Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oscar Hammerstein

In this engrossing profile of the lyricist by his nephew, there are so many telling details and anecdotes, that picking just one was really difficult.

'It could take him a week to write a single lyric—a couple of hundred words at most—as he carefully considered each word and image. In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’!” for instance, he originally wrote “The corn is as high as a cow pony’s eye,” a simile that fitted easily into the Oklahoma landscape. But he then walked over to his Doylestown neighbor’s cornfield and saw that the corn was much taller than that... More important, he didn’t like how “cow pony” sounded to the ear, thinking it would be difficult for the first-time listener to grasp when sung, one of the many constraints on lyric-writing—perhaps the most difficult or at least confining of all literary forms. So he changed it to “elephant’s eye.”

'When he was finished with a lyric, he would turn the yellow-pad pages over to my mother to be typed. But before he decided he was finished, Oscar would read the lyric out loud to his wife Dorothy, a practice she called “trying it out on the dog.” Then a copy was sent by messenger to Rodgers so he could set it to music, which Rodgers usually did in minutes, not days, much to Oscar’s feigned annoyance.' More...

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