Composer/Lyricist Jerry Herman turned 85 this weekend, and Tams-Witmark wishes him a very happy birthday. To celebrate, here are:
20 Fun Facts About Jerry Herman
1. Jerry Herman is a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He has been nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice, for HELLO, DOLLY! and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.
2. Jerry Herman is arguably the most successful composer/lyricist of the 20th Century. His musicals include the blockbusters HELLO, DOLLY! and MAME, as well as MILK & HONEY, DEAR WORLD, MACK & MABEL, THE GRAND TOUR, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.3. Though Mr. Herman is known as one of the greatest piano players in the theater, he technically does not read music. He can write out a melody line with chords (a “lead sheet”) but never transcribes his piano accompaniment.4. When Jerry was growing up, his parents ran Stissing Lake Camp in Pine Plains, New York. Jerry spent every summer there, from age 6 to 23, and ran the camp’s theatre program for most of those years.
5. When Jerry was auditioning singers in 1959 for his off-Broadway revue entitled PARADE, Charles Nelson Reilly auditioned in Herman’s tiny apartment. Instead of a dining table, Jerry had a fold-out board supported by a single leg. Charles accidentally kicked the leg out, sending Jerry’s china tea service (for eight!) crashing to the floor. Reilly later wondered, “What does someone in such a small room need with service for eight?”
6. Jerry’s first big Broadway hit was MILK & HONEY, a musical about the birth of the state of Israel. (Really!) On the day after it opened, the show’s box office hit $16,000 in sales—beating out the reigning champ, MY FAIR LADY.
8. Herman’s 1961 Off-Broadway musical MADAME APHRODITE, with book by playwright Tad Mosel, ran for a mere 13 performances. The show, about a woman who creates a phony beauty cream to disfigure her vain enemies, is Herman’s only stage musical without an original cast album, and it has never been performed since its original production.
9. When Jerry Herman first met with David Merrick regarding the score for HELLO, DOLLY!, Merrick gave him one weekend to write a few songs. In a single weekend, Jerry composed an astonishing FIVE melodies: “Call On Dolly,” “I Put My Hand In,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Dancing,” and a song for Irene Molloy. With the exception of Irene’s song, which was later replaced with “Ribbons Down My Back,” all of the material he wrote that weekend remains, virtually unchanged, in the show as we know it.
10. HELLO, DOLLY!, starring Carol Channing, opened at the St. James Theatre on January 16, 1964, and was a blockbuster hit. Subsequent Dollys included Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, and Ethel Merman.
11. Though, like any true professional, Herman is often critical of his own work, he cites MAME as a personal favorite, “where every line of dialogue, every costume, every orchestration, and every song is right.”
12. MAME launched Angela Lansbury into superstardom, but she almost didn’t play the part. Mary Martin was first offered the role, but she turned it down. And Ms. Lansbury’s first audition went less than perfectly. But Jerry loved her in the role, so he worked with her privately, and in a subsequent audition, she wowed the entire creative team by nailing her numbers from memory. (See more fun MAME facts here!)
13. When DEAR WORLD opened in 1969, Jerry Herman became the first composer/lyricist in history to have three musicals running simultaneously on Broadway. (HELLO, DOLLY! and MAME were still running strong.)
14. DEAR WORLD, a musical adaptation of The Madwoman of Chaillot, is quirkier and far more intimate than Herman’s blockbusters of the period. Angela Lansbury won a second Tony Award for playing the Countess Aurelia, and Betty Buckley took on the role in a 2013 West End Revival.
15. The cast album of DEAR WORLD, beloved by fans worldwide, includes glorious melodies including “Kiss Her Now” and “I’ve Never Said I Love You.”
16. Herman’s 1974 musical MACK & MABEL starred Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston as silent movie star Mabel Mercer and director Mack Sennett. The show yielded two standards (“Time Heals Everything” and “I Won’t Send Roses”) but astonishingly was overlooked by the Tonys for Best Score.
17. Herman’s 1983 adaptation of the French comedy La Cage Aux Folles was a triumphant success. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and is the only musical to win Best Revival of a Musical twice (2005 & 2010). It is the only show to win a Best Musical award for every one of its staged Broadway productions.
18. Jerry Herman was the first composer/lyricist to have three musicals run more than 1500 consecutive performances on Broadway: HELLO, DOLLY! (2,844), MAME (1,508), and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1,761). (Only Stephen Schwartz has matched this feat.)
19. In 1996, Herman wrote music and lyrics for the TV movie Mrs. Santa Claus, starring his MAME and DEAR WORLD leading lady, Angela Lansbury. The movie, which also starred Charles Durning and Michael Jeter, was directed by Rob Marshall and featured costumes by Bob Mackie. The DVD, now out of print, remains in high demand among collectors.
20. Broadway can’t stay away from Jerry Herman for long! Bette Midler is scheduled to bring HELLO, DOLLY! back to Broadway in March of 2017, with David Hyde Pierce playing Horace Vandergelder. Jerry Herman has said he wanted to give audiences “songs they could whistle as they left the theater and take home in their pockets.” He has certainly done that, and so much more.