Richard Rodgers began composing at nine and became one of America’s most revered songwriters. His collaboration with Lorenz “Larry” Hart began in 1919 and lasted until Hart’s death in 1943. The success of Garrick Gaieties in 1925 started a string of hits from The Girl Friend (1926) to America’s Sweetheart (1931).
In 1931 they went to Hollywood to write for such talents as Maurice Chevalier, Bing Crosby, and Al Jolson. They rereleased “Blue Moon” with new lyrics, and it became a million seller and a big hit for the Casa Loma orchestra in 1935.
The team returned to Broadway with two successes in 1936, one of which, On Your Toes, included Rodgers’ ballet, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” 1937’s Babes in Arms produced half a dozen hit songs and the intervening years brought more. But in 1940 the team shocked Broadway with the harsh realism of Pal Joey. Their last show was By Jupiter (1942).
Rodgers began the second stage of his remarkable career teaming with Oscar Hammerstein II for 1943’s smash hit Oklahoma! which ran on Broadway for six years. They won an Academy Award for “It Might As Well Be Spring” from the 1944 film State Fair. Giant successes followed, although all dealt with sensitive subjects uncommon to Broadway: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), and The King and I (1951). Their partnership ended with Hammerstein’s death in 1960 but not before they scored another prize, The Sound of Music (1959).
In the third stage of his career Rodgers wrote both music and lyrics for No Strings (1962) and collaborated on shows with Stephen Sondheim (1965) and Martin Charnin (1970). In 1960 he wrote the background music for a second TV series, Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years, having scored the 26-episode Victory at Sea in 1952.
-- Sandra Burlingame