businessman and womanizer -- 11/10/17

Today's encore selection -- from The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers & Hammerstein by Frederick Nolan. Richard Rodgers was a towering giant among 20th century composers, but his often sweet, sentimental and reaffirming music belied the fact that he was a tough-minded businessman and "vulpine womanizer":

"In the months following the opening of Oklahoma! Dick and Oscar began setting up a series of other business arrangements through their lawyer, Howard Reinheimer. Between them they laid the foundation for what would become within a few short years one of the most powerful and influential organizations in the American theater. Their basic intention was to put themselves in a position, vis a vis their own work, that would have turned even [Flo] Ziegfeld green with envy. ...

"In 1951, the magazine Business Week estimated the income of the team as around $1,500,000 a year [$12.5 million in today's dollars]. By the mid-50s, the firm was grossing well over $15,000,000 a year [over $120 million in today's dollars] by which time it had also bought back The Theatre Guild's investments in the early Rodgers and Hammerstein triumphs. Dick and Oscar owned one hundred percent of everything they wrote, and a good-sized piece of everything else.

"They set [the] rules and stuck to them. Anyone wanting motion picture rights to their work had to pay up 40 percent of the profits of the movie, and no haggling. Collaboration with Rodgers and Hammerstein meant that Rodgers and Hammerstein got 51 percent of the credit, and 51 percent of the billing not to mention the action. The effect of this was to consolidate the Rodgers and Hammerstein interests to make them into an empire with Rodgers (and, to a much lesser degree Hammerstein) at its head.

Rodgers (seated) with Hammerstein, 1945

"Rodgers was no longer a theatrical songwriter with business interests, but a chairman of the board who happened to write songs. He supervised every detail -- he even signed the weekly paychecks -- spending more and more time in an office above a bank on Madison Avenue that had as little charm as a dentist's waiting room, the only concession to his craft a Steinway grand he rarely played. ...

"For all that, throughout his career Rodgers was unfailingly courteous, endlessly patient, infinitely available to the hundreds and hundreds of people who felt they had to talk with him, offer him ideas, seek his support. ...

"Nevertheless everyone seems to agree that after there was a change. Success seems not to have made him blossom, but to have soured him. He became more ruthless, almost dictatorial. He flew off the handle more often. 'He didn't take criticism well and he was always getting his feelings hurt,' actress Billie Worth recalled. And there were other, more personal problems. His wife Dorothy underwent a hysterectomy shortly after the show opened, another internal operation a year later. He was suffering from a depression he would not admit to and drinking heavily.

"If the recent revelations of his daughters are anything to go by, Rodgers was imprisoned in a desperately unhappy marriage. Dorothy Rodgers, beautifully poised and chic in a Duchess of Windsor sort of way, was also a neurotic hypochondriac, the kind of woman whose house was so organized there were postage stamps on the envelopes in the guest-room writing desks. Perhaps as a result or perhaps anyway, he was a vulpine womanizer. And he wasn't very subtle about it either. Many, many, years earlier Larry Hart had commented that Dick adored chorus girls. What kind? 'Blonde. And very innocent-looking. Brains not essential -- but they must be innocent-looking.' ... Josh Logan probably put it as simply as it can be said. 'We used to say to him 'Dick, for God's sake, don't screw the leading lady till she's signed the contract.' "



Frederick Nolan


The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers & Hammerstein


Applause Theatre & Cinema Books


Copyright 2002 by Frederick Nolan


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