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Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family Hardcover – October 27, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oscar Hammerstien II's grandson (the grandson of the original Mr. Hammerstein) pays tribute to his lineage with an insightful and affectionate coffee table scrapbook. The youngest Oscar, a family historian and university lecturer, recounts a legacy worthy of a great American clan – one filled with as many if-at-first-you-don't-succeed failures as eventual hard won triumphs. Oscar I rose from destitute German immigrant to cigar impresario, using his wealth to build grand, often grandiose, theaters and hire opera singers to rival the Met. He lost his fortune many times and made numerous enemies, but never lost sight of his dream of bringing opera to the people, transforming himself along the way into Times Square's first theatrical entrepreneur. Likewise, before Oscar II became the most influential librettist-lyricist in musical theater (South Pacific; Oklahoma!), he had a string of embarrassments. Although a family tree could have helped readers keep track of all the players, reading Hammerstein's book, stuffed with photos of relations and colleagues (and theaters, programs, and sheet music) is like peeking into a family album while grandpa shares stories of eccentricities and affairs, deathbed promises, and larger-than-life theatrics. Like Oscar II's musicals, it's intelligent, fun, and nimbly written. (Oct.)
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From the Author

Written by Oscar "Andy" Hammerstein (Oscar II's grandson), The Hammersteins presents a multi-layered portrait of the Hammerstein legacy, complete with personal and professional highlights, as well as the scandals and tragedies. The book also draws heavily upon the family archives, presenting a rich collection of photographs, theatre blueprints, letters, programs, patents, and more, much of which has never been seen before. The Hammersteins is a deeply personal story of an American family living the American dream

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal (October 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579128467
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579128463
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 1 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have devoted much of my life to studying and preserving my family's heritage and their contribution to American culture. I lecture frequently before universities, institutes, theatrical and civic organizations on the Hammerstein Family's pivotal role in shaping the development of theatre and popular entertainment in America from the 1860s to present day. In 1997, I co-wrote/curated the exhibit, "Direct From Broadway, A 200-Year History of New York City Theatre," for the Paine-Weber Gallery space in New York City. I have also taught graduate level NYC theatre history and Musical Theatre history as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By R. Sherwood on October 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Anyone with even a passing interest in musicals, early films, or the New York theater district should read The Hammersteins: A Musical Theater Family, to learn some of the crucial history of these parts of the entertainment industry. I found this book fascinating, including many personal perspectives and information only a family like Oscar Andrew Hammerstein would know or have access to, respectively. He also seems to have inherited at least enough of the family flair for good storytelling to keep this entire work of history interesting to read.

I was amazed by how widespread the influence of the Hammerstein family was in the development of American musicals and theaters even before the time of the Rogers and Hammerstein team made their permanent place in entertainment history. The early section of this book spends a lot of time on the theater building efforts of the first Oscar Hammerstein throughout the New York City area. Most of the performers mentioned in this section and onwards read like a who's who of the famous actors of each period.

This is especially true when it comes to Oscar Hammerstein II, who is the main focus of the book after the background is laid. His musicals, and some of the stars, like Julie Andrews, seem to only become greater over time. Of course, not all of his musicals were thus, and Oscar Andrew is not afraid of addressing the moments of failure in his grandfather's career. In fact, the Hammersteins is almost a biography of Oscar Hammerstein II, once the book begins to cover his life directly.

Generally, though, it is a pretty good history piece, with plenty of photos of everything covered. Some of them are a bit pixilated, however, this may only be a problem with my copy of the book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Steve Schwartz VINE VOICE on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book after hearing the author give a combined reading and talk. The talk was intelligent and entertaining, but the extracts sealed the deal. This is largely a family history, relying on family papers and interviews, but it's a family at the center of American mass entertainment for three generations. From immigrant cigar-maker, inventor, operetta composer, and mainly theater-builder and impresario Oscar Hammerstein I to his sons, producers Willie and Arthur, to his grandson Oscar II, this family, as much as anybody, created Broadway theater. The two Oscars, of course, dominate the book, but Willie and Arthur were far from negligible players in the development of American operetta and vaudeville. Indeed, Oscar II owes his career to his uncle Arthur.

For some, Oscar II's theater work has faded. His reputation survives in individual songs - "All the Things You Are," "Ol' Man River," "Make Believe," "Bill," "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," "It Might as Well Be Spring," "The Last Time I Saw Paris," "Lover, Come Back to Me" - not even including the songs he wrote for the hit Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musicals and the standards that came out of the non-hits ("The Gentleman Is a Dope," "Love, Look Away," for example). His grandson shows us how mistaken that view is. Oscar II was primarily a dramatist, certainly one of the finest "book writers" the theater has ever known. His songs are not exactly unthinkable without their plot, but they certainly gain meaning from their context (the dramatic situation also means more because of them). I happen to be a huge admirer of Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers's other great lyricist. His poems are generally more sophisticated, formally and emotionally, than Hammerstein's, but they also don't range as widely.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A. Rosen on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book disappointed me. The idea was wonderful: the Hammersteins were a powerful force in American theater for 80 years (much longer if you consider Stephen Sondheim an honorary Hammerstein), and a family biography could have traced the evolution of musical theater in New York from its vaudevillian origins to its present depressed condition. But Andy Hammerstein's intent was apparently much less ambitious. He gives us what is essentially an annotated scrapbook of family photos and press clippings. Much more information about Oscar Hammerstein I (a 19th century theatrical entrepreneur and grandfather of the famous lyricist) can be found in Hugh Fordin's excellent biography of Oscar II, Getting to Know Him (which is unfortunately out of print but can be bought online). His account of his grandfather's career rehashes information that can be found in many other books, while he steers clear of other potentially interesting subjects. In an interview on NPR last year, he said that Julie Andrews (Rodgers' and Hammerstein's original Cinderella)was the "perfect Hammerstein heroine" and that if she had only come along earlier, she would have been the perfect Laurey (in Oklahoma), the perfect Julie (in Carousel), and the perfect Anna (in The King and I). Nowhere can that be found in the book--nor, for that matter, can we find his idea of a "perfect Hammerstein heroine." He also mentioned in the interview that Sondheim's position as protege and virtual foster son of Oscar II created serious problems in his family, but nothing of that can be found in the book. (The author's father was a year younger than Sondheim and is quoted in Fordin's book as saying that to have a competitive, successful father, and then "to find that the guy who's become my foster brother is a genius" was difficult for him.)

The quality of the writing is poor, and the book does not appear to have been proofread, let alone edited. Musical theater buffs can save their money and consult other books.
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