Author who edited his letters to appear virtually before a concert of Hammerstein favorites.

A Library of Congress for 31 years, going from a music specialist to a senior music specialist with a four-part job — acquiring collections, processing collections, handling references and taking on special projects.

When Horowitz encountered the massive amount of letters held by famed lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, he knew there was something special that would interest the public. Joined together, they became a book of some 1,000 pages, The Letters of Oscar Hammerstein II.

Mark Eden Horowitz
Mark Eden Horowitz

Horowitz, appearing virtually, will discuss the content at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, with Temple Israel cantor Neil Michaels and before a live concert of Hammerstein music performed by Josh Young and Emily Padgett. The couple, based in Michigan, will offer selections from Hammerstein’s popular productions that include Oklahoma, Carousel and South Pacific.

“A colleague had just finished processing the collection, and I knew how rich it was,” Horowitz said about the inspiration for the book. “I also knew how buried things were in the collection.

“Researchers wouldn’t know what letters were there just the way things were organized so it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I applied for a grant [to work on a book] and got that.”
Horowitz read business letters and family letters, serious letters and funny letters, Judaism-related letters and love letters. He picked out the ones he thought would be of interest to readers and researched the fine points of background information to add context to content.

“For one year, seven days a week, I was reading through and transcribing Oscar letters,” Horowitz recalled. “I wound up transcribing some 4,600 letters out of which a little less than 1,000, I think, appear in the book, sometimes even excerpted.

“I felt these were the letters that revealed the various aspects of Oscar and also many of his friends, colleagues and family members. One of the great things about the Hammerstein collection is he kept carbons of his outgoing letters so you could have the conversations between people — people who wrote him and his responses and vice versa.

“There are several letters to his second wife, Dorothy. I didn’t include all of them. Most of them were from when she was in Reno, Nev., getting a divorce from her first husband. They’re quite passionate and reveal a side of Oscar that was certainly a surprise to me.”
The earliest letters in the book are from 1917, and the writing continues into 1960, the year that Hammerstein died. Although the letters are scattered before 1939, they become very plentiful afterwards.

“I think readers will learn how varied his life was,” Horowitz said. “I think they think of him as just the lyricist and don’t realize he was also a librettist, a producer, a director, a businessman and a social activist. He was constantly doing so many different things.”
Hammerstein was half Jewish, and he supported Jewish charities, organizations and fundraising efforts. A couple of letters showcase his fundraising concerns.

Horowitz said he was especially affected by one letter written to Hammerstein’s publicist. It had to do with Hammerstein traveling one Christmas when he was supposed to be represented on a radio show.

Hammerstein did not want listeners to think they were being deceived by a performance that had been pre-recorded so he requested that either the audience be told the performance had been pre-recorded or that it be completely removed from the program.

“There was something about the honorableness of it that most people would think is the most mundane thing, but going through Oscar’s letters has made me want to be a better person. That was one of the letters that most did that. His honorableness and goodness resonated with me.”

Horowitz hopes those same feelings reach readers.

“Oscar really invented, more than anybody else, the idea of musical drama as opposed to musical comedy or operetta,” said Horowitz, who also has written the book Sondheim on Music: Minor Details and Major Decisions.

“I want to share my passion for Oscar and get people excited about the thought of him. I hope people read the letters. Sales are great, but that’s not my focus. My focus is wanting to share Oscar with the world because I think he made the world a better place in so many ways. I hope my enthusiasm will translate to that.”

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