Oscar Hammerstein I

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Oscar Hammerstein I
Oscar Hammerstein 001.JPG
Portrait from Who's Who on the Stage, 1906
Born(1846-05-08)May 8, 1846
DiedAugust 1, 1919(1919-08-01) (aged 73)
Occupation Businessman, composer, theater impresario
Children Arthur Hammerstein
Willie Hammerstein
Relatives Oscar Hammerstein II (grandson)

Oscar Hammerstein I (8 May 1846 1 August 1919) was a German-born businessman, theater impresario, and composer in New York City. His passion for opera led him to open several opera houses, and he rekindled opera's popularity in America. He was the grandfather of American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and the father of theater manager William Hammerstein and American producer Arthur Hammerstein.

An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or operas, performing a role similar to that of an artist manager or a film or television producer. The term “impresario” was used by the Spanish, and then English-speaking settlers of the Pacific Northwest to describe, “one who brought a new community into being and managed affairs to ensure its prosperity.”

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, often called New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.


Early life

Oscar Hammerstein I was born in Stettin (capital of the province of Pomerania), Kingdom of Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), to German Jewish parents Abraham and Berthe Hammerstein. He took up the flute, piano, and violin at an early age. His mother died when he was fifteen years old.[ citation needed ] During his youth, Hammerstein's father wanted him to continue with his education, and to specialize in subjects such as algebra, but Hammerstein wanted to pursue music. After Oscar went skating in a park one day, his father found out and whipped him as punishment; this would spur Hammerstein to run away to North America. After selling his violin, Hammerstein ran away to Liverpool, [1] and from there, took a three-month journey to the United States arriving in New York City in 1864.

Szczecin Place in West Pomeranian, Poland

Szczecin is the capital and largest city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. Located near the Baltic Sea and the German border, it is a major seaport and Poland's seventh-largest city. As of June 2018, the population was 403,274.

Province of Pomerania (1815–1945) 1815–1945

The Province of Pomerania was a province of Prussia from 1815 to 1945. Pomerania was established as a province of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1815, an expansion of the older Brandenburg-Prussia province of Pomerania, and then became part of the German Empire in 1871. From 1918, Pomerania was a province of the Free State of Prussia until it was dissolved in 1945 following World War II, and its territory divided between Poland and Allied-occupied Germany.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Cigar manufacturer

Hammerstein made ends meet initially by working at a cigar factory on Pearl Street. He worked his way up to become a cigar maker himself, and also founded the U.S Tobacco Journal. Hammerstein would eventually become the owner of at least 80 patents, with most of them being related to the machines he made for the cigar-making process. Hammerstein's most well-known contribution to the cigar-making process is adding an air-suctioning component to the traditional cigar-making machines, and the component would hold down the tobacco leaves firmly so that they could be cut more cleanly. [2]

Cigar tightly-rolled bundle of tobacco designed to be lit and smoked

A cigar is a rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco leaves made to be smoked. They are produced in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Since the 20th century, almost all cigars are made up of three distinct components: the filler, the binder leaf which holds the filler together, and a wrapper leaf, which is often the best leaf used. Often the cigar will have a band printed with the cigar manufacturer's logo. Modern cigars often come with 2 bands, especially Cuban Cigar bands, showing Limited Edition bands displaying the year of production.

Pearl Street (Manhattan) street in Manhattan

Pearl Street is a street in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan, running northeast from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge with an interruption at Fulton Street, where Pearl Street's alignment west of Fulton Street shifts one block south of its alignment east of Fulton Street, then turning west and terminating at Centre Street.

Tobacco agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana

Tobacco is a product prepared from the leaves of the tobacco plant by curing them. The plant is part of the genus Nicotiana and of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. While more than 70 species of tobacco are known, the chief commercial crop is N. tabacum. The more potent variant N. rustica is also used around the world.

The initial machine only sold for $6,000, but later reinventions would boost his machine's worth to around $200,000. Another invention that Hammerstein created was a more efficient plumbing system for his sink when it had leaked one night.

Plumbing Systems for conveying fluids

Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications. Plumbing uses pipes, valves, plumbing fixtures, tanks, and other apparatuses to convey fluids. Heating and cooling (HVAC), waste removal, and potable water delivery are among the most common uses for plumbing, but it is not limited to these applications. The word derives from the Latin for lead, plumbum, as the first effective pipes used in the Roman era were lead pipes.

He also moonlighted as a theater manager in the downtown German theaters.[ citation needed ]

He became wealthy industrializing cigar manufacturing, and his tobacco fortune provided the money he used to pursue his theater interests.[ citation needed ]

Producer and impresario

Hammerstein built his first theater, the Harlem Opera House, on 125th Street in 1889, along with 50 housing developments. His second theater, the Columbus Theatre, was built in 1890 on the same street, featuring light theatrical productions.

His third theater was the first Manhattan Opera House, built in 1893 on 34th Street. This failed as an opera house and was used, in partnership with Koster and Bial, to present variety shows. Hammerstein was displeased with the partnership to the point that it fell into bitterness: "When I get through with you, everybody will forget there ever was a Koster and Bial. I will build a house the likes of which has never been seen in the whole world.". [3]

In 1895 he opened a fourth venue, the Olympia Theatre, on Longacre Square, where he presented a comic opera that he wrote himself, Santa Maria (1896). While it was positively received by The New York Times , Hammerstein's personal experience was less than peaceful, with the production being plagued by monetary issues with the cast and stage set. In the end, Hammerstein had profited only one-tenth of the costs that were put into the Santa Maria production. [4]

Nine years later, Longacre Square was renamed Times Square, and the area had become, through his efforts, a thriving theater district.

Hammerstein built three more theaters there, the Victoria Theatre (1899), which turned to vaudeville presentation in 1904 and was managed by his son, Willie Hammerstein before closing in 1915; the Theatre Republic was built in 1900 and leased to eccentric producer David Belasco, in 1901, and the Lew Fields Theatre for Lew Fields (half of the Vaudeville team Weber and Fields, and the father of lyricist Dorothy Fields), in 1904. He wrote a musical called Punch, Judy & Co. in 1903. Hammerstein also opened Hammerstein's Paradise Roof Garden above the Victoria and Republic theatres.

Opera and later years

Oscar Hammerstein I (left) with conductor Cleofonte Campanini in New York, 1908. Oscar Hammerstein I and Cleofonte Campanini.jpg
Oscar Hammerstein I (left) with conductor Cleofonte Campanini in New York, 1908.

In 1906, Hammerstein, dissatisfied with the Metropolitan Opera's productions, opened an eighth theater, his second Manhattan Opera House, to directly (and successfully) compete with it. He also opened the Philadelphia Opera House in 1908, which, however, he sold early in 1910. [5]

He produced contemporary operas and presented the American premieres of Louise , Pelleas et Melisande , Elektra , Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame , Thaïs , and Salome , as well as the American debuts of Mary Garden and Luisa Tetrazzini. Since the star soprano Nellie Melba was disenchanted with the Metropolitan, she deserted it for Hammerstein's company, rescuing it financially with a successful season. He also produced the successful Victor Herbert operetta Naughty Marietta in 1910.

Hammerstein became famous during his opera years for putting noticeably large budgets out for his productions, Santa Maria being one example. More often than not, he would fall into financial trouble within a short period of time. The New York Times conducted an interview with Hammerstein, and when the interviewer asked him about his financial habits, Hammerstein responded:

Financially, I never undertake anything without plenty of ammunition. I am never afraid of being ambushed in this account. I decided that my preliminary contracts should be drawn up provisionally upon my success in securing the great stars. I always contemplated an honorable retreat. [6]

In the end, Hammerstein's high-quality productions were ultimately too expensive to sustain, and by his fourth opera season, he was going bankrupt. The costs at the Metropolitan, too, were skyrocketing, as the Metropolitan spent more and more in order to effectively compete. Hammerstein's son Arthur negotiated a payment of $1.2 million from the Metropolitan in exchange for an agreement not to produce grand opera in the United States for 10 years.

With this money, Hammerstein built his tenth theater, the London Opera House, in London, where he again entered competition with an established opera house, Covent Garden's Royal Opera House. He had run through his money in two years and thereupon returned to America. During a trip to Paris, a special cable was sent to him out of curiosity asking whether he wanted to quit opera in New York, given that during his 1909-1910 opera seasons in New York and Philadelphia, Hammerstein had failed in successfully maintaining audiences in his two venues in each city. He simply responded by saying, "[Opera in New York is] what I'm here for. I can't say anymore." [7]

With money obtained selling the sole booking rights to the Victoria Theatre, he built his eleventh and final theatre, the Lexington Opera House. Unable to present opera there, he opened it as a movie theatre, selling it shortly thereafter. On April 28, 1910, Hammerstein officially ended producing opera, opting to solely focus on dramatic productions. All of his contracts and buildings of operation were turned over to the Metropolitan Opera Company. [8]

Hammerstein's first wife was Rosa (Rose) Blau. After Rosa died, he married Melvina Jacobi. The marriage took place on December 7, 1879 in Montgomery, Alabama. Melvina's parents, Henrietta and Simon Jacobi, were Jews from Bavaria (Ingerheim) who settled in New Orleans, Louisiana and, later, Montgomery, Alabama. Melvina and Oscar had two daughters - Rose and Estella (Stella).

Stella Hammerstein Stella Hammerstein 001.jpg
Stella Hammerstein

Late in his career, Hammerstein experienced numerous legal troubles, most of them in regards to his opera houses. He went through many of them with an air of pride.[ clarification needed ]

One of his more infamous accusations was from a Frances Lee, an opera singer, who accused him of preventing her from singing in the Manhattan Opera House after one performance. Hammerstein was found not guilty and settled his possible payment for up to $35. [9]

Hammerstein had given his two daughters, Stella and Rose Hammerstein, $200 a week for financial support after the death of his first wife. The payments were given to them by the Equitable Trust Company securely in exchange for stock shares in Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre. In 1912, Hammerstein requested his stocks back from the company and chose to no longer pay for his daughters. Stella and Rose sought to fight against their father, who believed that they could support themselves on their own. Infamously, he compared paying his daughters to "the eccentricities and actions of the late lamented King Lear." [10]

Death and legacy

Hammerstein contracted kidney problems and paralysis, eventually permanently falling into a coma. He died in 1919 in Lenox Hill Hospital at Park Avenue and 77th Street in Manhattan. His contractual ban on presenting opera was due to expire in 1920; at his death he was busy planning his return to the opera stage.

A 1910 song by Jack Norworth entitled "For Months and Months and Months" references Hammerstein himself, during the first verse.

The Manhattan Opera House was bid for $145,000 by Hammerstein's two daughters. They would also sue Hammerstein's third wife, Emma Swift Hammerstein, over money and ownership of the building. Emma Hammerstein would go to court claiming ownership through Hammerstein Opera Company stock, but the stocks were found to be null and void by the judge. [11]

The Manhattan Opera House on 34th Street in New York City was renamed the "Hammerstein Ballroom" at the Manhattan Center Studios in his honor.

Broadway credits

Hammerstein family

Hammerstein had four sons, Abe, Harold, Arthur, Willie and two daughters: Stella and Rose. Arthur continued the family business as an opera and Broadway producer, director, theater owner, and songwriter. Willie managed Oscar's Victoria Theatre, and Willie's son Oscar Hammerstein II was one of Broadway's most influential lyricists and bookwriters, as well as a director and producer.

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  8. "Quits Opera for Good", The New York Times (1857-1922): 9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Apr 29 1910. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  9. "Did i Write? Sure, Says Hammerstein." New York Times (1857-1922): 11. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Nov 22 1908. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  10. "Hammerstein Wont Support Daughters." New York Times (1857-1922): 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Oct 09 1912. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  11. "Manhattan Opera House is Auctioned." New York Times (1857-1922): 27. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Jun 23 1921. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
  12. "Olympia Theatre Opened", The New York Times, September 25, 1896, p. 3.