American composer/producer Richard Rodgers had his first song published at 17; one year later, he wrote his first stage musical. An alumnus of Juilliard and Columbia University, Rodgers came to critical prominence with the many '20s editions of The Garrick Gaieties, in which Rodgers and his lyricist collaborator Lorenz Hart were responsible for such instant hits as "Mountain Greenery" and "I'll Take Manhattan". Though Hart was erratic and self-destructive, Rodgers stuck with the talented wordsmith through such Broadway blockbusters of the '20s, '30s and '40s as The Connecticut Yankee, Babes in Arms, On Your Toes (which contained Rodger's first true "concert piece," "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue") and Pal Joey. Rodgers and Hart travelled to Hollywood in 1929, where after guest-starring in the short subject The Melody Makers they hunkered down to compose such favorites as "Mimi," "Lover" and "Isn't it Romantic?" (this last song became virtually the signature theme of Paramount Pictures, popping up in everything from Jerry Lewis movies to Betty Boop cartoons). When he discovered that the head of Paramount didn't even know his name, Rodgers decided to leave Hollywood before he became just another anonymous studio hack. In 1942, Rodgers and Hart planned to write a musical version of Lynn Riggs' Green Grow the Lilacs, but Hart was in no condition to work (he died shortly afterward). Rodgers' new partner was Oscar Hammerstein Jr.: their version of Green Grow the Lilacs was Oklahoma, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rodgers and Hammerstein returned to Hollywood in 1955 with their own production company, overseeing the movie adaptations of Oklahoma (1955) and South Pacific (1958); three years earlier, R and H played cameo roles in the New York-filmed Main Street to Broadway, for which they contributed one forgettable number. After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers wrote both music and lyrics for the 1961 Broadway production No Strings; previous solo assignments for Rodgers included the scores for the TV documentary series Victory at Sea (1952) and Winston Churchill (1960). The 1965 screen adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, which included two new songs written by Richard Rodgers alone, ended up as the most profitable movie musical of all time. Though he never wrote anything directly for the screen after 1965, Richard Rodgers was well represented in films by his previous body of work, including filmizations of On Your Toes (1936) Babes in Arms (1939) Pal Joey (1957) and all but three of the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage collaborations. In 1948, MGM produced a fanciful biopic of Rodgers and Hart titled Words and Music, wherein Charles Drake's colorless interpretation of Richard Rodgers was virtually muscled off the screen by Mickey Rooneys high-octane portrayal of Lorenz Hart.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Had written several songs by the age of 14, and had his first published at 17.
- Met lyricist Lorenz Hart in 1919 and began a 24-year collaboration.
- Partnership with Hart resulted in a number of enduring hit songs, including "My Heart Stood Still," "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."
- Pulitzer Prize-winning 1943 musical Oklahoma! marked the beginning of Rodgers' 17-year partnership with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.
- Rodgers & Hammerstein's subsequent triumphs included the musicals Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1959).
- Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
- Honored posthumously when the 46th Street Theatre on Broadway was renamed Richard Rodgers Theatre in 1990.
- Rodgers & Hammerstein were commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp in 1999.
- Daughters Mary and Linda have established themselves as musical composers, as have their sons, Adam Guettel and Peter Melnick.