08 Dec 2014

Oscar Hammerstein Museum

The Arts & Cultural Council has learned that plans for developing Oscar Hammerstein's farm into a theater and museum have been presented to Doylestown Township supervisors.  We understand that this is a somewhat controversial issue for area residents and further information can be found here.  Below is a recent article in the Daily Intelligencer published on Dec. 7th.  Click the blue plus sign to read more.

Hammerstein Museum would add to Central Bucks' allure

By Peg Quann Staff writer 

Turning Highland Farm, the former home of Oscar Hammerstein II, into a museum and theater education center is not a done deal. Proponents that include Oscar’s grandson William Hammerstein have many hurdles to clear. But “oh, what a beautiful morning” it would be, members of the local arts and business community agree, if the plan to honor and perpetuate the work of the famed “Oklahoma!” lyricist can be focused at his former Doylestown Township home. 

Hugh Fordin who lives outside Lambertville, New Jersey, wrote a biography of Oscar Hammerstein with the help of his widow, Dorothy, children and stepchildren called "Getting to Know Him." He said the museum idea "would be fantastic ... There should be an important memoir for Oscar besides the sign on the road, for a person who lived in Bucks County for more than 20 years."

Hugh Fordin who lives outside Lambertville, New Jersey, wrote a biography of Oscar Hammerstein with the help of his widow, Dorothy, children and stepchildren called "Getting to Know Him." He said the museum idea "would be fantastic ... There should be an important memoir for Oscar besides the sign on the road, for a person who lived in Bucks County for more than 20 years." 

Fordin said Dorothy Hammerstein had told her husband before his death in 1960 that she would have a biography written of his life. Fordin, who had visited her seeking information for a book he was doing on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Arthur Freed, was given the assignment. Fordin said the Hammersteins purchased the farm before the start of World War II so that they would be able to grow food and raise cattle. Oscar liked the country more than the city, he said. Fordin thought a museum would be a draw not only for Bucks County but "all the way to New York.

Author David Leopold, who curated the Oscar Hammerstein exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum, called the proposal "a good one." "Anytime we can learn more about the performing arts and their impact on our culture is a positive," Leopold said. "I don't know the plans at all but the world that Oscar Hammerstein saw outside that window inspired some of the greatest musical theater the world has ever seen or heard. And if it can do the same for someone else — we're all the better for it."

"Mr. Hammerstein was a legend and to honor his legacy in a thriving arts community — this would be a wonderful opportunity for future performers and people who love the arts," said Ingrid Johnson, a member of the Screen Actors Guild as well as the board of directors of the Arts & Cultural Council of Bucks County. The Arts and Cultural Council was "absorbed" in the establishment of the James A. Michener Art Museum in the 1980s, it states on its website.

Richard DiBlassio, another member of the arts council who earned a doctorate in the musical arts at Temple University, said Hammerstein's lyrics attracted him to music education. "Hammerstein has always been a hero to me," DiBlassio said. "His lyrics, his libretti — they're so warm, so humane and they touched on themes of tolerance and understanding. You can't possibly overstate his importance to the art form and the music theater."

Vail P. Garvin, president and CEO of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, thinks a museum center would be "wonderful" and "will add to the cultural community in which we live." She said having a center dedicated to the musical and dramatic arts — along with the James A. Michener Art Museum, the Pearl Buck homes, and the legacy of Henry Chapman Mercer in his Mercer Museum, Moravian Tile Works and Fonthill home — will make Central Bucks an even greater visitor destination than it already is. "It's incredible. We're already a cultural mecca and this will be a wonderful addition," Garvin said. "We look forward to it."

At the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, which recently hosted a festival dedicated to Oscar Hammerstein II, the reaction was optimistic. The venue serves as a mentoring location for young lyricists working in the Hammerstein tradition through the playhouse's new music theater development program. Alexander Fraser, producing director at the playhouse, said a museum and education center at Hammerstein's former farm would be "fantastic."

"We think it would be a wonderful addition to the Bucks County cultural scene," Fraser said, and it would be a "well deserved" honor for Hammerstein who was not only among the most famous lyricists in his own right but had mentored fellow Academy Award-winning lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the music for "The Sound of Music," a Broadway hit musical turned into a movie that received the "Best Picture" Academy Award in 1965.

"It will be such a great thing, such a great thing," Fraser said.

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