Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, II (1895-1960) both had extensive careers in Broadway theater music before they scored their first hit together with Oklahoma! in 1943. Rodgers, first teamed with Lorenz Hart (1895-1943), with whom he scored a series of Broadway successes that began when the team's song "Manhattan" was interpolated into The Garrick Gaities of 1925. Rodgers and Hart's show included Present Arms (1928), On Your Toes (1936), Babes in Arms (1937) and Pal Joey (1940), among others, and they are responsible for a slew of song standards including "You Took Advantage of Me," "Dancing on the Ceiling," "There's a Small Hotel," "Where or When," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "My Funny Valentine," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Isn't It Romantic," and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." But Hart's health declined, and Rodgers had sought out Hammerstein prior to his partner's death from pneumonia.
Hammerstein, scion of a theatrical family (his grandfather owned several theaters and wrote shows and his father and brother were also involved in the theater), attended Columbia University, where he wrote college shows with Rodgers. He was a considerable success in the 1920s, collaborating with Jerome Kern on Show Boat (1927) and also working wih Sigmund Romberg, but he went for a long stretch in the '30s without having a hit.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein team returned to the plot-oriented, socially conscious style of Show Boat for a series of landmark musicals in the '40s and '50s, notably Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1959), among others.
Rodgers, who had the luck to work with two of the most gifted lyricists of the century, continued after Hammerstein's death, though without lucking into a third major partner. He wrote music and lyrics to No Strings in 1962, and tried working with Stephen Sondheim on Do I Hear a Waltz? (1956), but his later work was less successful. ~ William Ruhlmann