Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 23, 2011

The Hammersteins Lecture

The Mount, Lenox, MA
through August 29, 2011
by Shera Cohen

What’s there to do on Mondays in the Berkshires? As if walking the mountainous and gorgeous landscape, swimming in the lake, tasting fine or fun dining, and perusing the art of a museum were not enough, there’s The Mount Lecture Series. The eight-week series of lectures, running for nearly two decades, takes place in Edith Wharton’s renovated and air conditioned stable at 4pm. Authors speak about their recently penned books, followed by tea and book signing.

The subject was The Hammersteins: A Musical Theater Family non-fiction piece by Oscar Andrew Hammerstein III, son of Oscar II (“South Pacific,” “Carousel,” and “Oklahoma” fame). Not that the venue was hot, but the topic definitely was as the author quickly removed his suit jacket, then his tie, followed by pulling his shirt out. It was obvious that the more Oscar III became casual, the quicker he spoke, and the more excited he became. The excitement was contagious.

Oscar III traced his lineage from impresario grandfather Oscar I (a character whose commercial highs were as deep as his lows), to his uncle, and then dad. BTW, Hammerstein was the lyricist to Rodgers compositions, and the words came first. The author focused as much on his father’s failures as his successes, particularly because the former set in motion the path to greatness. A power point show included playbills of all 46 musicals penned, perhaps 10 of which most audience members have ever heard of. However, in addition to the three mentioned above, there’s “The King & I,” “Show Boat,” and “The Sound of Music.” He spoke of his father, not a genius, but a man with three qualities: talent, hard work, and good timing. Key to the lyricist’s uniqueness was another trio of rules to write by: start with a grabber song to instantly pull the audience in (“Oh What a Beautiful Morning”), write love songs with delayed gratification (“Some Enchanted Evening”), and make sure the song has a story (“Soliloquy”).

Oscar III had a great story to tell his full-house audience at The Mount.