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.”