Born Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II in New York City. Although Hammerstein's father managed the Victoria Theatre for Oscar Hammerstein I and was a producer of vaudeville shows (he is generally credited with inventing the "pie-in-the-face" routine), he was opposed to his son's desire to participate in the arts.
Young Hammerstein attended Columbia University from 1912–1916 and studied at Columbia Law School until 1917. It was not until his father's death on June 10, 1914, that he participated in his first play with the Varsity Show, entitled On Your Way. Throughout the rest of his college career, Hammerstein wrote and performed in several Varsity Shows.
After quitting law school to pursue theater, Hammerstein began his first professional collaboration, with Herbert Stothart, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel. He began as an apprentice and went on to form a 20-year collaboration with Harbach. Out of this collaboration came his first musical, Always You, for which he wrote the book and lyrics. It opened on Broadway in 1921.
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Throughout the next forty years, Hammerstein teamed with many other composers, including Jerome Kern, with whom Hammerstein enjoyed a highly successful collaboration. In 1927, Kern and Hammerstein had their biggest hit, Show Boat, which is often revived and is still considered one of the masterpieces of the American musical theatre.
Other Kern-Hammerstein musicals include Sweet Adeline, Music In the Air, Three Sisters, and Very Warm for May. Hammerstein also collaborated with Vincent Youmans (Wildflower), Rudolf Friml (Rose Marie), and Sigmund Romberg (The Desert Song and The New Moon).
Hammerstein's most successful and long running collaboration began when he teamed up with Richard Rodgers to write a musical adaptation of the play "Green Grow the Lilacs," which was entitled Oklahoma! They went to produce such classic Broadway musicals as "Carousel," Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me & Juliet, Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music as well as the musical film State Fair and the television musical Cinderella.
|With Richard Rodgers|
In 1950, the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "In recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York." The team also received a special Pulitzer Prize award for "Oklahoma!" in 1944.
Hammerstein died of stomach cancer at his home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, at 65, shortly after the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway. The final song he wrote was "Edelweiss," which was added during rehearsals near the end of the second act.
The Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theater Studies at Columbia University was established in 1981 with a $1 million gift from his family.