- Historic Sites
Rodgers & Hammerstein, Inc.
September/October 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 6
By the end of the 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein were the most powerful force on Broadway, and people who wanted to work with them took their terms or else. In his autobiography the director Joshua Logan wrote that “when [Richard Rodgers] teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein there were all kinds of remarks that the big one [Hammerstein, who was six-two] is a nice guy but the little one is a son of a bitch. To me, Dick and Oscar were both tough as nails.”
Toughest of all was their lawyer, Howard Reinheimer. As Rodgers and Hammerstein began to produce their own shows, Reinheimer saw to it that R&H only leased the rights and the backers participated only in the profits of the Broadway production. By that time, of course, R&H didn’t have to go looking for backers. Rather it was simply a matter of deciding whom they would allow to participate. It was largely due to Reinheimer’s careful legal work that the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization retains such complete control of R&H’s works.
In order to protect their carefully cultivated image, Rodgers and Hammerstein often let Reinheimer do the dirty work. When one high school’s production of Oklahoma! turned out very well, the school decided to cut a record and sent a copy to Richard Rodgers. The composer promptly wrote back saying how pleased he was they had sent it to him and how professional an effort he judged it to be. Nearly simultaneously, however, Reinheimer sent the school a letter telling them in no uncertain terms to cease the distribution of this unauthorized and illegal recording and curtly informing them of the very expensive consequences of any failure to comply.
Because they were such savvy businessmen, their empire continues to flourish thirty years after Hammerstein’s death.
The partners also worked hard to present themselves as a closely knit team. In fact, other than their mutual mastery of the musical theater, they had little in common and seldom saw each other socially. One has the impression they didn’t really like each other very much.
To be sure, neither of them fitted the stereotypical image of show-biz types. They both rose early, they didn’t drink much, and they always dressed like, well, businessmen. But Rodgers was methodical and punctual to the point of fussiness. Hammerstein was much more relaxed about life. He had known both artistic triumph and despair in his career and was a warm, sensitive, outgoing man who always had time for others. Rodgers, who had known nearly nothing but success, was often petty and always egocentric, even by the standards of genius.
Hammerstein loved his Pennsylvania farm and was a devoted family man, deeply in love with his wife from the moment he had first seen her, quite literally, “across a crowded room.” Rodgers loved New York City night life.
Still, whatever creative and business disagreements they may have had were thrashed out behind closed doors, and they invariably presented a wholly united front both to the world at large and to their collaborators in the theater, greatly increasing their leverage in negotiations.
Because they were the very tough, savvy businessmen they were, the corporate empire Rodgers and Hammerstein founded continues to flourish and, indeed, to grow today, thirty years after Hammerstein’s death brought the creative partnership to a close. Today the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization licenses the musical and dramatic rights to not only the works of R&H but also the earlier works by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and by Hammerstein and other composers, as well as the musical plays of Kurt Weill and others. Just recently R&H began handling the music and musicals of Irving Berlin. Altogether, this is no small business. The corporation licenses more than three thousand theatrical productions a year just in the United States and Canada. It grosses well into eight figures annually.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein not only revolutionized the Broadway musical artistically, they revolutionized it financially as well. The major Broadway writers and composers who have come after were as quick to take the business lessons of R&H to heart as they were the artistic ones. Andrew Lloyd Webber ( Cats , Evita , The Phantom of the Opera ), for one, not only gratefully acknowledges his spiritual debt to Rodgers and Hammerstein but has followed their corporate lead as well. It is no coincidence that the Really Useful Group, a company owned by Lloyd Webber that produces his musicals, shares office space in New York City with, you guessed it, Rodgers and Hammerstein.