Spending Time With Lucille Ball & Rodgers & Hammerstein

it may be spring but that doesn’t mean cold season is over. For the second time this year I was struck down and last week my brain was just too muddled to write. Instead I watched TV – lots of 30 Rock and British sitcoms (check out Game Face – it’s great!) – and read.I managed to finish two books related to my favorite subject – the world of entertainment. Though quite different both Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution and Lucy Comes Home: A Photographic Journey were wonderful reads (I did receive a review copy of each).

Written by Todd S. Purdum Something Wonderful details the nearly 20 year partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein and their numerous contributions to the world of theatre and I was eager to read all about the men responsible for some of my favorite musical moments. Who can forget Curly riding through the corn and singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’?” Or Anna and the king twirling around to “Shall We Dance?” Or Maria comforting the von Trapp children with “My Favorite Things?” So many iconic moments!

Something Wonderful is a detailed exploration into the lives of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II from their New York childhoods to their early collaborations with others (Rodgers with Lorenz Hart and Hammerstein with Jerome Kern) to their eventual pairing and rise to prominence. Each of their musicals is discussed in detail whether it was a smash hit or big bust. In fact, that’s what surprised me the most – I had no idea Rodgers & Hammerstein had nearly as many disappointments as successes. Purdum doesn’t whitewash their history and instead we are given a nuanced look at the highs and lows of the famed duo. I found the book endlessly fascinating and was left with a much better understanding of the men behind the names on the theatre marquee.

Lucy Comes Home also features an iconic figure as its subject, Lucille Ball, but its focus is on one specific event in her life rather than her iconic career.

In February 1956 Lucy and Desi Arnaz visited Jamestown, New York for the premier of their film Forever Darling. It was Lucy’s first time back since her rise to fame and the town went all out to welcome her. For a whirlwind couple of days the famous couple was the talk of the town and they spent much of the time making public appearances and revisiting Lucy’s childhood haunts. Thanks to a large media presence the visit was well documented and the events of the trip are detailed in the book.

A large format photography book it’s filled with detailed photographs of the entire visit and  offers a glimpse back in time to those special days. In fact, the book’s author, Christopher T. Olsen, is a Jamestown native who’s mother, Janice, was lucky enough to meet with the famous couple during their visit. This results in a loving, personal account of a moment of great significance in Olsen’s life and that of the whole town. I’ve long loved Lucy and reading the book provided an inside look into her real life. Her elation at returning home is visible in several photos and her and Desi’s kindness and gratitude toward the town that raised her really warmed my heart.

Thanks to Something Wonderful and Lucy Comes Home I had some much needed distraction during my cold and I’m glad they’re now part of my library. In fact, they’re the perfect addition to the library of any classic entertainment fan.

 

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