Oscar Hammerstein on Jerome Kern

In the course of his career, Kern worked with almost sixty collaborators. The lyricists who worked with him most consistantly were P. G. Wodehouse, Otto Harbach, Dorothy Fields and Oscar Hammerstein II. His works included over 1,000 songs and 108 complete scores.

In 1945, Kern came East from California not only to attend rehearsals of a revival of SHOW BOAT but also in connection with the score he was about to write, ANNIE OAKLEY, marking his return to Broadway. A few days after his arrival, he collapsed on Park Avenue and was taken to the Welfare Island hospital where he remained in a state of unconsciousness. Hammerstein's description of this is very moving:

Jerome Kern's Death

"He lay unconscious in the same institution in which Stephen Foster had died. The critical nature of Jerry's condition did not permit his removal to a private hospital. [Kern was moved two days later]. He was in a ward with some fifty or sixty other patients-mental cases, drunks and derelicts for the most part. The doctors had gathered this heterogeneous group together and explained to them slowly and clearly who the new patient was, and asked them to be very quiet and not create the usual disturbances that characterized this room. Not one man disobeyed. The nurse in charge did not go home that night. She extended her duty for that day to twenty-four hours. When Mrs. Kern expressed her gratitude, the nurse answered simply that he had given so much pleasure to her and to the world that she thought she would like to give something to him. It was clear to us all that special consideration and loving care were being granted to this man in a public hospital not because he was wealthy or powerful but because he had devoted almost all of his lifetime to giving the world something it needs and knows it needs-beauty."

Jerome Kern died at 1:10 P.M. on November 11, 1945 of a cerebral thrombosis at Doctor's Hospital, East End Avenue and Eighty-eighth Street. He was sixty years old.

My Friend....JEROME KERN*
by Oscar Hammerstein II

I have promised myself not to play upon your emotions-or on mine. We, in this chapel, are Jerry's "family." We all know him very well. Each of us knows what the other has lost.

I think he would have liked me to say a few words about him. I think he would not have liked me to offer feeble bromides of consolation-butterfly wings of trite condolence to beat against the solid wall of our grief. He would have known our grief was real, and must be faced.

On the other hand, I think Jerry would have liked me to remind you that today's mourning and last week's vigil will soon recede from our memories, in favor of the bright recollections of him that belong to us.

At the moment, Jerry is playing "out of character." The masque of tragedy was never intended for him. His death yesterday and this reluctant epilogue will soon be refocused into their properly remote place in the picture. This episode will soon seem to us to be nothing more than a fantastic and dream-like intrusion on the gay reality that was Jerry's life.

His gayety is what we will remember most-the times he has made us laugh; the even greater fun of making him laugh. It's a strange adjective to apply to a man, but you'll understand what I mean: Jerry was "cute." He was alert and alive. He "bounced." He stimulated everyone. He annoyed some. Never bored anyone at any time. There was a sharp edge to everything he thought or said.

We all know in our hearts that these few minutes we devote to him now are small drops in the ocean of our affections. Our real tribute will be paid over many years of remembering, of telling good stories about him, and thinking about him when we are by ourselves.

We, in this chapel, will cherish our special knowledge of this world figure. We will remember a jaunty, happy man whose sixty years were crowded with success and fun and love. Let us thank whatever God we believe in that we shared some part of the good, bright life Jerry led on this earth.

*(Eulogy delivered by Oscar Hammerstein II at the funeral services)

Contributed by: Carlene Bogle

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