As a writer, public speaker, and family historian, I have devoted much of my life to studying and preserving my family's history and contribution to American culture. I speak frequently at universities, institutes, and theatrical and civic organizations on my family's pivotal role in shaping musical theatre and popular entertainment from the 1880's to the present day.
THE HAMMERSTEINS - A MUSICAL THEATRE FAMILY
This talk covers the century-long story of one of Broadway's most creative and productive families. The story begins with Oscar Hammerstein I who becomes a successful cigar and real estate mogul to fund his theatre-building ambitions. He builds more than a dozen theatres and spearheads the development of Times Square as the theatre capital of the world. His sons, Willie and Arthur carry on the tradition and nurture such talents as Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Al Jolson, Houdini, and Charlie Chaplin. Willie's son Oscar II becomes the most successful lyricist of all time, writing the story and words to the Broadway shows Showboat, Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. The accomplishments of this family are monumental. Their tale is enchanting. The Hammersteins is at once a deeply personal story of an American family living the American dream and a celebration of musical theatre in this country.
THE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN REVOLUTION
This talk covers the 17-year collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. I recount their personal and professional relationship and describe the many factors that led to their huge success and discuss their lasting impact.
OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II - A LIFE IN WORDS AND MUSIC
This talk covers the entire career of Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), the prodigiously talented and highly disciplined lyricist and librettist for such Broadway smash hits as Show Boat, with Jerome Kern, and Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, King and I, The Sound of Music, written with Richard Rodgers. The emotional honesty, social conscience and artistic integrity of his efforts redefined what audiences came to expect from a musical play. He furthered the transformative power of the ‘book’ musical play by making the show's libretto both believable and truthful, the organic center around which all the other theatrical arts orbited Moreover, Oscar's lyrics were warm, humane and touched on themes of tolerance and understanding. For these Promethean efforts he remains the revolutionary central figure in the development of the musical play in the 20th century.
OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN I – FATHER OF TIMES SQUARE
This talk re-introduces the life of the first Oscar Hammerstein (1847-1919) - the inventor, writer, editor, publisher, composer, speculator, designer, builder, promoter, showman and, above all else, an opera impresario who realized his lifelong dream of rejuvenating and revitalizing opera in America. To subsidize his opera 'madness,' Oscar spearheaded the development of Times Square as a theatre district by building the colossal, Olympia Theatre in 1895. His development of Times Square and other theatre districts in New York City, his acoustic and populist innovations in theatre design, his introduction of the new and controversial into the staid conventions of opera, his bankrolling his opera productions with the profits from vaudeville comedy and cigar machines, and his own brand of cockeyed optimism all combined to help create the theatrical climate within which his lyrical grandson, Oscar Hammerstein the 2nd, and many others, would so creatively thrive. His life story provides a fascinating overview of popular culture during New York City's "Golden Age."
This talk presents Oscar through a political lens. While Hammerstein's name may be synonymous with traditional Broadway musicals, his work was often overtly political and decidedly progressive: South Pacific's seminal "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" confronted hatred head-on; The Sound of Music famously dramatized the dangers of Fascism; Carmen Jones brought Bizet's opera Carmen to Broadway with an all-black cast — in 1943 no less. Horrified by the emergence of the Third Reich on the global stage, and later by rampant racial injustice in the United States, Hammerstein became a human rights champion and voice in the civil rights movement, co-founding the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and lending support to the Southern Negro Youth Congress, American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born, National Federation for Constitutional Liberties and myriad social justice organizations. He also applied his magic pen to speeches by Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.