HAMMERSTEIN, U.S. family closely associated with the development of opera and the popular musical theater in U.S. Its two most famous members were Oscar Hammerstein I (1847–1919) and his grandson, Oscar II (1895–1960). Born in Berlin, OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN I ran away from home, reached New York in 1863, and worked in a cigar factory. He soon became an important and wealthy figure in the industry. His passion, however, was for building opera houses. The Harlem Opera House, built in the 1880s, was his first. The Victoria (1899) was a successful vaudeville theater managed by his son WILLIAM. Altogether he built 10 opera houses and theaters in New York, in addition to an opera house in Philadelphia (1908) and one in London (1911). His Manhattan Opera House (1906), a venture in which his son ARTHUR (1873–1955) was closely involved, competed with the dominant Metropolitan Opera House until 1910, when the Metropolitan bought it out for $1.2 million. In its time the Manhattan helped to make grand opera exciting by bringing new talent and works to American audiences. His later ventures were less successful. OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, librettist, was born in New York, the son of William Hammerstein. He played an important role in developing the "musical play" into an integrated dramatic form. He worked for his uncle Arthur as a stage manager. By 1920 he had produced the books for three musicals. Wildflower (1923) was his first real success. Subsequently he collaborated on such Broadway musicals as Rose Marie (1924), Desert Song (1926), and Show Boat (1927). After some years in Hollywood, he formed his partnership with the composer Richard *Rodgers in 1943. Together they produced a series of successful musicals with a style and form of their own. These included Oklahoma (1943), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), which won a Pulitzer Prize, The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959). The Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation, New York, established a fund for cancer research in 1963, at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem.
J.F. Cone, Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company (1966); Fact Book Concerning the Plays of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (1954).
[Harvey A. Cooper]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.