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Written December 11, 2013


1901     Automotive pioneer Ransom E. Olds introduces his first successful Oldsmobile, the Curved Dash Runabout.  The car is about the size of a modern golf cart.  It has a bench seat for two people with a 4½-horsepower engine underneath.

1943     Rodgers and Hammerstein present their first Broadway musical, Oklahoma.  The show is set in 1906.  In the first act, the hero sings that he wants to take his girl for a ride in a fancy horse-drawn surrey with a fringe on the top.

1953     On a trip to New York, my parents visit the Stork Club and attend a performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I on Broadway.  It stars television director Yul Brynner as the King.

1955     Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones headline the motion picture version of Oklahoma.  My mother buys the soundtrack album, a flat box 7½ inches square containing about a dozen 45-rpm disks.  There aren’t many other records in the house, so I play these songs repeatedly.  My mother and grandmother giggle over these lyrics from “Pore Jud is Daid”:

He's lookin' oh so purty and so nice.
     He looks like he's asleep. 
     It's a shame that he won't keep,
But it's summer and we're runnin' out of ice.

1955     My father adds a second line of cars to his Chevrolet dealership.  I read up on the history of Oldsmobile, including the make's 1905 theme song.

1957     With great publicity, live and in color from a rather cramped New York studio, CBS telecasts Cinderella, a new Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written especially for television.

The special airs in Ed Sullivan’s time slot, and 107 million viewers are watching — 63% of the entire US population at the time.  My parents and I, ten years old, see it on our four-month-old black-and-white TV set.

I know the plot of the fairy tale, of course.  I listen to Julie Andrews singing “In My Own Little Corner, In My Own Little Chair” with her sophisticated English pronunciation of the O.

1959     On Broadway, Rodgers and Hammerstein premiere their final musical, The Sound of Music.  Soon we’re hearing some of the songs on radio and TV and I’m playing them on the piano, in particular “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

1965     My mother and I travel to a Columbus theater for the movie version of The Sound of Music.  Not being interested in children, I don’t pay much attention to the youngsters in the film, aside from recognizing Angela Cartwright from TV’s Danny Thomas Show.  I note details like the Bil Baird marionettes (much less expressive than Muppets or even ventriloquist dummies), the gazebo in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” the high camera angle and impressive organ music at the beginning of the wedding scene, and the audience applause when the nuns outwit the Nazis at the end.  My mother and I, being Methodists, are slightly uncomfortable with some of the Catholic trappings of the movie, but I notice her sniffling in places.

1999     Oklahoma is filmed again, this time in a London theatre.  The star is Hugh Jackman.  The audience is present only for the opening and closing scenes, which allows the camera to move onto the stage and get close to the actors.

2013     That 1999 Oklahoma is shown on PBS.  At the end, the happy couple leave on their honeymoon.  I’m thrilled to see them riding in a bright red replica of a Curved Dash Runabout!  With a fringe on the top, of course.

2013     NBC telecasts The Sound of Music live.  I’m not watching because I’m working on a different live telecast, a basketball game between Pitt and Loyola Marymount.  But I record the musical and watch it later.  For the first time I hear “No Way to Stop It,” cut from the 1965 movie, a Hammerstein message song about standing up to unstoppable forces (in this case, Hitler).  “You may be bent on doing deeds of derring-do, but up against a shark, what can a herring do?”  As far as the singers go, I agree with most critics that Audra McDonald is superb and Carrie Underwood is adequate.  As one puts it, “The role of Maria is kind of a dull one and it calls for an actress who can add loads of personality to the dialogue.  That does not, alas, describe Ms. Underwood.”  But viewing the show is a great experience, and it brings back all the memories I’ve related above.



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