“OSCAR ON OSCAR”

Why did the FBI keep a secret file on Broadway legend Oscar Hammerstein? His grandson will join us and reveal details about the man behind the music.

For ticket information on “Oscar on Oscar,” click here. 

Aired on July 9, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG BOOK WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY INCOMPLETE WITHOUT THE VENERABLE OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN, LYRICIST AND PLAYWRIGHT COLLABORATED WITH JEROME KERN ON THE HIT 'SHOW BOAT,' AND BEST KNOWN FOR HIS COLLABORATIONS WITH RICHARD ROGERS.

TOGETHER THEY CREATED AMERICAN CLASSICS INCLUDING 'OKLAHOMA,' CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE K 'KING AND I' AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

HIS WORK DIDN'T CATCH AT ATTENTION OF THEATER AND MUSIC LOVERS AROUND THE WORLD.

HIS POLITICAL ACTIVISM, THIS MIGHT SURPRISE YOU ALSO CAUGHT THE EYE OF THEN FBI HEAD J.

EDGAR HOEVER WHO GENERATED A MASSIVE TOP SECRET FILE ON OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN.

NOW HIS GRANDSON OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN III IS REVEALING EVERYTHING ABOUT HIS ACTIVISM IN A NEW SHOW CALLED 'OSCAR ON OSCAR.'

HERE ON INSIGHT IS, OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II 'I.'

WE'RE SO DELIGHTED TO HAVE YOU HERE.

APPLY PLEASURE.

I'M GOING DOWN THE LIST AND SAYING YOU COULD MAKE AN ARGUMENT FOR EVERY ONE OF THOSE AS BEING THE GREATEST OF ALL BROADWAY MUSICALS.

IT DEPENDS ON WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK.

I LOVE 'CAROUSEL' ON MONDAY.

I LOVE 'SOUTH PACIFIC' TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY.

IT ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR STATE OF MIND, WHAT YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT.

I MIGHT VOTE FOR 'SOUTH PACIFIC,' EVERY SONG.

IT SCORES A LOT OF VOTES.

THE WHY IS IT THAT YOU HAVE DEVOTED SO MUCH OF YOUR LIFE TO TELLING YOUR GRANDFATHER'S, HIS STORY, HIS MULTIDIMENSIONAL STORY?

WELL, WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU CAME INTO A ROOM AND EVERYBODY ALREADY-GREAT GOOD WISHES FOR YOU?

AND GOOD VIBES AND FEELINGS FOR YOU?

I'M ONE OF THE LUCKIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD IN THAT THE GOOD WILL PRECEDES ME WHEREVER I GO.

IF I TALK ABOUT ROGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN OR MY FAMILY'S HISTORY, I AM ALWAYS WELCOMED WHEREVER I GO WHETHER IT'S NATIONALLY, INTERNATIONALLY, IT'S BEEN A NATURAL CALLING, GO WHERE YOU WANED.

ABSOLUTELY.

LET ME TALK TO YOU A LITTLE BIT ABOUT NOT HIS MUSIC BECAUSE WE KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT HIS MUSIC AND HIS MUSICAL GENIUS.

I'VE OFTEN SAID, PEOPLE TOSS THE WORD YEEN GENIUS AROUND FAR TORE CAVALIERLY.

TRUE GENIUS, WHO CAN CREATE MUSIC IN THEIR MINDS.

THAT TO ME IS -- WE KNOW WHAT A GENUS HE WAS.

I DON'T THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW HOW ACTIVE HE WAS IN SOCIAL CAUSES.

TALK ABOUT THAT.

OKAY.

WELL, HE WAS QUOTED AS SAYING THAT A WRITER GIVES HIMSELF AWAY WHO HE REALLY IS.

THROUGH THE SONGS THAT HE WRITES.

AND OSCAR GAVE HIMSELF AWAY IN THE LOTS OF SONGS THAT HE WROTE WHETHER IT WAS OH MAN RIVER OR THE ALL BLACK OPERA 'CARMAN JONES' OR FROM 'SOUTH PACIFIC''S YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT.

HE BETRAYED A CERTAIN LOVE FOR HIS FELLOW MAN, A CERTAIN KIND OF TOLERANCE AND KINDNESS THAT IT SEES THROUGH ALL OF HIS SHOWS.

EVEN THE FARMER IN THE COMMON HAD TO BE FRIENDS.

AND THAT'S I THINK PART OF WHAT HAS DRAWN ME TO DO THIS SHOW.

BECAUSE I FEEL AS IF THEY DON'T KNOW THE MAN EXCEPT THROUGH HIS MUSIC, AND I'M TRYING TO INTRODUCE THE PUBLIC TO ANOTHER SIDE OF HIM THAT PEOPLE DON'T OFTEN SEE.

YOU WERE TELLING ME AN INTERESTING STORY ABOUT HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LEGENDARY PAUL ROBSON.

PAUL ROBSON, IF YOU KNOW NOTHING MORE ABOUT HIM AND PLUS THERE ARE IS IS A LOT TO KNOW, ALL-AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYER AT RUTGERS, MARVELOUSLY TALENTED, OH MAN RIVER, THEY HAD THIS WONDERFUL BROTHERLY RELATIONSHIP BUT SOMETIMES THEY CLASHED AS BROTHERS DO.

LET ME SEE IF I CAN REMEMBER THE LYRIC.

I'LL KEEP ON TRYING UNTIL I'M DYING.

I'M TIRED OF LIVING, I'M SCARED OF DYING WAS THE ORIGINAL.

HE WOULD CHANGE IT TO GO I WON'T STOP FIGHTING UNTIL I'M DYING.

WHEN HE WAS TRAVELING AROUND.

CORRECT.

HE WAS A CHAMPION OF MANY CAUSES, COMMITTEES TO ENDS LYNCHING, COMPLETES FOR THE UNITED NEGRO CONGRESS, SOUTHERN CHILDREN'S CONGRESS, TOO MANY TO BE MENTIONED TO BE HONEST WITH YOU.

THE MAN WAS AN ACTIVE FELLOW.

IT HAS TO BE SAID THAT WHAT HE'S KNOWN MOST FOR ON THE STAGE IS OH MAN RIVER.

AND I WOULD ADD ABOUT OH MAN RIVER THAT I THINK OH MAN RIVER IS ALWAYS A PERFECT SONG.

I'LL DEFINE IT BY SAYING IT'S ONE OF THOSE SONGS WHERE YOU ALMOST FORGET IT WAS WRITTEN BY SOMEBODY.

IT SEEMS AS IF TO SPRING NATURALLY FROM THE SOUL OF THE CHARACTER.

IT'S ONE OF THOSE CASES WHERE OSCAR GETS OUT OF THE WAY OF THE WORDS HE WAS WRITING.

AND I ALWAYS POINT TO THAT SONG AS SOMETHING THAT IS A REMARKABLEBLY SIMPLE PERFECT SONG.

I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION ABOUT J. ED CAR HOEVER.

WE'VE LEARNED SINCE OBVIOUSLY THE FBI A MARVELOUS ORGANIZATION, GREAT HARD WORKING AGENT BUZZ WE'VE LEARNED ABOUT THE EXCESSES OF J. EDGAR HOEVER AND LEARNED THE LESSON OF POWER, ABSOLUTE POWER ESPECIALLY ABSOLUTELY POWER SK CORRUPT ABSOLUTELY.

OFTENTIMES PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT ABOUT HOEVER.

WERE YOU SURPRISED TO LEARN THE EXTENT OF THE FILE THAT HE HAD PUT TOGETHER ABOUT YOUR GRANDFATHER?

IT RUNS 99 PAGES.

AND WHAT IT REALLY SEEMS TO BE IS A RECORD OF THEM TAILING OSCAR WHEREVER HE WENT.

FROM ABOUT 1941 UNTIL IT PETERS OUT IN THE MID '50S.

AND IN THIS RECORD, THEY DECIDE THAT HE'S A QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER AND THEY BACK DATE IT, THEY GO ALL THE WAY BACK TO 'SHOW BOAT' AND TO AN ORGANIZATION THAT HE COFOUNDED OUT IN HOLLYWOOD CALLED THE ANTI-NAZI LEAGUE.

SO.

WHICH YOU WOULD THINK THAT'S A WONDERFUL ORGANIZATION.

NOT GOING TO BE A PROBLEM.

AS WE KNOW YOU GO BACK IN THE '30s, THERE WERE PRO NAZI RALLIES HERE IN MADISON SQUARE GARD.

THAT'S ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.

OSCAR FELT IT WAS INCUMBENT UPON HIMSELF TO TELL OTHER WRITERS TO ORGANIZE OTHER WRITERS YOU MIGHT SAY TO PROP PAGAN SKIES AGAINST NAZIISM.

ON ONE SIDE THERE'S THE NAZIS AND ON THE OTHER SIDE THERE'S COMMUNISTS.

YOU HAVE TO THREAD A FINE LINE.

YOU'RE REVILED BY ONE GROUP AND EMBRACED BY THE OTHER.

J. EDGAR HOEVER IS WATCHING EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE.

THAT WAS THE LIFE HE LIVED.

HE DID NOT BEHAVE IN ANY COVERT WAY.

THE PATRIOTIC PARANOIA OF THE '40s AND '50S THAT FOLLOWED STALIN AND THE MAOISTS NUCLEAR TESTS AND STUFF LIKING THAT CAUSED THE PARANOIA TO OCCUR.

OSCAR WAS VERY VOCAL, VERY PUBLIC, VERY HONEST.

WAS WILLING TO ARGUE IT AND BELIEVED I THINK IF I CAN GO ON THIS RUN-ON IS THAT HE BELIEVED THAT WHAT A MAN -- WHATEVER HAPPENS BETWEEN A MAN'S EARS WAS HIS OWN BUSINESS.

AS A WRITER, HE WAS NOT SO MUCH A LIBERAL OR A COMMUNIST OR A CAPITALIST AS HE WAS A FREE THINKER.

HE BELIEVES THAT WAS YOUR RIGHT.

YOU COULD HAVE CAPITALIST THOUGHTS.

COULD YOU HAVE COMMUNIST THOUGHTS.

YOU COULD HAVE SOCIALIST THOUGHTS, ANY YOU WANTED, YOU WERE FREE TO HAVE YOUR THOUGHTS.

HE SAID THIS IN THE AUTHOR'S LEAGUE AND DRAMAISTS LEAGUE.

HE CHAMPIONED THE RIGHT TO BE FLEE OF AUTHORITARIANISM AND TOTALINARIANISM.

AND THE FEAR OF THE THOUGHT POLICE.

LET ME TALK ABOUT THE SHOW THAT YOU'RE DOING.

HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOLKS TO WALK FROM WITH IT.

WELL, I'VE BEEN GOING AROUND THE COUNTRY FOR INDICATES NOW DOING SHOWS BECAUSE PEOPLE LOVE ME IN ADVANCE.

WHICH BASICALLY STARTS WITH IT STARTS WITH OH, WHAT I AN BEAUTIFUL MORNING' AND ENDS UP WITH 'CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN.'

I'VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR A LONG TIME, A WARM BATH OF NOSTALGIA.

I WANTED SOMETHING A LITTLE EDGIER, A LITTLE NEW YORK, SOMETHING THAT WOULD SHOW A LITTLE EDGE TO OSCAR.

I ALSO FELT AT THIS TIME THAT THIS MIGHT BE A VERY GOOD TIME TO BRING OSCAR OUT AS UNAPOLOGETIC LIBERAL AND A PERSON WHO IS AGAINST FASCIST IMPULSES THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE IN OUR COUNTRY TODAY.

I'M PUTTING HIM ON THE CORRECT SIDE OF HISTORY IN MY MIND AND SAYING YOU KNOW, IF YOU'RE GOING TO ENLIST HIM, THIS IS WHAT YOU'RE ENLISTING HIM FOR.

HERE'S HIS MUSIC BUT HERE'S THE MAN.

HERE'S THE MAN.

HERE'S WHAT HE REPRESENTED, HERE'S WHAT HE DID WITH HIS LIFE.

YES.

YOU'RE ABLE TO WEAVE SOME OF THE MUSIC INTO THOSE STORIES WHICH HOW COULD YOU NOT.

HOW COULD YOU NOT, FROM 'KING AND I' THERE'S IT'S A PUZZLEM AS AN ABSOLUTE RULER BEGINS TO QUESTION HIMSELF, SHALL I TELL YOU WHAT I THINK OF YOU WHICH IS BASICALLY SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER.

YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT WHICH IS ABOUT PREJUDICE.

THE FARMER AND THE COW MAN SHOULD BE FRIENDS, ABOUT OVERCOMING DIFFERENCES HAD IN ORDER TO UNITE AND FIGHT ABROAD.

THAT SHOW OPENED IN '43.

HOW IT STILL RESONATES TODAY.

YES.

AGAIN THE GENIUS OF OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN WRITING BACK THEN AND NOW WE'RE LOOKING AT HIS MUSIC AND LOOKING AT HIS THOUGHTS AND SAYING THEY'RE IMPORTANT TO US EVEN TODAY.

AND ALSO HIS CHAMPIONING OF BLACK CAUSES OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CAUSES WAS RATHER NOTABLE.

ONE OF THE ONES THAT I WANT TO LEAVE YOU WITH IS THAT HE CHAMPIONED THE COMMITTEE FOR EQUAL JUSTICE FOR RESSIE TAYLOR IN 1944 AND 1945.

HE WANTED TO SEE HER GET A FAIR SHAKE.

SHE NEVER DID, BUT THAT WAS A SORT OF WATERSHED MOMENT IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA AS ROSA PARKS TOOK RESSIE TAYLOR'S TESTIMONY AND STARTED A CONVERSATION THAT WOULDN'T END TILL THE MID-'60s.

OSCAR IS DEALING WITH MISS IG NATION IN SHOW BOAT OR HAVING WRITTEN AN ALL BLACK OPERA IN 'CARMAN JONES.'

HE SEEMED TO FEEL IT WAS BEHOLDEN TO HIM TO DO THIS JOB.

HE DID IT MARVELOUSLY WITH ASTONISHING MUSIC.

I'M PROUD.

AND GREAT THOUGHTS.

YOU SHOULD BE PROUD.

IT'S A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU.

MY PLEASURE.

THANK YOU FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

GOOD SEEING YOU AND A REMINDER FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OSCAR ON OSCAR, VISIT OUR WEBSITE @METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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