Who's Who in Musicals: Ro - Ru
by John Kenrick
b. July 29, 1887 (Nagykanizsa, Hungary) - d. Nov. 9, 1951 (New York City)
After serving in the Imperial army of Austria-Hungary, Romberg emigrated to the United States, where he worked in a factory by day and played piano in restaurants to earn extra money at night. After becoming a successful band leader, he composed the score for Broadway's The Whirl of the World (1914). The Shubert Brothers hired him as their in-house composer, turning out serviceable but unremarkable vehicles for various stars. His first hit operetta was The Blue Paradise (1915), which included the popular "Auf Weidersehn." His Maytime (1917) was such a hit that the Shuberts had two rival companies running simultaneously on Broadway. It featured the popular waltz "Will You Remember," and made Peggy Wood a star.
Romberg adapted the melodies of Franz Shubert for Blossom Time (1921), before writing a series of 1920s shows that remain among the best operettas written for Broadway. The Student Prince (1924), with book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, included the romantic "Serenade" and a drinking song that delighted Prohibition era audiences. The Desert Song (1926), with book and lyrics co-authored by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, featured "One Alone" and a lush title tune ("Blue heaven, and you and I . . ."). The New Moon (1928), with lyrics by Hammerstein, boasted "Stouthearted Men" and "Wanting You." Each of these shows enjoyed international success, was revived frequently in the decades that followed, and were turned into successful films.
When operetta fell out of fashion, Romberg segued into a long and highly profitable second career conducting concerts of his most popular songs. He continued composing for both stage and screen, his most notable Hollywood tune being "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," written with Hammerstein for the 1934 Grace Moore vehicle The Night Is Young. In 1945, he collaborated with Dorothy Fields on the Broadway musical Up In Central Park (1945), a surprisingly popular romance set in the days of Tammany Hall. Romberg died at age 64 while in the midst of composing The Girl in Pink Tights (1954), which had a brief run three years after his passing. MGM's Deep In My Heart (1954) starred Jose Ferrer in an entertaining but mostly fictitious version of Romberg's life.
Rome, Harold Jacob
b. May 27, 1908 (Hartford, CT) - d. Oct. 26, 1996 (New York City)
A big-band musician with a penchant for writing socially conscious songs, Rome achieved instant notoriety with his satirical score for the long-running union-produced revue Pins and Needles (1937), which included "Sing Me a Song of Social Significance" and "Sunday in the Park." His hit Broadway revues included Sing Out the News (1938), Let Freedom Ring (1942) and the post-war tribute to former soldiers Call Me Mister (1946) in which Betty Garrett sang "South America, Take it Away."
Rome switched to book musicals with Wish You Were Here (1952), and penned the score for producer David Merrick's first musical, the semi-operatic Fanny (1954). When Hollywood filmed Fanny in 1961, Rome's ravishing melodies were turned into background music. His lyrics appeared without credit in such films as Babes on Broadway (1941), Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Rear Window (1954).
He followed his popular stage version of Destry Rides Again (1959) with I Can Get It For You Wholesale (1962), introducing Barbra Streisand to Broadway as "Miss Marmelstein." Rome's take on racial intolerance, The Zulu and the Zayda (1965), found a limited audience. His musical adaptation of Gone With the Wind (also known as Scarlett) enjoyed successful productions in Tokyo and London in the 1970s, but an American tour closed before reaching New York. He died of a stroke at age 85.
(b. Joseph Yule, Jr.)
Actor, singer, dancer
b. Sept. 23, 1920 (Brooklyn, NY)
After making his vaudeville debut at the tender age of 18 months, Rooney's boundless energy and versatility soon brought him minor screen roles. Big screen stardom came in 1935 with his performances as Richard Miller in Ah Wilderness and the irrepressible Puck in A Midsummer's Nights Dream. Two years later, MGM cast Rooney as Andy Hardy in A Family Affair (1937) launching the popular Hardy family film series, which continued through the mid-1940s.
MGM producer Arthur Freed stumbled on a gold mine when he teamed Rooney with sometime Hardy co-star Judy Garland for the screen version of Rodgers and Hart's Babes In Arms (1938). This led to a series of adolescent screen musicals in which Garland and Rooney showcased their dynamic talents. Each plot set up some monumental problem which could only be resolved by Rooney exclaiming "Hey kids, let's put on a show" (or words to that effect). Rooney sang and danced up a storm, including hilarious impersonations of celebrities as diverse as Franklin Roosevelt and Carmen Miranda in Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941) and Girl Crazy (1943). Rooney was named top box office draw more often than any other Hollywood star of the 1930s and 40s.
After serving in World War II, Rooney played a laundered version of lyricist Larry Hart's tragic life in Words and Music (1948), and repeated the role of Richard Miller in Summer Holiday (1948), a musical remake of Ah Wilderness. But the decline of the studio system and a tumultuous private life took their toll, and Rooney's fortunes sank through the 1950s. He recovered from bankruptcy with frequent nightclub and television appearances, as well as ownership of a resort in Pennsylvania. In 1979 Rooney staged a spectacular comeback, earning an Oscar nomination in a remake of Black Beauty and co-starring with Ann Miller in Sugar Babies, a hit Broadway revue that paid tribute to classic American burlesque. Both stars remained with the show for a 1,500 performance run and a lengthy post-Broadway tour. The ever-active Rooney received an Emmy for his affecting performance as a retarded man in the TV film Bill (1988), and returned to Broadway to take over the role of the irascible father in Will Rogers Follies in 1990. He played the title role in Madison Square Garden's touring stage version of MGM's The Wizard of Oz in the late 1990s, and appeared in concert Off-Broadway in 2004.
b. Feb. 19, 1920 (Bicester, UK) - d. May 5, 1988 (Rio Plata, Dominican Republic)
In a forty year career, this versatile Englishman appeared in more than 20 Broadway productions. He won major attention in the Broadway production of A Man for All Seasons, playing several roles during the course of a long run. His first musical was the ill-fated Walking Happy (1966), followed by Canterbury Tales (1969) and Coco (1969). After co-starring with Lynn Redgrave in the comedy My Fat Friend (1974), Rose portrayed Alfie P. Doolittle in an acclaimed revival of My Fair Lady (1976) a performance that brought him his first Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.
Rose was equally effective at subtle humor and broad physical comedy, making him a great favorite with audiences and critics alike. He co-starred with Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert in The Kingfisher (1978), and played the dual roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Sandy Duncan's revival of Peter Pan (1978). He delighted audiences and critics as the bumbling Major General Stanley in the hit revival of The Pirates of Penzance (1981), and was featured in the short lived musical Dance a Little Closer (1983). Rose appeared in two short-lived comedies before starring as the Narrator in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985), a role which brought him his second Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Less than a year after Drood closed, Rose was murdered by his adopted 17 year old son Juan Padilla near their home in the Dominican Republic. Rose's body was buried in an unmarked grave, and although Padilla confessed to the murder, corrupt officials refused to press charges, allowing him to inherit Rose's estate.
(b. Arthur Reed Ropes)
b. Dec. 23, 1859 (Lewisham, UK) - d. Sept. 10, 1933 (London, UK)
This esteemed Cambridge don did not wish to compromise his reputation as a historian and translator of French and German literature, so he wrote more than 60 libretti for the London stage under the pseudonym "Adrian Ross." Sixteen of his musicals ran for more than 400 performances, including two of his many collaborations with composer Lionel Monckton -- The Orchid (1903) and Our Miss Gibbs (1909). Ross is best remembered for contributing to the original English language version of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow (1907) an adaptation (rather than a strict translation) which remains in use almost a century later. It was one of a series of German operettas Ross adapted for the London and New York with co-librettist Basil Hood, including The Dollar Princess (1908), A Waltz Dream (1911), The Count of Luxemburg (1911) and Gipsy Love (1912). Ross also penned the popular horror novel "The Hole Of The Pit" (1914).
(b. Jerold Rosenberg)
b. Mar. 9, 1926 (Bronx, New York) - d. Nov. 11, 1955 (New York)
Ross had an unusual collaboration with Richard Adler, with both men contributing to the melodies and lyrics. Their talents attracted the attention of songwriter Frank Loesser, who saw to it that their material was heard by the right people. After composing Tony Bennett's pop hit "Rags to Riches," Adler and Ross added several songs to John Murray Anderson's Almanac. This brought them to the attention of director George Abbott, who gave them their first chance to write a complete Broadway score,
The result was The Pajama Game (1954), a long-running hit that featured Bob Fosse's trademark choreography and Adler & Ross's hit songs "Hey There" and "Hernando's Hideaway." The same team followed this with the equally popular Damn Yankees (1955), which included the songs "Whatever Lola Wants" and "Heart." Plagued by severe bronchial problems since his childhood, Ross died of leukemia while his two Broadway hits were still running. His untimely passing at age 29 was a tragic loss to an art form that sorely needed his unique gifts.
b. Feb. 17, 1929 (Birkenhead, UK)
A hilarious comic actress with a superb operatic soprano voice, Routledge made her London musical debut in Zuleika (1957). She played the title role in the London production of Little Mary Sunshine (1962), and won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical when she made her Broadway debut as "Alice Challice" in Jule Styne and Yip Harburg's Darling of the Day (1968). That short-lived show was the first in a string of seemingly jinxed American stage projects for Routledge. She played a parade of Presidential wives in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) and the jittery "Veta Dowd" in Say Hello to Harvey (1981) that closed before reaching New York.
Routledge delighted audiences as "Ruth" in the acclaimed NY Shakespere Festival's Central Park production of Pirates of Penzance (1980), but did not stay for the Broadway run that followed. Returning to the UK, she won new fame as the insufferable housewife "Hyacinth Bucket" ("It's Bouquet!") in the popular BBC2 sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. Routledge continues to make frequent stage and television appearances in Britain. After winning an Olivier Award for her performance as "The Old Lady" in a Scottish Opera production of Candide (1988), she played "Aunt Nettie" in the National Theatre production of Carousel (1992). Her non-musical roles included "Queen Mary" in Crown Matrimonial (2008) and "Myra" in Admission: One Shilling (2011).
b. Dec. 14, 1870 (Bath, UK) - d. June 15, 1964 (London, UK)
Rarely mentioned today, Royce established himself as one of the most important musical stage directors of the early 20th Century. He staged 10 shows for London producer George Edwardes, including the hits Our Miss Gibbs (1909) and The Count of Luxembourg (1911). His Broadway credits feature eight Florenz Ziegfeld productions, including The Century Girl (1916), two editions of the Follies (1920-21) and the Marilyn Miller hit Sally (1920). Royce directed most of Jerome Kern's acclaimed Princess Theater shows, including Oh Boy! (1917), Leave It to Jane (1917) and Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918). His other hits included the record-setting Irene (1919) and the successful Eddie Cantor vehicle Kid Boots (1923). Royce's final major directorial effort was the London musical Fritzi (1935).
(b. Harold Rubenstein)
b. Jan. 27, 1895 (New York City) - d. Feb. 23, 1974 (Woodland Hills, CA)
Ruby played piano for various vaudeville acts and worked as a song demonstrator for several New York music publishers before meeting lyricist Bert Kalmar in 1918. They went on to create songs for such Broadway revues as The Ziegfeld Follies (1920) and The Greenwich Village Follies (1922). Their successful scores for Five O'Clock Girl (1927) and Animal Crackers (1928) attracted major attention just as film made the switch to sound. Kalmar and Ruby became one of Hollywood's top songwriting teams. Their songs were often far more memorable than the films they adorned. For example, few recall the ghastly Amos n' Andy musical Check and Double Check, but the catchy "Three Little Words" remains a standard.
"Only When You're in My Arms" and "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" epitomize Kalmar and Ruby's smooth blend of words and music. MGM immortalized the team in the entertaining (and highly fictionalized) biographical musical Three Little Words (1950); Red Skelton played Ruby, who made a cameo appearance as a baseball coach. Ruby continued composing with various lyricists through the 1940s, writing the popular "Give Me the Simple Life" with Rube Bloom. He made occasional public appearances through his final years.
(b. Helen Louise Leonard)
b. Dec. 4, 1861 (Clinton, Iowa) - d. June 5, 1922 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Long before Marilyn Monroe or Madonna, Lillian Russell was the first controversial blonde bombshell superstar in American show business. A buxom hourglass figure (38 inch bust, 22 inch waist) bright blue eyes, golden hair, lovely face and clear (if sometimes colorless) soprano made her a lasting favorite in musical theatre and vaudeville. The daughter of a publisher and a leading suffragette, she studied voice with the noted classical musician Leopold Damrosch. Discovered at Tony Pastor's Music Hall in 1883, she starred in many comic operas and operettas, including Broadway productions of Offenbach's The Grand Duchess (1889) and La Perichole (1895). Her definitive hit was Princess Nicotine (1893), in which she played a Spanish cigarette maker who, unlike grand opera's Carmen, manages to preserve her virtue.
Russell became a renowned leader of New York's social set, and her presence was enough to make any event newsworthy. She was frequently escorted by longtime friend "Diamond" Jim Brady, and the image of them feasting beneath the gas-lit chandeliers at Luchow's on East 14th Street remains a defining icon of the 1890s. Russell surprised critics and fans when she made the switch from operetta to musical comedy, co-starring with Joe Weber and Lew Fields in a series of zany popular burlesques, beginning with Whirl-i-gig (1899) in which she introduced "Come Down Ma' Evenin' Star," the touching ballad that became her signature tune. Blessed with great professional success, Russell's often rocky personal life included four marriages. Her only surviving child was a daughter, Dorothy.
In later years Russell's mammoth appetite swelled her celebrated hourglass figure, with her weight topping 180 pounds -- a substantial figure for one who stood 5 feet, 6 inches. Her passions included jewelry, poker and corn on the cob, and she supposedly authored a popular newspaper column offering beauty tips (many assume it was ghost written). She delighted some fans (and scandalized others) when she spoke out in favor of women's suffrage. Russell bid farewell to Broadway in the Weber & Fields hit Hokey Pokey (1912), but continued to tour in vaudeville until shortly before her death a decade later at age 60. She was buried in a solid silver casket in Pittsburgh's Allegheny Cemetery.