Jerry Herman (born July 10, 1931) is an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. He composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. He has been nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice, for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles. In 2009, Herman received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He is a recipient of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors.
Raised in Jersey City by musically inclined parents, Herman learned to play piano at an early age, and the three frequently attended Broadway musicals. His father, Harry, was a gym teacher and in the summer worked in the Catskill Mountains hotels. His mother, Ruth, also worked in the hotels as a singer, pianist, and children’s teacher, and eventually became an English teacher. After marrying, they lived in Jersey City, New Jersey and continued to work in the summers in various camps until they became head counselors and finally ran Stissing Lake Camp in the Berkshire Mountains. Herman spent all of his summers there, from age 6 to 23. It was at camp that he first became involved in theatrical productions, as director of Oklahoma!, Finian’s Rainbow and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. At the age of 17, Herman was introduced to Frank Loesser who, after hearing material he had written, urged him to continue composing. He left the Parsons School of Design to attend the University of Miami, which has one of the nation’s most avant garde theater departments. He was also a member of the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity.
After graduation from the University of Miami, Herman moved to New York City, where he produced the Off-Broadway revue I Feel Wonderful, which was made up of material he had written at the University. It opened at the Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village on October 18, 1954 and ran for 48 performances. It was his only show his mother was able to see; shortly after it opened, she died of cancer at the age of forty-four, and Herman spent the next year in deep mourning.
In 1957, while playing piano at a New York City jazz club called the Showplace he was asked to write a show to replace one that had transferred (that show was Little Mary Sunshine). As well as supplying the music, Herman wrote the book and directed the one-hour revue, called Nightcap. He asked his friend, Phyllis Newman, to do movement and dance and it featured Charles Nelson Reilly (who later co-starred in Hello, Dolly!). The show opened in May 1958 and ran for two years.
Herman next collected enough original material to put together a revue called Parade in 1960. Herman directed with choreography by Richard Tone. The cast included Charles Nelson Reilly and Dody Goodman. It first opened at the Showplace and, expanded, moved to the Players Theatre in January 1960.
During 1960, Herman also met playwright Tad Mosel and the two men collaborated on an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of Mosel’s 1953 television play, Madame Aphrodite. The musical of the same name, which starred Nancy Andrews in the title role, opened at the Orpheum Theatre on December 29, 1961, but closed after only 13 performances. No cast album was recorded, and the show has never been performed since.
In 1960, Herman made his Broadway debut with the revue From A to Z, which featured contributions from newcomers Woody Allen and Fred Ebb as well. That same year producer Gerard Oestreicher approached him after seeing a performance of Parade, and asked if he would be interested in composing the score for a show about the founding of the state of Israel. The result was his first full-fledged Broadway musical, Milk and Honey (starring Molly Picon), in 1961. It received respectable reviews and ran for 543 performances.
In 1964, producer David Merrick united Herman with Carol Channing for a project that was to become one of his more successful, Hello, Dolly!. The original production ran for 2,844 performances, the longest running musical for its time, and was later revived three times. Although facing stiff competition from Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! swept the Tony Awards that season, winning 10, a record that remained unbroken for 37 years, until The Producers won 12 Tonys in 2001.
In 1966, Herman’s next musical was the smash hit Mame starring Angela Lansbury, which introduced a string of Herman standards, most notably the ballad “If He Walked Into My Life”, the holiday favorite “We Need a Little Christmas”, and the title tune.
Although not commercial successes, Dear World (1969) starring Angela Lansbury, Mack & Mabel (1974) starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, and The Grand Tour (1979) starring Joel Grey are noted for their interesting concepts and their melodic, memorable scores. Herman considers Mack & Mabel his personal favorite score, with later composition La Cage aux Folles in a close second. Both Dear World and Mack & Mabel have developed a cult following among Broadway aficionados.
In 1983, Herman had his third mega-hit with La Cage aux Folles starring George Hearn and Gene Barry, which broke box-office records at the Palace Theatre and earned Herman yet another Tony Award for Best Musical. From its score came the gay anthem “I Am What I Am” and the rousing sing-a-long “The Best of Times.” La Cage aux Folles won the Tony Award for Best Musical (1983), is the only musical to win the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice (2004 & 2010), and therefore is the only show to win a Best Musical award for every staged Broadway production.
Impact and Recognition
Many of Herman’s show tunes have become pop standards. His most famous composition, “Hello, Dolly!”, is one of the most popular tunes to have originated in a Broadway musical, and was a #1 hit in the United States for Louis Armstrong, knocking The Beatles from #1 in 1964. A French recording by Petula Clark charted in the Top Ten in both Canada and France. “If He Walked into My Life” from Mame was recorded by Eydie Gormé, winning her a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Female in 1967. “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles was recorded by Gloria Gaynor and became a disco favorite. Other well known Herman showtunes include “Shalom” from Milk and Honey; “Before the Parade Passes By”, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, and “It Only Takes a Moment” from Hello, Dolly!; “It’s Today!”, “Open a New Window”, “We Need a Little Christmas,” and “Bosom Buddies” from Mame; and “I Won’t Send Roses” and “Time Heals Everything” from Mack & Mabel.
Herman is one of only two composers/lyricists to have three musicals run more than 1500 consecutive performances on Broadway (the other being Stephen Schwartz): Hello, Dolly! (2,844), Mame (1,508), and La Cage aux Folles (1,761). He is honored by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7090 Hollywood Boulevard. Other honors include the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, named after him by his alma mater. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982.
Herman’s work has been the subject of two popular musical revues, Jerry’s Girls (1984) conceived by Larry Alford, and Showtune (2003) conceived by Paul Gilger.
A 90 minute documentary about his life and career, “Words and Music by Jerry Herman,” by filmmaker Amber Edwards, was broadcast on PBS in 2008. In 1989, American-playwright Natalie Gaupp wrote a short play titled “The Jerry Herman Center.” The play is a comedy which portrays the lives of several patients in “The Jerry Herman Center for Musical Theatre Addiction.” In the 2008 film WALL-E, Herman’s music from Hello, Dolly! influences WALL-E and gives him emotions.
Herman was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1985. As noted in the “Words and Music” PBS documentary, “He is one of the fortunate ones who survived to see experimental drug therapies take hold and is still, as one of his lyrics proclaims, ‘alive and well and thriving’ over quarter of a century later.”
Herman lives in the Los Angeles area and is completing designing his apartment there. He has been “buying, renovating and restoring properties around the country”, and this apartment is the “38th home he has designed and decorated”.
Stage Off Broadway Revues
I Feel Wonderful (1954)
Madame Aphrodite (1961)
From A to Z (1960)
Milk and Honey (1961)
Hello, Dolly! (1964)
Ben Franklin in Paris (additional music) (1964)
Dear World (1969)
Mack & Mabel (1974)
The Grand Tour (1979)
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine (additional songs) (1980)
La Cage aux Folles (1983)
Jerry’s Girls (1985)
An Evening with Jerry Herman (1998)
Miss Spectacular (2003) recorded but unproduced
In 2011 Herman’s career will be celebrated in Melbourne, Australia with a triptych of his musicals performed as concerts, by production company Magnormos.
Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Barney’s Great Adventure (title song) (1998)
WALL-E (“Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes A Moment” from Hello, Dolly!)
Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)
Awards, Nominations and Honors
2010 Kennedy Center Honoree
2009 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre (winner)
1999 Theatre World Special Award (An Evening with Jerry Herman) (winner)
1984 Tony Award for Best Original Score (La Cage aux Folles) (winner)
1979 Tony Award for Best Original Score (The Grand Tour) (nominee)
1966 Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist (Mame) (nominee)
1964 Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist (Hello, Dolly!) (winner)
1962 Tony Award for Best Composer (Milk and Honey) (nominee)
1. “Kennedy Center 2010 Honorees Announced” specials.msn.com
2. Citron, Stephen (2004). Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune. Yale University Press. pp. 10–14, 23. ISBN 0300100825.
3. Citron, Stephen, p. 33
4. Citron, Stephen. pp.39-40
5. jerryherman.com, Parade information
6. Suskin, Steven.”Oh! Captain and Jerry Herman’s Parade“, playbill.com, November 3, 2002
7. Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1982
8. “Words and Music by Jerry Herman” pbs.org, retrieved December 6, 2010
9. Zak, Dan.”No stranger to a full house”The Washington Post, December 5, 2010
10. Showtune: A Memoir by Jerry Herman (1996) (with Marilyn Stasio), Donald I. Fine Books, an imprint of Penguin Books
11. itron, Stephen. Jerry Herman: Poet of the Showtune (2004), Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10082-5
- Jerry Herman Official Web Site.
- University of Miami’s Jerry Herman Ring Theatre Official Web Site
- Jerry Herman at the Internet Movie Database
- Jerry Herman at the Internet Broadway Database
- Jerry Herman at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Jerry Herman – Downstage Center audio interview at American Theatre Wing.
- TonyAwards.com Interview with Jerry Herman
- Jerry Herman podcast series by Sony BMG Masterworks