120 Facts About Richard Rodgers
Featured Fun Facts
1. Richard Rodgers is credited with writing between 900 and 1,500 songs, an estimated 85 of which are considered standards. He wrote over 40 musicals and, to date, 19 film versions of his musicals have been made.
2. According to Noël Coward, Richard Rodgers was so prolific and lightning-fast at writing music that he could “pee melody.” He would typically create the music after lyrics were written by his longtime collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein II.
3. Rodgers earned numerous accolades, including 2 Pulitzer Prize honors, 2 Primetime Emmy Awards, 2 Grammy Awards, 1 Academy Award and 8 Tony Awards.
4. Rodgers is the first person to have achieved PEGOT status by earning a Pulitzer Prize, along with an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. Marvin Hamlisch is the only other person to accomplish this feat.
5. Rodgers’ 1938 show The Boys from Syracuse, written with lyricist Lorenz Hart, was the first Broadway musical based on a Shakespeare play.
6. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 musical Oklahoma!, widely regarded as the first integrated “book musical,” set a new standard for Broadway. For the first time, music and dance were inextricably linked to the story and themes of the show, advancing the plot and richly developing the characters.
7. Rodgers’ hit musical The Sound of Music has no overture! The original script began with the nuns praying, and Rodgers wanted to set their prayer to music. Having little experience with liturgical music, he did some research at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. Mother Morgan, head of the music department, invited Rodgers to a specially arranged concert of religious music, which she conducted. (Rodgers later recalled Mother Morgan encouraging her singers with a feisty “Pray it!”) Inspired, Rodgers set the Catholic prayer “Dixit Dominus” to music. The result was “Preludium,” redubbed “Prelude” for the film.
8. More than 45 years before SIX premiered on Broadway, Richard Rodgers wrote a musical about Henry VIII and his wives! Co-written with lyricist Sheldon Harnick, Rex premiered on April 24, 1976. Unfortunately, after an icy response from critics, the show closed six weeks later.
9. Rodgers was an honoree at the first Kennedy Center Honors in 1978. President Jimmy Carter presented him with the award.
10. Composer Alec Wilder wrote, “Legend has it that somewhere amongst the many radio stations of the United States, a song by Richard Rodgers may be heard at any time, day or night, the year round. Well, I, for one, hope this is so.”
11. Richard Rodgers was born on June 28, 1902, in Long Island, New York.
12. The composer’s full name is Richard Charles Rodgers, but he was generally known by his nickname, Dick.
13. His father, Dr. William Abraham Rodgers, was a successful physician and his mother, Mamie Rodgers (née Levy), was a well-trained amateur musician. He had one brother, Mortimer, who was four years older.
14. Both of his parents were Russian Jews who immigrated to the USA in the 1860s. (His father changed the family name from Rogazinsky to Rodgers.)
15. Rodgers grew up surrounded by music and regularly attended the theatre with his parents. The first show he ever saw was a children’s production of The Pied Piper.
16. As a young kid, he was primarily inspired by the musical works of Jerome Kern, whose influence, Rodgers said, was "a deep and lasting one."
17. By the age of six, Rodgers was already studying the piano and could play by ear.
18. Rodgers was raised in the household of his maternal grandparents, Jacob and Rachel Levy, who had prospered in the silk trade. His grandparents were fond of the opera and regularly took Rodgers during his childhood.
19. Rodgers and his older brother, Morty, gathered with their parents around the piano every single evening before and after dinner. Later in life, Rodgers would recall that his mother was the best sight reader he ever knew.
20. He began his schooling at Public School 10, then transferred to Public School 166. His music teacher, Elsa Katz, was an inspiration for him, encouraging him to play at school functions.
21. At the age of eight, Dick nearly had a career-ending injury. He woke up one night in agonizing pain – his index finger swollen to nearly the size of his wrist. He had an infection of the bone marrow, and his right arm was in a sling for nearly a year, restricting him from playing the piano. He had a new fingertip reconstructed the following year so he could resume his piano lessons.
22. Rodgers spent his early teenage summers in Camp Wigwam in Waterford, Maine, where he composed some of his very first songs.
23. By the age of 14, he had already written two songs: "Dear Old Wigwam" and "Camp-Fire Days."
24. In 1917, at the age of 15, Rodgers wrote his first copyrighted song, “Auto Show Girl.”
25. He later entered the prestigious Townsend Harris Hall, but soon shifted to De Witt Clinton High School, from which he graduated in 1919.
26. In 1917, Rodgers wrote his first complete musical, One Minute, Please, for the Akron Club, a social-athletic group to which his brother, Morty Rodgers, belonged. It was a success – and he soon started working on his second benefit show, Up Stage and Down, which premiered on March 8, 1919.
27. In 1919, Richard Rodgers enrolled at Columbia University, where he met Lorenz Hart.
28. At Columbia, Rodgers joined the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.
29. He attended university for nearly two years before leaving to pursue music.
30. Rodgers & Hart’s first published song was "Any Old Place with You" (1919). The song was featured in Lew Fields’ musical comedy A Lonely Romeo.
31. Rodgers & Hart collaborated on two more Columbia Varsity Shows, concurrently working with Fields, collaborating on his 1920 musical comedy, Poor Little Ritz Girl.
32. Rodgers then studied composition for two years at the Institute of Musical Art (now Juilliard School of Music) and produced several amateur shows with Lorenz Hart.
33. In 1921, Rodgers toured with Lew Fields, Fred Allen and Nora Bayes, conducting the orchestra.
34. After graduating from Institute of Musical Art, Richard Rodgers continued to work with Lew Fields, concurrently collaborating with Hart to write The Melody Man in 1924.
35. In his early twenties, unsure whether his artistic career would be successful, Rodgers considered giving up music to become a children’s underwear salesman for a firm salary of $50 per week. While he was pondering an alternate career, the Theatre Guild asked Rodgers & Hart to write the songs for another benefit show, a musical revue called The Garrick Gaieties.
36. The Garrick Gaieties was based on contemporary subjects like the New York City Subway system and the Theatre Guild, and the production finally launched them in their careers.
Rodgers & Hart on Broadway
37. On May 17, 1925, The Garrick Gaieties opened on Broadway at the Garrick Theatre as a two-performance show. The reviews were so great that the production was continued.
38. One of its songs, “Manhattan,” went on to become a part of the Great American Songbook.
39. Quickly, the duo became one of most popular songwriters-composers in the USA, writing 15 Broadway scores and three for London.
40. A Connecticut Yankee opened in 1927 featuring their popular song “My Heart Stood Still.”
41. One of their lesser-known musicals, She's My Baby, opened in 1928 for 71 performances.
42. Present Arms also opened in 1928, featuring the song “You Took Advantage of Me.” While the musical was not a major box office success, the song had many notable recordings – including one from Judy Garland in the 1954 film A Star Is Born.
43. Their shortest-lived musical, Chee-Chee, opened in September 1928 and ran for only 31 performances.
44. Spring Is Here opened in 1929 and is best known for its title song – which would later be used in their 1938 musical I Married an Angel. The original production of Spring Is Here was also remade as a film in 1930.
45. In the summer of 1929, Rodgers finally moved out of his parents’ home and into a penthouse apartment of his own on East 56th Street between Park and Lexington. His only neighbor on the floor was Edna Ferber, who wrote the original book for Show Boat (for which Oscar Hammerstein II had written lyrics just a few years earlier!)
46. Rodgers & Hart opened Heads Up! – a lesser-known musical comedy about Prohibition and the US Coast Guard – in 1929; a film adaptation of the show premiered in 1930.
47. Ever Green opened in 1930 and was the last of three musicals written by Rodgers & Hart in London. It tells the story of a music hall star, and like many of their other musicals, it was adapted into a film, which premiered in 1934.
48. On March 5, 1930, Richard Rodgers married Dorothy Belle Feiner in her parents’ living room on Park Avenue. They were together until the day he died – after nearly 50 years of marriage.
49. Richard Rodgers had known Dorothy for some time – Dorothy's brother Benjamin was one of his best friends. In his autobiography, Musical Stages, Richard Rodgers describes the moment when Dorothy ceased to be the kid sister as the feeling he would later express in “Some Enchanted Evening.”
50. Simple Simon opened that same year starring Ed Wynn. The play had a loose plot designed to show off the actor’s fumbling, clowning and punning style. The production originally played from February 1930 to June 1930 at Ziegfeld Theatre, before it reopened in March 1931 at the Majestic Theatre.
51. The last musical Rodgers & Hart wrote in London, America’s Sweetheart, was a parody of Hollywood – and ironically, it was penned just before the duo moved back to Hollywood. The musical opened in February 1931 and closed after 135 performances.
Rodgers & Hart in Hollywood (and back to Broadway!)
52. Sometime in the early 1930s, Rodgers & Hart moved to Hollywood, where they started writing music for several films including Love Me Tonight (1932). Two songs from that film – “Isn't It Romantic” and “Lover” – became great hits, with the former entering the Great American Songbook.
53. Rodgers generally worked within the conventional 32-measure confines of the American popular song. The most common format is the A-A-B-A pattern, in which the main melody is stated in the first eight bars of music. It’s repeated and then there’s typically an eight-measure middle section called a “bridge” or “release.” Finally, the melody is restated one last time, often with a slight variation leading to a climax at the end.
54. On January 11, 1931, Richard and Dorothy’s first daughter, Mary Rodgers, was born. Mary Rodgers is the composer of Once Upon a Mattress – a jovial retelling of the children’s story The Princess and the Pea – and an author of several books, including Freaky Friday.
55. Richard and Dorothy’s second daughter, Linda, was born in March 1935. Linda Rodgers went on to become a songwriter.
56. In 1935, Rodgers & Hart returned to Broadway, writing 11 songs for Billy Rose's musical Jumbo. The musical follows a cash-strapped circus and features the song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” which reached the Billboard Top 40 charts in 1952-53.
57. On Your Toes, staged in 1936, integrated ballet into the plot for the very first time. Rodgers’ insistent, syncopated melody, with its signature brassy main theme, was his most extended musical undertaking to date, and for many years, the sheet music for the ballet outsold all other Rodgers compositions.
58. Another of Rodgers & Hart’s most important works is Babes in Arms, which opened in 1937. It’s the quintessential musical about scrappy kids putting on a show in a barn. Several songs in the musical are widely regarded as pop standards, including “Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note” and “I Wish I Were in Love Again.”
59. The Boys from Syracuse opened on Broadway in 1938. In 1940, the twin mix-up musical was adapted to film, and in 2002, the show was revived on Broadway. Well-known songs from the score include “Falling in Love with Love,” which later appeared in the 1997 TV film Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
60. Pal Joey opened in 1940 and though its initial reception was mixed, the show ran for 10 months, the third-longest run of any Rodgers and Hart musical. There have been several revivals since, including a 2008–09 Broadway run and a 1957 film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra.
61. In 1935, Dorothy Rodgers started her own business. Repairs Inc. was the first business of its kind in Manhattan, relying on craftsmen and women that Dorothy had assembled to help fix up homes. Sometimes clients wanted to fix up their rooms from scratch – which helped Dorothy’s interior design business blossom. Dorothy also invented the Jonny Mop, a disposable toilet brush that could be flushed away when the work was done.
62. By the early 1940s, Lorenz Hart had sunk into emotional turmoil and alcoholism after losing his mother, prompting Richard Rodgers to look for a new partner.
63. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart teamed up a final time in the fall of 1943 for a revival of A Connecticut Yankee. Six new numbers, including "To Keep My Love Alive", were written for this reworked version of the play; it would prove to be Hart's last lyric.
Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Early Years
64. Twenty-six years before their first Broadway hit, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II first met at Columbia University. Both young men were drawn to the school because of its Varsity Show, a highly regarded annual musical satire written and performed by undergraduates. In 1917, Dick’s older brother Morty was a student at Columbia, so 15-year-old Dick attended a matinee of the show. Afterward, Morty introduced Dick to his classmate and fraternity brother, 19-year-old Oscar Hammerstein II.
65. Nearly three decades later, The Theater Guild was failing, and they were looking for a miracle. The Guild wanted to turn Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the Lilacs into an inspiring musical and since Hart had fallen ill, Rodgers needed a new collaborator. Without even realizing the true impact of the choice, the Guild suggested Oscar Hammerstein II, and thus the amazing partnership was born.
66. Rodgers & Hammerstein began to work together on their adaptation of Green Grow the Lilacs in 1942. The result was the award-winning musical Oklahoma!, which was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize that same year.
67. Opening on March 31, 1943, Oklahoma! ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, and an Oscar-winning 1955 film adaptation.
68. In 1943, Richard Rodgers became the ninth president of the Dramatists Guild of America.
69. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II rarely worked in the same room. Dick preferred to compose music at his Manhattan apartment or Connecticut country house throughout most of their collaboration.
70. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s second musical, Carousel, opened in 1945 and was equally successful. To the end of Rodgers’ life, Carousel would remain his favorite score and his favorite show.
71. Following their success, 20th Century Fox offered Rodgers & Hammerstein the opportunity to write a musical version of their 1933 film State Fair. When the film premiered in 1945, so did multiple songs now regarded as American Standards, like “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” “So Far” and “It Might as Well Be Spring,” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year.
72. In 1946, Rodgers & Hammerstein produced Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. As producers, they saved “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from being cut from the show – a dubious decision initially made by Berlin himself.
73. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s third Broadway venture, 1947’s Allegro, broke new ground for musical theatre. Though it followed a traditional structure, the show was built primarily on an idea, paving the way for what would later be called the “concept” musical – a work in which the book and score are structured around a theme or message rather than a narrative plot.
74. The original Broadway production of South Pacific opened in 1949 with Mary Martin in the leading role. South Pacific won Rodgers & Hammerstein a Pulitzer Prize – and the production won 10 Tony Awards!
75. In 1950, Rodgers & Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."
76. The King and I opened on Broadway on March 29, 1951, and ran for three years, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical! Five years later, it was remade on the big screen and became the second-highest grossing film of the year.
77. Much of Rodgers' work with both Hart and Hammerstein was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. From 1952 to 1953, Rodgers composed twelve themes, which Bennett used in preparing the orchestra score for the 26-episode World War II television documentary Victory at Sea. This NBC production pioneered the "compilation documentary"—programming based on pre-existing footage—and was eventually broadcast in dozens of countries.
78. In 1953, Rodgers & Hammerstein had four shows running simultaneously in New York (South Pacific, The King and I, Me & Juliet and Oklahoma!). The mayor honored the duo for "their long and distinguished career and their valuable contribution to our city" by designating August 31 to September 6 as "Rodgers & Hammerstein Week."
Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Later Years
79. In 1953, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s sixth musical collaboration, Me and Juliet, opened. One source of Rodgers's excitement for the concept was his view that a contemporary musical gave him the opportunity for a contemporary score. At the time, a Latin dance craze had swept the US, and its influence found its way into the show’s music. Rodgers put an onstage jazz trio in the production and encouraged the members to improvise.
80. In 1954, Rodgers conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in excerpts from “Victory at Sea,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and “The Carousel Waltz” for a special LP released by Columbia Records.
81. Pipe Dream opened in 1955, receiving the largest advance ticket sale in Broadway history to that point, $1.2 million. However, the show exhausted its advanced sales quickly and closed after 246 performances.
82. In 1955, Rodgers had jaw cancer and had to undergo an operation. Though he spent three months in the hospital in 1956 for a rest cure, the experience hardly slowed him down from his work.
83. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first made-for-TV musical aired in 1957: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Julie Andrews. The original broadcast on CBS was a huge success – bringing in over 100 million viewers (at a time when the population was only 172 million!)
84. Barely three months after Cinderella’s debut, Rodgers sank into a depression – fueled partly by alcohol – that was so deep and severe as to require months of hospitalization at New York’s Payne Whitney psychiatric clinic. His illness would cause him to be sidelined during the production of the 1957 film South Pacific.
85. Featuring the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song premiered on Broadway on December 1, 1958. The hit stage show was later adapted into a 1961 film.
86. Rodgers' first grandson was born on July 24, 1958. Peter Rodgers Melnick, son of Linda Rodgers, is an author and composer; his musicals include Adrift in Macao and The Last Smoker in America.
87. The Sound of Music, arguably Rodgers’ best-known work, premiered on Broadway on November 16, 1959. During the Boston tryouts, Oscar Hammerstein II, laid up in bed with terminal stomach cancer, wrote a lyric for a melody created by Rodgers. The resulting song, “Edelweiss,” would be Rodgers & Hammerstein’s final collaboration.
88. In 1960, The Sound of Music won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, for which it tied with Fiorello! – the first tie in that category in Tony history. That same year, Richard Rodgers found his musical competing against a show written by his own daughter! Once Upon a Mattress, with music by Mary Rodgers, had also opened on Broadway in 1959.
89. In 1961, The Sound of Music opened at the Palace Theatre, London. Thirteen-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had written a fan letter to Richard Rodgers, was invited to attend several rehearsals. Years later, Lloyd Webber wrote, “Great melody has always deeply affected me, and Richard Rodgers is one of the 20th century’s greatest tune writers.”
90. Rodgers’ longest working partnership ended with the death of Oscar Hammerstein II on August 23, 1960.
Solo Work and New Collaborators
91. After Hammerstein passed, Rodgers wrote both words and music for his next Broadway project, No Strings, which earned two 1962 Tony Awards, including Best Original Score. The hit show featured the song "The Sweetest Sounds,” which would later be included in the 1997 TV film Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. In 1963, No Strings won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
92. Rodgers wrote a great deal of material for television: He won an Emmy for the music for the ABC documentary Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years, scored by Eddie Sauter, Hershy Kay and Robert Emmett Dolan. He also composed the theme music, “March of the Clowns,” for the 1963–64 television series The Greatest Show on Earth and contributed the main title theme for the 1963–64 historical anthology series The Great Adventure.
93. Rodgers’ Emmy win for Winston Churchill’s The Valiant Years made him the first ever EGOT and PEGOT award winner!
94. The film State Fair was remade in March 1962, starring Pat Boone, Bobby Darin and Ann-Margret. For the film, Rodgers contributed music and lyrics for five brand-new songs.
95. In 1962, Rodgers was named president and producing director of the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. The organization's mission was to produce first-class revivals of classic works; the first two were The King and I and Dick’s old childhood favorite, The Merry Widow.
96. Mary Rodger’s son – and Richard Rodgers's second grandson – Adam Guettel was born on December 16, 1964. A musical theatre composer himself, Guettel won two 2005 Tony Awards, for Best Score and Best Orchestrations, for The Light in the Piazza.
97. Rodgers wrote both the words and music for two new songs used in the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music: “Something Good” and “I Have Confidence.”
98. Rodgers never visited the Austrian locations or the Fox soundstages for The Sound of Music, but he was by Julie Andrews’ side at the film’s New York premiere on March 2, 1965.
99. In 1965, under special producorial supervision of Richard Rodgers, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was remade for TV, starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. Along with a script that committed more closely to the traditional fable, the 1965 broadcast also featured a new song for the titular princess-to-be: “Loneliness of Evening,” which had been cut from the score of South Pacific.
100. Rodgers collaborated with lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a protégé of Hammerstein’s, on the musical Do I Hear a Waltz? in 1965. Dick had known Steve since he was a 12-year-old boy, and the possibility of their collaboration had been germinating for years, encouraged by Oscar before his death.
101. In July of 1969, Rodgers suffered a serious heart attack. However, a mere myocardial infarction could not dull Rodgers’ quest for the next great show; he immediately returned to work.
102. In 1970, Richard Rodgers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
103. In 1970, he funded the construction of a $1 million recreation center and a 1,932‐seat theater in Mount Morris Park in Harlem, where he grew up. The Richard Rodgers Amphitheatre, in what is now called Marcus Garvey Park, was renovated in 2011 and continues to host free concerts and events.
104. In 1974, Rodgers had a laryngectomy; as a result, he spoke with a hoarse voice for the last five years of his life.
105. In January of 1975, Rodgers released his autobiography, Musical Stages, which contains fascinating passages on the art of lyric writing and composing, and insights into the troubles and triumphs of collaboration.
106. With lyricist Martin Charnin, Rodgers wrote the 1970 Broadway musical Two by Two. Based on Clifford Odets’ play about Noah and the ark, the short-lived show starred legendary entertainer Danny Kaye.
107. At its 1978 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded Rodgers its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.
108. I Remember Mama, a musical based on John Van Druten’s sentimental 1944 play, opened on May 31, 1979 and hung on through the summer for 108 performances. It was Rodgers’ 40th original Broadway show – and his last.
109. At the 1979 Tony Awards ceremony, Rodgers was presented the Lawrence Langner Memorial Award for “a lifetime of distinguished achievement in the American theatre.”
110. In the fall of 1979, he suffered a major seizure – which slowed him down for the first time. In December, he was too ill to attend the opening night performance of a new touring production of Oklahoma!
111. Seventeen days later, on December 30, 1979, Richard Rodgers died quietly at his East Side home in Manhattan at 10:28 P.M. He was 77 years old.
112. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea by his wife, Dorothy.
113. In 1990, the 46th Street Theatre was renamed the Richard Rodgers Theatre in his memory. The theatre, which had housed Rodgers’ On Your Toes and Do I Hear a Waltz?, later served as home to hits including Chicago, In the Heights and Hamilton.
114. Rodgers established scholarships for students at the Juilliard School of Music, the American Theater Wing and the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
115. In March 1993, to honor the 50th anniversary of the partnership of Rodgers & Hammerstein, the block of West 44th Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway was renamed “Rodgers & Hammerstein Row.” The block is home to the St. James Theatre, which presented the Broadway premiere of Oklahoma!, The King and I and Flower Drum Song.
116. In 1998, Rodgers & Hammerstein were cited by Time magazine and CBS News among the 20 most influential artists of the 20th century.
117. In 1999, launching a new “Broadway Songwriters” series, the U.S Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Rodgers & Hammerstein, along with another stamp honoring Lorenz Hart.
118. In 2002, the centennial year of Rodgers’ birth was celebrated worldwide with books, retrospectives, performances, new recordings of his music, and a Broadway revival of Oklahoma! starring Patrick Wilson as Curly.
119. The Richard Rodgers Gallery, a permanent exhibit presented by ASCAP to honor the composer’s life and works, can be viewed in the lobby area of the 46th Street Theatre.
120. Richard Rodgers’ melodies continue to live on in many ways – including interpolations like Ariana Grande’s 2019 song “7 Rings,” which samples “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.