Oscar Hammerstein II probably contributed more than any other single person to the evolution of the American musical comedy from simple entertainment to a complex and sophisticated art form.
He was born on July 12, 1895 in New York City into a family prominent in show business. His grandfather, the first Oscar Hammerstein (1846-1919) was an important opera producer, active into his grandson's teenage years. His uncle Arthur was a Broadway producer. And his father William was the manager of a vaudeville theater, the Victoria, in Manhattan.
Oscar Hammerstein II studied at Columbia University, where he wrote and acted in student shows. He went on to get a law degree from the Columbia Law School, but soon after graduation he abandoned law for the theater, where he started his career as an assistant stage manager for his producer uncle Arthur Hammerstein.
He quickly became known as a writer of books and lyrics for musicals, mostly at first in the operetta style. His first big success, collaborating with co-writer Otto Harbach, who was some twenty years Hammerstein's senior, and composers Herberrt Stothart and Vincent Youmans, was Wildflower (1923). This was followed by Rose Marie (1924), working again with co-lyricist Otto Harbach and with music by Stothart and Rudolph Friml. He and Harbach then worked with Jerome Kern on Sunny (1925), which introduced "Who". And then, still with Harbach, came The Desert Song (1926), a classic operetta written with composer Sigmund Romberg.
In 1927, now working without Harbach, Hammerstein teamed up again with Jerome Kern and wrote the book and lyrics of one of the very greatest of all musicals, Show Boat. There…