Tuesday, November 10, 2009

delanceyplace.com 11/10/09 - businessman and womanizer

In today's excerpt - 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

"In the months following the opening of
Oklahoma!, Richard (Dick) and Oscar
Hammerstein 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

"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 South Pacific 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, Applause, Copyright 2002 by
Frederick Nolan, pp. 149-150, 216-217.


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