JOE BLITMAN'S
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2021 HOLIDAY ADVENT CALENDAR
DAY 17




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RICHARD RODGERS

1902-1979




For those who prize awards statistics, at the top of the entertainment mountain are EGOT winners -- those individuals who’ve been awarded at least one each of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar AND Tony Awards. 




There are currently 21 EGOTs:



Guess who was the first EGOT -- back in 1962? 

Today’s composer in the spotlight - Richard Rodgers.
  




For 60 years, Rodgers created an endless stream of memorable melodies. 

Noel Coward once said of Richard Rodgers  “That man positively pees melody.”  As a compliment, it’s a little outre, but you get the idea.

Yesterday, we told you all about Lorenz Hart, Rodgers' first collaborator, and two days ago, Oscar Hammerstein (his second partner) was the focus of this Holiday Advent Calendar. 

Today, we put Rodgers front and center. 



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Richard Rodgers’ career has three distinct acts. 

The first act saw him paired with Lorenz Hart for almost a quarter of a century. 




Hart’s lyrics were so sparkling and effervescent that it is easy to overlook just how consistently brilliant Rodgers' melodies are.  

Give a listen to Barbara Cook singing Rodgers’ personal favorite of all of the Rodgers & Hart songs - “Where or When” from 1937’s “Babes in Arms.”





Probably as famous as any Rodgers & Hart song is “My Funny Valentine,” also from “Babes in Arms.”  It has been recorded 1600 different times (!) and is sung here by Linda Ronstadt. 

By the way, the song isn’t actually about Valentine’s Day.  In the show, it was sung to a character named Valentine.



As wonderful as Rodgers' melodies are for the ballads he wrote, he’s just as gifted in uptempo songs like "Falling In Love With Love," from 1938’s “The Boys From Syracuse.” 



Here it is performed by a teenage Wayne Newton.  (Before he came to define kitsch, he was a terrific singer.)
 


You’re Nearer” is a delicate tune for delicate lyrics from 1939’s “Too Many Girls,”



sung by Judy Garland:



1940’s “Pal Joey” is probably the best-known of the Rodgers & Hart shows. 



It made a star of Gene Kelly on stage,
 




but the movie with Frank Sinatra is what everyone thinks of when they hear “Pal Joey.” 




One of the best songs in the score is “I Could Write a Book.” 

Here, Ella Fitzgerald gives a master class in how to sing it.
 


Writing songs with Hart was a roller-coaster and often, we imagine, Rodgers was just hanging on.  


When his partnership with Hart ended in 1943 and the partnership with Oscar Hammerstein began,





this was the “Act Two” of Rodgers' professional life.

Rodgers found himself working with someone who was as self-contained and disciplined as he was.
 

No drama. 

No wondering if Hammerstein would do the work on time.

Their first project together was "Oklahoma!"
 




And Rodgers' music for the title song is positively exhilarating. 

Before he became Wolverine, Hugh Jackman made a splash on stage in a revival:





In 1945, Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote songs for the movie “State Fair.” 




They won a Best Song Oscar for “It Might as Well be Spring," sung here by Shirley Jones (guesting on an episode of Danny Thomas' TV series, “Make Room For Daddy.”

 

That same year, Rodgers, who was known by showbiz folk as the "King of Waltzes," wrote his most famous waltz -- the title melody for “Carousel,”




performed here by the New York Philharmonic:



Rogers & Hammerstein (R&H) were so successful, and their shows ran for so long (and each show had multiple touring companies criss-crossing the country), that they became a brand. 

They produced their own shows as well as others -- like “Annie Get Your Gun” -- and approached their work as as much “business” as “show.” 




Actually, it was Rodgers who became laser-focused on the business, supervising contract negotiations and theatre rentals, etc. 

When James Michener’s book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” was presented to R&H as a potential musical, it was Hammerstein who warmed to it. 




Rodgers assumed that any music written for it would have to include Hawaiian-style instruments - ukuleles and steel guitars - and he had no interest in that. 

Michener explained that the only music he remembered from the South Sea islands on which he was stationed during WW2 came from banging empty oil barrels like drums.



The big hit from 1949’s “South Pacific was expected to be “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy,” one of star Mary Martin’s solos.



But it turned out to be “Some Enchanted Evening,” sung by Ezio Pinza (whose contract specified he would not sing more than 15 minutes a performance). 




Here is a heartbreaking rendition by Brian Stokes Mitchell:



Rodgers had a true gift for writing “catchy.”  And there are few songs as catchy as “There is Nothing like a Dame,” shown here from the 1958 movie with Ray Walston and Mitzi Gaynor:




By the way, R&H were very keen on having Doris Day play the part of Nellie Forbush in the movie.  And she was equally keen to be in it. 

But with her husband on one side of the negotiations, and Rodgers on the other, they never could come to an agreement on $$$. 

So Mitzi Gaynor got movie immortality by default.






In 1951’s “The King & I,” Rodgers did something brilliant with the song “Shall We Dance.”
 





Most composers would have written the song as a romantic waltz.  But not Rodgers. 

He made it a polka,




which gave the dance a breathless, almost giddy quality, and when Yul Brynner puts his hand on her waist, and whirls her around, it’s so electrifying he leaves Deborah Kerr breathless, too. 

Here, from the movie, are Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr (with Marni Nixon’s voice):




The penultimate R&H stage musical was 1958’s "Flower Drum Song," directed by Gene Kelly. 





The standout song was “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” performed here on “The Ed Sullivan Show” by the song’s originator, Pat Suzuki:




The last R&H musical was 1959’s “The Sound of Music,” which, due to the phenomenal success of the 1965 movie version, has become their most enduring work.
 




Here, Julie Andrews memorably sings the title tune:



“The Sound of Music” won the Tony Award for Best Musical that year. 

One of its competitors in that category was “Once Upon a Mattress,” the music for which was composed by Rodgers' daughter, Mary Rodgers. 




And, proving that some things are truly genetic, Mary Rodgers' son, Adam Guettel, won a Tony Award in 2005 for Best Score for the musical “A Light in the Piazza.”





In 1960, Oscar Hammerstein died of stomach cancer, and Rodgers began Act 3 of his professional life. 

At first he wrote the music AND the lyrics.

1962’s “No Strings” spawned one standard -- “The Sweetest Sounds”





and won a Tony Award for Diahann Carroll, whom we all know as "Julia":



Rodgers' next four shows, written with a variety of lyricists, all failed to catch on:

1965's "Do I Hear a Waltz?" with Stephen Sondheim:





1970's "Two by Two" with Martin Charnin (and starring Danny Kaye as Noah):





1976's "Rex" with Sheldon Harnick (about King Henry VIII):






and 1979's "I Remember Mama" with Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel (and starring Liv Ullman):






Richard Rodgers passed away at the very end of 1979.

Like a lot of composers and lyricists, Richard Rodgers felt very strongly about how his songs should be sung or played.

For 1932’s “Love Me Tonight” movie with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier, Rodgers and Hart had written the song “Lover.”





About 20 years later, Peggy Lee performed a very neurotic version of it in the movie “The Jazz Singer.”
 




It was a wildly different arrangement from the one Rodgers created.  And he hated it! 

He was heard to comment: “I don’t know why Peggy picked on me.  She could have f**ked up 'Silent Night.'"



If Rodgers hated that version of “Lover,” he was absolutely apoplectic about the Marcels' doo-wop version of “Blue Moon" in the mid-50’s. 

In the 1934 movie, “Hollywood Party,”





the Rodgers and Hart song was done as a traditional ballad (as were the hundreds of other versions of the song recorded over the next 20 years.) 

Rodgers actually took out newspaper ads telling the public not to buy the Marcels' record.



 


Almost all composers had a love-hate thing going with Frank Sinatra starting in the 50’s. 




They hated when he “ring-a-ding-ding-ed" the lyrics and tempo of their songs, but they loved the royalties since Sinatra albums sold millions of copies. 

We don’t know what Rodgers said when he heard Sinatra’s version of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” from Rodgers & Hart’s 1935 musical, “Jumbo,” but we’ll bet it was choice.













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