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Gillian M. Rodger

(b London, England, Feb 1834; d New York, NY, April 11, 1905). American composer, theater orchestra director, and arranger. Born in London’s East End, Braham’s musical education was gained largely through his early education at the British Union School. He initially played the harp, but switched to the violin and became a skilled performer by the time he was 18. Rather than embarking on a career as a professional musician, Braham became a brass turner, making tubing for brass instruments, and supplemented his income by performing in theatrical orchestras in the evenings. In 1856, in the wake of a cholera epidemic that took his mother’s life, he emigrated to New York, where he quickly found employment in theater orchestras. By 1857 he was a regular member of the orchestra attached to Matt Peel’s Campbell Minstrels, and remained with this company, despite personnel conflicts and the reforming of the troupe under a modified name, until ...

Article

Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...

Article

Ellen Marie Peck

(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...

Article

Ian Bradley

English comic-opera collaborators. The impact of the comic operas of the librettist W.S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) in the United States was immediate and lasting. H.M.S. Pinafore, the team’s second significant collaboration, established its transatlantic reputation. In the absence of international copyright agreements, a pirate production opened in Boston on 25 November 1878, exactly six months after the London first night. Within a few months Pinafore mania was sweeping the country. The opera was at one point being performed simultaneously in eight New York theaters within five blocks of each other. By the time the “authorized” version opened at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York on 1 December 1879, more than 150 productions had played across the United States.

It was a mark of the instant and intense popularity of the first of the major Savoy operas, as Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas became known, that the next work in the canon, ...

Article

Sylvia Stoner-Hawkins

[John Joseph, Jr. ]

(b Boston, MA, Aug 10, 1898; d Los Angeles, CA, June 6, 1979). American actor and performer. Haley initially became an electrician in the Boston area. However, he soon left that career to pursue vaudeville and toured in the team Krafts and Haley. He began his Broadway career in the 1924 original musical revue Round the Town. In 1929 Haley starred as Jack Martin in the musical comedy Follow Thru with lyrics by DeSylva and Brown and music by Henderson. He and his costar, Zelma O’Neal, performed the hit number “Button up your Overcoat.” Haley was later cast in the 1932 musical comedy Take a Chance by DeSylva and Schwab. In the 1948 musical revue Inside USA, Haley’s character displayed effective physical comedy while portraying a weary traveler booked in a room with a trick bed. Haley served as the radio host of Wonder Show (1938–9), a show sponsored by Wonder Bread, which featured Gale Gordon as the announcer and regular appearances by Lucille Ball. Haley replaced Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man in the film ...

Article

Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(Abels )

(b Salt Lake City, UT, Aug 18, 1873; d New York, NY, Jan 24, 1963). American librettist and lyricist. He was educated at Knox College, then taught English for six years at Whitman College before going to New York for further study at Columbia University. In 1902 he became a newspaper journalist and the following year a copywriter for an advertising agency. His friendship with the composer Karl Hoschna led him to try his hand at writing musicals, and their collaboration Three Twins (1908, including the song “Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine”) was a great success. Harbach soon became a prolific writer; he produced over 40 works for Broadway and also wrote occasionally for films. After Hoschna’s death in 1911 he entered into a successful partnership with Rudolf Friml. Many of his best lyrics and librettos, however, were written after 1920 in collaboration with his younger protégé Oscar Hammerstein II. Among his best-known songs are “Rose-Marie” and “Indian Love Call” (...

Article

Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Nov 28, 1887; d New York, NY, May 13, 1924). American composer. He was a highly regarded composer of Broadway musicals—especially revues—at the turn of the 20 century. He attended the City University of New York and studied piano at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin during his final year. After his return to New York in 1906, Hirsch found employment as a pianist for several music publishers. He composed original music for Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels but soon had songs interpolated into several shows produced by the Shuberts, including The Gay White Way (1907) and Up and Down Broadway (1910). This relationship was essential to Hirsch’s career, for the Shuberts eventually hired him as a staff composer. He wrote his first full score for them, He Came from Milwaukee, in 1910. The following year, several of his songs were included in ...

Article

Gerald Bordman

(b New York, NY, March 30, 1858; d Kansas City, MO, Sept 23, 1935). American bass and comedian. He was expected to follow his family tradition and become a lawyer, but after his father’s death he abandoned his studies and used his inheritance to form his own acting company. The company failed, partly because, being exceptionally tall, Hopper towered comically above the rest of his troupe. He then studied singing (he had a fine bass voice), and struck huge success in 1884 when John McCaull cast him in John Philip Sousa’s Désirée. He solidified his reputation in The Begum (1887) and The Lady or the Tiger? (1888). He then played leading roles in several shows opposite the diminutive Della Fox, where the disparity in their height was deliberately exploited for its comic effect; productions included Castles in the Air (1890), Wang (...

Article

Gerald Bordman

(b Concord, NH, July 26, 1860; d New York, NY, Nov 20, 1900). American librettist, lyricist, and producer. He studied law and worked on a western cattle ranch before becoming a writer for the Boston Post. He then began to write plays, achieving success with A Bunch of Keys (1883) and A Rag Baby (1884), the latter of which was produced by Tony Pastor. Both works were farce-comedies. Though in Hoyt’s hands these rather simplistically conceived shows, with their thin plots and their reliance on existing musical material, were transformed into recognizable musical comedies; he wrote full-length librettos and assigned a single composer to write a basic score (though still allowed for the traditional practice of interpolating of songs). He also preferred to write on American subjects. In collaboration with such composers as Edward Solomon, Percy Gaunt, and Richard Stahl, Hoyt produced a series of popular shows which included ...

Article

Sandra Jean Graham

Vocal duo. The group comprised soprano Anna Madah (b New York?, NY, 1855; d ?1920s) and alto/tenor Emma Louise (b Sacramento, CA, 1857; d by 1901). Born to Samuel B. and Annie E. Hyers, the musically precocious sisters soon abandoned their parents’ musical tutelage for private study with German music teacher Hugo Sank (vocalization, piano) and opera singer Josephine D’Ormy (Italian and German, enunciation, intonation, stage presence). Shortly after their debut at the ages of 12 and 10 at the Metropolitan Theatre in Sacramento, the parents separated, and their father Samuel managed their careers.

From 1867 to 1876 the sisters devoted themselves to concerts of operatic excerpts, art songs, popular ballads, and, from 1872, spirituals. Arriving in New York in 1871 after a cross-country tour, Samuel formed a concert company around his daughters, engaging tenor Wallace King, baritone John Luca, violinist John Thomas Douglass, and pianist Alexander C. Taylor. Myriad favorable reviews praised Anna’s range and suppleness, Emma’s power, and the sisters’ well-cultured refinement....

Article

Gillian M. Rodger

(Jane )

(b Columbus, OH, March 16, 1889; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 26, 1956). American actress, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Her stage career began when she was just a child and was promoted tirelessly by her mother, Jennie Cockrell Bierbower, a woman whose own theatrical aspirations had been thwarted. Janis’s first roles on the stage were with the Ohio Valentine Stock Company in 1897. Her career in vaudeville lasted into the 1920s, and the format of her act varied little. She opened with a song and then moved through imitations of popular stars of the period; her imitations varied from year to year and included a wide range of celebrities including Weber and Fields, Lillian Russell, Pat Rooney, Anna Held, Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan. By the 1920s she had begun to move into musical comedy and revue.

Janis was a tireless supporter of the troops during World War I and traveled to France and England to entertain them. She found equal popularity with English and French audiences. After her mother’s death in ...

Article

Article

Gerald Bordman

(b Pittsburgh, PA, Nov 16, 1889; d New York, NY, June 2, 1961). American librettist and director. He first worked as a journalist, serving for a time as head of the drama desk at the New York Times, but resigned in order to write his own plays. His first libretto, produced in collaboration with Marc Connelly, was for Helen of Troy, New York (1923; music by B. Kalmar and H. Ruby) and established his reputation for witty and satirical writing. He then created two important shows for the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts (1925; I. Berlin) and, with Morrie Ryskind, Animal Crackers (1928; Kalmar and Ruby), and also collaborated with Ryskind on the libretto for the highly successful Of Thee I Sing (1931; G. Gershwin), the first musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and Let ’Em Eat Cake (1933; Gershwin). Kaufman contributed both libretto and lyrics for ...

Article

Sylvia Stoner-Hawkins

[Lahrheim, Irving ]

(b New York, NY, Aug 13, 1895; d New York, NY, Dec 4, 1967). American performer. At age 15, Lahr began his career in an act called the Seven Frolics that played the burlesque circuit. Later in 1910 he toured with the Whirly Girly Musical Comedy Success. Lahr began as a solo performer in vaudeville, then became a team (with his first wife) known as Lahr and Mercedes (1922). He debuted on Broadway in Harry Delmar’s Revels (1927), yet Hold Everything (1928) was considered his big break. The 1936 production of The Show is On included Lahr’s performance of Harburg and Arlen’s “Song of the Woodman,” which became his trademark. Lyricist Yip Harburg recommended Lahr for the role of the Cowardly Lion in the MGM film The Wizard of Oz (1939). Lahr returned to Broadway to co-star with Ethel Merman in ...

Article

Mary Helen Still

(b Charleston, MA, Feb 24, 1858; d New York, NY, May 3, 1897). American composer and actor. Often working with the librettist J. Cheever Goodwin, he produced several scores for Broadway productions in the 1890s. He studied harmony at the Boston Conservatory, and following his graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he traveled to Paris and studied art under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean-Jacques Henner, among others. After returning to America, he began to compose musical plays and operettas. He convinced the producer Augustin Daly to underwrite his first musical play, Cinderella at School (1881), which, although a popular success, was not well received by critics. In 1884 he began to collaborate with Goodwin, and their partnership produced six crowd- and critic-pleasing operettas. His adaptation of Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’étoile (1890), produced by and starring the actor Francis Wilson, caught the attention of Richard D’Oyly Carte who engaged Ivan Caryll to further rework the operetta for the Savoy Theatre in ...