Apr

13

 The Sound of Their Music, a bio of Rodgers and Hammerstein, by Frederick Nolan, has many layers of interest for the speculator and others, especially considering that Nolan seems to know nothing about the technicalities of music such as harmony or rhythm, and he seems to be uninterested in the personal lives of one of his heroes. Here are some of the interesting layers.

1. It describes the life and career of the greatest musical duo in history

2. It gives a birds eye picture of the evolution and creation of each musical

3. It gives a glimpse of every great popular composer of the 20th century, up to and Lloyd Webber as the duo collaborated with every one of them including Gershwin and Romberg and Sondheim

4. It gives the financial details of raising money in those days for each musical, e.g. 75,000 to put on Oklahoma

5. It provides a great snap shot of what life in the 20th century was like for the middle classes who loved music in the days when there were 150 American piano manufacturers versus 2 or 3 today.

6. It has great pictures of all the stars and directors of the day

7. It contains a great picture of the dynamics of a beautiful 2 person partnership (R and Hammmerstein) and a terrible one (R and Hart)

8. It contains nice details about the significant family events and deaths of each character.

9. It shows by indirection the techniques that built up a billion dollar business in the field masterminded by Rogers.

10. It shows how many musicians including the duo were able to overcome great neurosis and bounce back to do great work.

A great example of boom and bust was between 1924 and 1929 there were 26 new theaters built in NY, and these would house a total of 225 new shows a year. Similarly in 1929, the Hollywood studies produced about 250 talking musicals, but by 1934, hardly none at all and movie theaters would have to place a sign on their marquees: "there is no music in this show". 

I was also interested in some of the lessons for speculators and great anecdotes contained. Here are some of my favorites. When the cynical critics came to vet the duo's musicals in tryouts they often said as Mike Todd did about Oklahoma: "no leg, no jokes, no tits, no chance." They said the same thing about The Sound of Music. And Hammerstein in a typical quote (he was a saint) said: "the cynics hate to see a kid playing, a blushing bride, and a happy family."

Oscar's father and grandfather were impresarios in the business, and one of the rules that Hammerstein emphasized was "there is no limit to the number of people who would stay away from a bad show." Rogers said something similar in "the smartest people to judge a musical are the audience". And he was always willing to change a tune or cut if the audience didn't like it.

The musicals all needed road shows and tryouts to become good. They started out 4 1/2 hours long, and they changed enormously by the end based on what the audience and the critics liked. Hammerstein would have been a lawyer and Rogers, an underwear salesman if they had listened to their family and tried to get a steady job as they were urged. Both fathers were absentee fathers who spent little time with their kids as they were too involved in business. Many chance meetings let to the great shows. Hammerstein collaborated with Kern on showboat because they met at a Victor Herbert funeral. Kern was able to convince Ferber to let them use the book because he met her at a how with Woolcott and interrupted his conversation with a pretty lady saying "you have to introduce me to Ferber at the Circle" and Woolcott said "I think that could be arranged. The one you rudely interrupted is she".

After the success of Oklahoma, Hammerstein took out an ad in Variety saying "Here are my recent failures. Very warm for May, ball at the Savoy, three sisters, free for all the gang's all here, east wind, and gentlemen unafraid. I've done it before, and I can do it again". The latter thought is something that all speculators should perhaps plaster to their walls.

David Lillienfeld comments: 

It's interesting that it was during the mid 1920s that Park Avenue above 42nd Street took on its current characteristics as a major residential street. By 1928, 10% of all the millionaires in the US had a Park Avenue residence. Emery Roth designed many of those buildings (leading to perhaps the greatest irony in NYC real estate). This was also the time that the Vanderbilt mansions on 5th Avenue began to fall and multistory co-ops replaced them.

That there would a number of musicals appearing on Broadway makes sense given the wealth then accruing in NYC.

What I find curious is that when I think of a movie musical, I think of MGM. MGM practically minted money during the 1930s. Louis B. Mayer was rumored to have a $500K (some suggest it was as high as $1 million) annual salary during the Great Depression. So how is it that there were no musicals made?


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2 Comments so far

  1. chair on April 14, 2015 1:49 pm

    a few more anecdotes. hart was the k ind of drunk who was not obstererous or mean when hitting the bottle. He hated work and Rogers always had to cajole him. when oaklahoma was presented, Hart said ” where seldom is heard an intelligent word ” and refused to do it.” he had always stayed out all nite, but now he stayed out 2 or 3 nights . the break didnt mean anything. his life had come to an end long before”. He attended the opening nite, hugged R and Hammerstein , said it was the best thing he ever heard, got drunk, fell into a coma and died.when r and hammerstein started producing shows, they wanted to get Irving Berlin to do one for them. But they were both afraid to ask him, because Berlin only worked for himself and monopolized all the revenues. but Hammerstein said. ” look, how can a man say know if we havent asked him”. they asked him and Berlin came up with Annie get your gun ” which ran the longest up to that time. Kern had a stroke on 57 th street and madison at the age of 65 and was taken to the pauper’s hospital at Ellis Island becuse he had no identification. he died a few days later. Rogers liked the cuties in his show, and many pictures show his arm around one of them. they always said to him ” dont screw the leading lady until after she signs the contract. Near athe end , Hammerstein said how hard it was for him to come up with the perfect lyrics. ” if i had to start over again, i dont thind i’d ever write a lyric. ” Laurel a i once went to the baseball hall of fame in cooperstoown, and an idiot savant came up to us, and started reeling of the batting and fielding averages of every player up on the wall. I was reminded of this by Nolan’s book. he has read everything about the duos and interviewed everyone who had any contact. but because he doesnt go into tne music itself, the book is reminiscent of that person from Cooperstown. but it’s very interesting on many levels, and I recommend it highly. vic

  2. Hernan on April 14, 2015 8:33 pm

    Is there such a thing as great duos in trading?. Palindrome and J.Rogers comes to mind…..

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