Saturday, March 30, 2013

Oscar Hammerstein's Beautiful and Successful Australian Wife, Dorothy

This isn't an Edwardian story, but I couldn't resist it.  I was astonished to learn that Oscar Hammerstein II, the famous lyricist and librettist who wrote such musicals as South Pacific and The Sound of Music with Richard Rodgers, married an Australian!

Born in Tasmania in 1899, Dorothy Blanchard was brought up in Williamstown in Victoria.  The daughter of a ship's captain, she lived a comfortable life at a house called Mandalay with her four sisters.  As a young girl, she loved to wander around the quaint shops in the town, including an antique shop.

At just 23, Dorothy won a beauty pageant and decided that she wanted a career in the movies.  The intrepid young woman set out for London, but she eventually lived in America.  There she won a part in a musical called 'Charlot's Revue'. She married Henry Jacobson in 1925, and she had two children.  However, she fell in love with the unhappily married Oscar Hammerstein II on a cruise, and they married in 1929.  This marriage was supremely happy, and they had a son, James. They lived in a six-story New York townhouse full of servants, a very different life from her life in Australia.

Dorothy was not only beautiful and married to a famous man; she also had her own highly-regarded career.  She became a sought-after interior designer, and furnished houses for many stars, including Norma Talmadge.  She said on a visit to Australia that: 'She was crazy for colour'. The successful interior designer also remarked that young people should be surrounded by colour, and not live like their grandparents.  One wonders if the antique shop with its 'dim,  mysterious recesses' that continuously fascinated her influenced her decision to become an interior designer.

 Dorothy Hammerstein's Obituary in The New York Times described her as 'formidable', but Christopher Plummer thought that she was a 'lovely and warm Australian lady'. (Maybe he didn't find her formidable, because he is formidable!) She died in 1987.  Her grandson, Andy, is extremely interested in her story, and he visited her old house when he came to Australia recently.

[Richard Rodgers, Dorothy Rodg... Digital ID: 1818367. New York Public Library

Dorothy is third from the left.

Here is a 
beautiful picture of the couple on their wedding day.

Unfortunately, the present owner of the heritage-listed house is having trouble maintaining it: Historic House Alive With The Sound Of Crumbling

1 comment:

Hels said...

Not only did Dorothy marry someone amazingly famous and talented. In the next generation, her daughter Susan Blanchard married at least _two_ famous and talented people - Peter Fonda and Richard Widmark.

What I did not know was the Australian connection. Good digging!