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Enchanted Evenings

Television* Long-unseen material fills the museum series 'The Sound of His Music: A Tribute to Richard Rodgers' in Beverly Hills.

April 04, 2002|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1981, his first year with the company, Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization President Ted Chapin found several programs gathering dust in a closet.

"There were all of these reels of film in closets all over the place," Chapin said. "I actually rented a 16-millimeter projector and set it up in the conference room and looked at all of the films."

Most of the reels weren't very interesting to Chapin. But some caught his eye, among them the 1954 special "General Foods: Presenting Rodgers and Hammerstein." As far as Chapin knows, that special is the only filmed performance of "South Pacific" stars Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza. It also contains the only footage of John Raitt and Jan Clayton, who were in the original "Carousel," performing together, as well as scenes from "Allegro" and "Me and Juliet." "There's a very young Florence Henderson and a very young Yul Brynner," Chapin said.

Groucho Marx even shows up on the telecast to do a version of "You Bet Your Life" with Richard Rodgers and his partner, Oscar Hammerstein II.

"I assume people sent these things to Rodgers, and he wrote lovely thank-you notes and said [to his staff], 'Put them somewhere' and didn't really look at them," Chapin said.

Now, all that long-lost material is being featured in "The Sound of His Music: A Tribute to Richard Rodgers," beginning Friday at the Museum of Television & Radio.

Continuing through June 3, the series is part of the worldwide centennial tribute to Rodgers, who is one of the most recognizable denizens of American musical theater. With his first partner, Lorenz Hart, Rodgers wrote such Broadway shows as "On Your Toes," "The Boys From Syracuse" and "Pal Joey." With Hammerstein, he penned the music to "Oklahoma!," "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I," "Flower Drum Song" and "The Sound of Music." His hundreds of standards include "Isn't It Romantic," "If I Loved You," "Some Enchanted Evening" and "My Favorite Things."

Rodgers, who died in 1979, would have turned 100 on June 28. The composer was a prominent figure on television in the '50s and '60s.

"He was fascinated by television as anybody would have been in the theater in those days as a promotional thing--to appear on 'Ed Sullivan' and appear when asked" on other shows, Chapin said. On television, "so many major events were based around Rodgers or Rodgers and Hammerstein."

"My father was busier than I thought, or the networks were busier than I thought," added his daughter, Mary Rodgers, a writer and composer in her own right. "He realized that television got to a lot of people. I think he was not so comfortable acting on television. There is a clip of him and Oscar being interviewed by Groucho Marx, and he's obviously very uncomfortable."

The festival kicks off with the 1957 live telecast of "Cinderella," starring Julie Andrews. It was the only musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for the small screen, and it has been remade twice for television.

"There was something so exciting about the fact that it was live," Mary Rodgers said. "There weren't any TelePrompTers, and if you made a mistake, you made a mistake and everybody got to see it. There is something really human about that."

Another find is a 1963 installment of "The Tonight Show." Johnny Carson had just taken over the reins of the show from Jack Paar five months earlier, and he seemed nervous and in awe of his famed guest.

"You don't think of 'The Tonight Show' devoting an entire show to one person," museum curator Ron Simon said. But at the time, devoting 90 minutes to Rodgers gave the late-night series a certain cachet.

"In many ways, television and Richard Rodgers worked very well together," Simon said. "Rodgers had a cultural legitimacy that he brought to television. But it was his type of appeal--both sophisticated and also for a mass audience--that television was trying to achieve. So there was something that connected very well with television's mission."

Simon said that the museum engaged in detective work looking for programs to feature in the tribute. A recent discovery is the 1951 live special "An Evening for Richard Rodgers," which features host John Daly and such performers as Celeste Holm, Vera Zorina and Alfred Drake. If a little clunky, the special is quaint and utterly charming. At the conclusion, Rodgers accompanies Mary Martin on the piano in "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy."

Other rarities include a 1958 episode of "The Perry Como Show" that finds Rodgers accompanying Como through a medley of tunes, and a special edition of "The Ed Sullivan Show" telecast in 1962 from Carnegie Hall. Gordon MacRae, Steve Lawrence, Roberta Peters and Peter Nero are among the performers in this concert.

Meanwhile, the search continues.

"There is one program we are still looking for," Simon said. "That is the very first Ed Sullivan show [from 1948], when it was 'The Toast of the Town.' Rodgers and Hammerstein were the guests.... We are getting very close to it."

*

"The Sound of His Music: A Tribute to Richard Rodgers" screens Wednesdays through Sundays at 12:30 p.m., beginning Friday through June 30 at the Museum of Television & Radio, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Admission is free. Call (310) 786-1000 or visit www.mtr.org.

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