January 11, 1931|
New York City, US
|Died||June 26, 2014
|Spouse(s)||Julian B. Beaty, Jr (m. 1951-1957)
Henry Guettel (m. 1961–2013; his death)
Rodgers was born in New York City, New York. She was a daughter of composer Richard Rodgers and his wife, Dorothy Belle (née Feiner). She had a sister, Mrs. Linda Emory. She attended the Brearley School in Manhattan, and majored in music at Wellesley College.
She began writing music at the age of 16 and her professional career began with writing songs for Little Golden Records, which were albums for children with three-minute songs. One of these recordings, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves 40, which was released in 1957, featured performances by Bing Crosby of songs Mary Rodgers wrote with lyricist Sammy Cahn. She also composed music for television, including the jingle for the Prince Spaghetti commercial.
Her first full-length musical Once Upon a Mattress, which was also her first collaboration with lyricist Marshall Barer with whom she continued to write songs for nearly a decade, opened Off Broadway in May 1959 and moved to Broadway later in the year. Following the show's initial run of 244 performances, there was a US tour (in 1960), a production in London's West End (also 1960), three televised productions (in 1964, 1972, and 2005), and a Broadway revival (1996). Cast albums were released for the original Broadway production, the original London production, and the Broadway revival. To this day, the show is frequently performed by community and school groups across the United States.
Another significant compositional project for her was The Mad Show, a musical revue based on Mad Magazine which opened on Off Broadway in January 1966 and ran for a total of 871 performances. An original cast album, produced by Goddard Lieberson, was released on Columbia Masterworks. Although the show also began as a collaboration with Marshall Barer, he quit before the project was completed and the show's remaining songs feature lyrics by Larry Siegel (co-author of the show's book), Steven Vinaver, and Stephen Sondheim, who contributed the lyrics to a parody of "The Girl from Ipanema" called "The Boy From..." under the pseudonym Esteban Ria Nido.
None of her other shows had the same level of success, but she also wrote music for musicals and revues, the first on Broadway being Davy Jones' Locker with Bil Baird's marionettes, which had a two-week run at the Morosco Theatre from March 28 to April 11, 1959. (She also wrote the lyrics.) Others included From A to Z (1960), Hot Spot (1963), Working (1978), and Phyllis Newman's one-woman show The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979). A revue of Rodgers's music titled Hey, Love, conceived and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. ran in June 1993 at Eighty-Eight's in New York City.
She eventually transitioned into writing children's books, most notably Freaky Friday (1972), which was made into a feature film (released 1976) for which Rodgers wrote the screenplay, and was remade for television in 1995, and again for cinemas in 2003. Rodgers' other children's books include A Billion for Boris (1974, later republished under the title ESP TV), Summer Switch (1982), and The Rotten Book (1985), and she contributed songs to the landmark children's album Free to Be... You and Me. She made a few brief forays back into composing for musical theatre, including an adaptation of her book Freaky Friday (featuring book and lyrics by John Forster) which was presented by Theatreworks/USA in 1991 and The Griffin and the Minor Canon, which was produced by Music Theatre Group, but after the latter show she never composed another note of music and never even played the piano again. She later explained, "I had a pleasant talent but not an incredible talent....I was not my father or my son. And you have to abandon all kinds of things."
Her first husband, whom she married in December 1951, was lawyer Julian B. Beaty, Jr.; they had three children, Tod, Kim, and Nina Beaty. Their union ended in 1957. Her second marriage to film exec Henry Guettel, produced two sons, Alec and Adam, a Tony Award-winning musical theatre composer. Henry died in October 2013 at the age of 85.
Mary Rodgers was a director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and a board member of ASCAP. She also served for several years as chairman of the Juilliard School. She died on June 26, 2014, at age 83 of a heart ailment, and was survived by five children, seven grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and her sister.
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