Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II (July 12, 1895 – August 23, 1960) was a prolific American librettist, theatrical producer, and (often uncredited) theatre director of musicals for almost forty years. His collaborations with Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers created many of America’s classic twentieth-century musicals.
Hammerstein was born in New York City in 1895 into a theatrical family. His grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was responsible for creating some of the most influential opera houses, whilst his father managed a vaudeville theatre. His Uncle Arthur also produced Broadway shows. Hammerstein went on to study at Columbia University, where he met Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. Hammerstein worked backstage as assistant stage manager through his Uncle’s connections and, in 1919, wrote his own play, The Light. Although it was not a success, he continued to write and found his forte as a librettist. In 1925 he teamed up with Jerome Kern and the result was Show Boat, which put the pair in the spotlight. They continued to collaborate and, in 1943 Hammerstein wrote the lyrics and book for an updated version of George Bizet’s Carmen, including an African-American cast.
Hammerstein teamed up next with Richard Rodgers, who had been writing with Lorenz Hart for several years. The pair produced many incredibly successful Broadway musicals including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, The King and I, and Carousel. Their production of South Pacific earned the pair the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.
One of the most prolific librettists of the twentieth-century, Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. He co-wrote 850 songs, many of which are frequently preformed today. In 1960, he lost his battle with stomach cancer and, in memory of an incredible man, the lights on Broadway were turned off on the evening of 1st September that year.