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William Hammerstein; Producer, Scion of Famed Broadway Family

March 14, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON, Conn. — William Hammerstein, a director, producer and a fourth-generation member of one of the most prominent families in American theater, has died. He was 82.

Hammerstein died at home Friday of complications from a stroke, said Theodore S. Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.

On Broadway, Hammerstein produced Neil Simon's first play, "Come Blow Your Horn," in 1961 and Garson Kanin's "A Gift of Time," starring Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland.

As a director, his credits included numerous productions at New York City Center, the 1956 London premiere of "Fanny" and the 1979 Broadway revival and national tour of "Oklahoma!" created by his father Oscar II along with composer Richard Rodgers.

For television, William Hammerstein produced "The Bell Telephone Hour," "The Arthur Godfrey Show" and network specials.

Until shortly before his death, Hammerstein was active in the management of the theatrical and music publishing interests of his father as his literary executor. In addition to "Oklahoma!" the Rodgers and Hammerstein team wrote such musicals as "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I" and "The Sound of Music."

Oscar Hammerstein II, with Jerome Kern, also wrote "Show Boat" in 1927 and his son became a major spokesman for the evolution of the musical when it was revived a few years ago.

He had been a small boy when the work was written, Hammerstein told Newsday in 1994, and well remembered an automobile ride during which his father burst into the new song "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and putting "my little hand into this enormous black hand" of the legendary singer Paul Robeson, the show's best-known character, Joe.

"Show Boat," Hammerstein said, "changed the attitude about musicals. Up to that time they'd been very frivolous."

Hammerstein, who was born in New York, began his professional career as a stage manager at the St. Louis Municipal Opera, moving on to Broadway and road productions. During World War II, he served with the Navy in the South Pacific. After the war, he resumed work in the theater as a production manager, working for producer Leland Hayward, directors Joshua Logan, and Kanin, and others.

Hammerstein established and managed the New York City Center Light Opera Company, for which he was recognized with a special Tony Award in 1957.

He is survived by his wife, Jane-Howard; three daughters; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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