Snapshot in Prose: Rodgers and Hart

This week’s Snapshot in Prose visits a pair of classic composers who need no introduction, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, when they were at their most successful.

The author of the story speaks to both men, and we learn that they were of very different temperaments, outlooks, and lifestyles. Apparently musical theatre, like politics, makes for strange bedfellows.

hat incomparable team of songwriters, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, author and composer of Blue Moon, began turning out their great song hits without the benefit of Necessity, the mother of so much of our musical invention, being around to spur them on.
Nor did they hear the wolf howling at the door. But they did suffer a terrible urge to express themselves in their work.
Hunger for approval, thirst for accomplishment. Haven’t you too, often experienced that feeling?
We called upon Lorenz Hart in his spacious, luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park.
He greeted us in his huge music room with Kiki, his nine-year-old dog, romping at his feet.
“She’s just home from the Doctor’s,” said Hart. “Had to take her—she was losing her hair. She’s a Chinese chow.”
I picked up my pencil.
“Don’t say anything about poor Kiki, she hates publicity,” said Hart.
Hart is hospitable and generous. “What will you have?” he said, leading the way into his ultra-modern study and offering everything from Bourbon to coffee.
“A story about you and Rodgers,” we answered.
“How did you happen to begin writing songs with ‘Dick’ Rogers?”
In his inimitable way, Hart began: “We met while Dick was attending Columbia University. I’d been out of the Columbia School of Journalism for a year or two. Of course, we decided to write the college varsity show.”
“What was the name of it?”
“Something like Fly With Me—a great success”
“What work had you done before you met Rodgers?”
“I had produced a play by Henry Myers, The First Fifty Years. There were two characters played by Clare Eames and Tom Powers. We took in so little money, we couldn’t afford to pay the players. It ran for six weeks. We’d have been worse off if it had run 12. Lost our money.

“However, after our Columbia show, Dick met Herbert Fields, a son of Lew Fields of the famous Weber and Fields Minstrels.
“Lew Fields was putting on The Poor Little Rich Girl, so Herbert asked his father to use some of our songs. By the time the show opened all of the songs were ours.
The Poor Little Rich Girl ran 22 weeks on Broadway. Rodgers was then only 17. Of course we felt that we had arrived. We expected the managers to make us some offers. But no offers came.
“We put on amateur shows, benefits, and did anything we could to make a few dollars.
“Finally with Herbert Fields writing the book, Dick and I sat down and wrote a musical comedy. Then for months we made tours of auditions. Some managers liked the music and hated the lyrics, some loved the lyrics but couldn’t hear the melodies. Nobody took it.”
“What did you call it?”
Oh, it had some awful names. Then we all three wrote The Melody Man for Lew Fields. He took it on the road. Yes, it was a colossal—failure,” he finished.
We showed Dearest Enemy to Max Dreyfuss. He liked it, and now signed us up on his staff.
“This was in the month of March. The show could not open until Fall. We were unknown—and now very, very broke.
“We wrote Garrick Gaieties in a week. We used two or three numbers that we had been peddling around. One of them was Manhattan.
“At the opening matinee, I stood in the back of the theatre with a young writer about town, Walter Winchell. Three boys came before the curtain and recited that polysyllabic lyric! I felt like the thing was doomed.
“But that matinee, because of the long applause, lasted until seven o’clock.”

After writing the second Garrick Gaieties, Rodgers and Hart went over to England and did Lido Lady
“We returned to New York,” said Hart, “and did a rotten show, Betsy, for Ziegfeld. Then back to London to see our big success, Lido Lady. We thought it was terrible.
“This leads me to tell you of our association with the greatest man in the theatre, Charles Cochran. He asked us to do a sophisticated show for London like Garrick Gaieties.
“But first we went to Paris to rest for two weeks. On a drive from Paris to Versailles with two girls we were nearly hit by a cab.
“One of the girls said: ‘My God! My heart stood still!’
“I said to Dick, ‘That’s a good title.’
“Before long, Dick came to me, and said: ‘I’ve got My Heart Stood Still for our new Cochran show, One Damn Thing After Another.
“Cochran invited the Prince of Wales to come to the opening. The Prince is the busiest person in the world. He had ten places to go to that night, but he did come. As a result, the audience looked at the Prince all night—and we never got a laugh.
“It was raining. I ran away—I didn’t want Cochran to see me. Dick, too, hurried out of the theatre. We were both feeling wretched—for we had only recently that Cochran was now broke.
“But Cochran ran after us, ‘Come here! Larry—don’t go out without a topcoat!’ he called. That’s the kind of fellow he is.
“But next day, the show got brilliant review.
“One night that would just rate column space. Over there, a big paper printed the whole piece on the front page! And the show ran five years!”
In London they now wrote Evergreen, a terrific hit. Jessie Matthews was made famous by the show.
Returning to New York they did America’s Sweetheart, which opened at $33,000 the first week in Pittsburgh.
Next the boys were off for Hollywood, where they did Love Me Tonight for Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette McDonald and Phantom President for George H. Cohan and Jimmy Durante.
They have just written the music for a Bing Crosby picture, Mississippi. Among the songs are Soon, Down By The River, and It’s Easy To Remember.
“We are now, for the first time, writing our own book,” said Hart. “It is On Our Toes for the Shuberts and Ray Bolger. Also, we are doing a big show, Jumbo, to be produced under the canvas for Billy Rose with Jimmy Durante.
Lorenz Hart is a bachelor. A most modest one.
“Love life! I haven’t any. Bachelor? Of course! Nobody would want me!”
And this utterly charming fellow with a million dollars worth of personality, sounded like he really meant it.
“Let’s talk about Rodgers,” he said. “There’s a fine, conservative young man. He has to make me work all the time.”
Imagine what a genius Rodgers must be, to have written those gorgeous melodies, Dancing On The Ceiling, Lover, Mountain Greenery, Blue Moon and all the rest—at 32! And yet, to have kept his tunes original. For no one has ever accused Richard Rodgers of stealing a note.
We were anxious to know which of his beautiful songs Rodgers loved best, so next day we asked this famous young composer himself.
He answered at once: Song In My Heart from Spring Is Here.
“Has Blue Moon a history?”
Blue Moon,” he said, “was first written for the picture Hollywood Party and Jean Harlow was scheduled to sing it.
“Something kept Jean from going into the picture. So the song came out. The original lyric was entirely different. Later on the number appeared as it is today.”
Rodgers is the exact opposite, in temperament, from Hart.
He works in the day time, from 10 to 5 o’clock. Hart wrote Morning Is Midnight and he means it.
Rodgers’ favorite sport is tennis, and he loves going to concerts. Hart’s sports are cards, roulette and craps.
Rodgers has no superstitions. His hobby is collecting phonograph records of symphonies.
“Sometimes I do a melody first,” said the very dark-eyed Rodgers. Sometimes, Larry gives me a few lines of patter—or a title. It doesn’t matter to us which way we get the song together.”
He is married to a blonde. There are two little daughters, Mary and baby Linda, who is just as old as this story. No wonder we found Richard Rodgers in the happiest possible mood!
“Did you ever suffer any real hardships on your road to success?” we asked.
“Yes, but, if you mean being in danger of missing a meal, no.
“We had a terrible time getting started. Waited five years after our first show for the second one to be produced.”
“What is your ambition—now that you are on the top?” we inquired.
“To write the best score ever written by an American,” he answered promptly, without a doubt in his voice.
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