Inside Media / Public Programs at the Paley Center for Media:
Oscar Hammerstein II — Out of My Dreams
Stephen Sondheim, Ted Chapin, and JoAnn Young
Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 6:30pm
The Paley Center for Media, 25 West 52nd Street
event site 

  • Oklahoma has no particular message but it has a flavor that infects you.”
  • “He wouldn’t have encouraged me if he didn’t smell something.” (Sondheim on Hammerstein’s early mentoring)
  • “His humanity showed up in all of his plays.” (Hammerstein’s granddaughter]
  • “He firmly believed that being an optimist was the only way to live a life.”
  • “[what works in some of the musical training initiatives is that] young writers get a chance to play and to sing their things in front of other young writers and a couple of professionals.  And it’s that, that feedback, that is useful…. Socratic teaching … where you question things and you listen to things and the students learn by hearing themselves talk .. that’s how you learn things.” (Sondheim on teaching musical theatre)
Hammerstein at his writing desk in his home study. The desk shared the stage with Sondheim and Chapin 31 January 2012.

A documentary love letter on-screen with clips of the man himself, his family, and people who know him, filmed by a woman (JoAnn Young) who has become the go-to documentarian of the Hammerstein oeuvre. A conversation on stage between arguably the greatest living American musical writer (Stephen Sondheim) and a student and professional of that work and a protector of the legacy of Hammerstein (Ted Chapin). This particular January evening at the Paley Center in Manhattan provides all of this and more, including members of the extended Hammerstein family in the audience. The quotations that head this commentary are both on-screen and in person in a post screening discussion and the end result is: enchantment. Some enchanted evening indeed.

Life and theatre reviews intervened to prevent me from posting my own reactions to the experience of this evening closer to its occurrence. The upside of this is that a video made of the remarks portion of the adventure — Sondheim and Chapin discussing themes in the film and in Sondheim’s life with Hammerstein — are now included in the event link so that you can watch them yourself. This Hammerstein documentary will premiere during the next PBS pledge week, as I understand it, and is worth watching, DVR-ing, purchasing. An American life that gives us so much delight and romance. An eternal liberal (his politics, though not surprising to me, are unknown to me before this evening), an essential contributor to the Great American Songbook and to the book-driven musical story on stage.

Sondheim enchants. Chapin illuminates. And it is all, in the end, about Oscar Hammerstein —  the big bear of a man who stood to write, and stood up for what he believed. With his inspiration we can all, at one time or another, be cock-eyed optimists.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 14, 2012)




  1. Martha, I was watching the PBS program about your grandfather…
    and was very moved by his courage. I don’t know if you remember me,
    since we last saw each other in the fifth grade…however,
    when I saw your picture I realized that you look like
    the Martha I knew. I hope that I am correct.
    I live on Cape Cod now.

    With best regards,
    Roberta ( Bert) Small Risch

    • Thanks for posting … this certainly is a marvelous documentary, isn’t it? Oscar is no relation to me, however — I’m just a fan of his music and his musical legacy. I grew up in western Michigan ….

      • I want to Thank you for your reply. I am also a huge fan of Oscar Hammersteins.and it is yes,a terrific documenttary It would have been lovely if you had been Martha of my childhood. Martha and I were best friends in the fourth
        And fifth grades. We went to the movies at the end of her block often. At the end of the fifth grade my family
        moved to the next town and we lost touch because Martha had been in a car accident and I was too young
        To be allowed to visit her in the hospital. The next thing I know of Martha was that she was recouperating
        at her grandfathers farm in Pennsylvania. I have often wondered how she is and if she fully recovered.
        Lastly, I have a very clear picture of what I think was a dark blue Ford it wasc1955 and each school
        Morning I would stop by her house and we would walk to the Colonial elementary school in Pelham ,
        New York. It was only after I saw your picture that I seem to recall that she was actually the step daughter
        Of Oscar Hammerstein the second. If anybody has any information regarding Martha I would love to know how she is. The reason we left Pelham was that in 1955 Jews were hardly welcomd with open arms.

        Best regards,
        Bert Small

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