good’ and the other in 1945, for "It Might as Well Be Spring" from ‘State Fair.’
  • In 1950, Rodgers and Hammerstein were awarded ‘The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award’ for "outstanding contributions to the City of New York." He was on the board of directors of many organizations, such as the ‘Dramatists Guild of America’ and the ‘Screen Writers' Guild.’ He became the 11th president of the guild and continued until 1960.
  • Hammerstein won eight ‘Tony Awards,’ six of them for books or lyrics, and two as a producer of the ‘Best Musical’ (one each for ‘South Pacific’ and ‘The Sound of Music’).
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein had started to write long before the age of the ‘Tonys.’ They were awarded a special ‘Pulitzer Prize’ for ‘Oklahoma!’ in 1944. They also won the annual ‘Pulitzer Prize for Drama’ for ‘South Pacific’ in 1950.
  • Hammerstein was a member of the ‘American Theater Hall of Fame.’
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Family & Personal Life
  • Hammerstein got married to Myra Finn, his first wife, in 1917. They divorced in 1929. On May 13, 1929, he got married to Australian-born Dorothy (Blanchard) Jacobson.
  • He had three children: William and Alice, from his first wife, and James, from his second wife. Dorothy also had a son named Henry and a daughter named Susan, from her previous marriage.
  • On August 23, 1960, Hammerstein died of stomach cancer, at ‘Highland Farm,’ his home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He was 65 years old at the time of his death.
  • He was cremated, following which his ashes were buried in the ‘Ferncliff Cemetery, located in Hartsdale, New York.
  • On May 24, 1961, a memorial plaque was unveiled in his honor at ‘Southwark Cathedral’ in England,
  • ‘Broadway’ turned off all lights at 9 p.m. on September 1, 1960, in memory of Hammerstein. He is still revered in the entertainment industry and remembered as the “man who owned Broadway.”
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Legacy
  • In 1981, The ‘Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater Studies’ was established at ‘Columbia University.’ His family donated $1 million for the project.
  • The ‘Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre’ is an annual award presented by the ‘York Theatre Company’ in New York City.
  • ‘Time’ magazine published a cover story on him, titled "The Careful Dreamer," which was published on October 20, 1947.
  • In 1977, a biography on him, named ‘Getting to Know Him,’ by Hugh Fordin, was released by ‘Random House.’
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Trivia
  • Following Hammerstein's death, ‘The Sound of Music’ was made into a 1965 film. It won the ‘Academy Award’ for the ‘Best Picture.’
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Article Title
- Oscar Hammerstein II Biography
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Last Updated
- November 26, 2019

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