Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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HERMAN, Jerry

(b 10 July '33, NYC) Composer, lyricist. Studied theatrical production in Florida, worked as TV scriptwriter, wrote cabaret and revue material for Tallulah Bankhead, Hermione Gingold, others; began writing musical shows with off-Broadway I Feel Wonderful '54, successful revue Nightcap '58; then Parade '60, Milk And Honey '61 were followed by smash hit Hello, Dolly! '64 with Carol Channing (filmed '69, with the inevitable Barbra Streisand), then Mame '66 with Angela Lansbury (filmed '74 with Lucille Ball). Dear World '69 and Mack And Mabel '74 were less successful, but La Cage aux Folles '83 was another hit (with 'I Am What I Am', subsequently a disco anthem for Gloria Gaynor), adapted from the French film by Harvey Fierstein (who also wrote the play Torch Song Trilogy). Hello, Dolly! was based on a short story by Thornton Wilder; its title song was a huge pop hit by Louis Armstrong in '64, but the composer had unknowingly plucked from his memory a pre-existing tune: a court case established its similarity to Mack David's 'Sunflower', a 1949 hit that became the Kansas state song. Mame was made from Patrick Dennis's Aunty Mame, which had already been a novel, a play and a film. Mack And Mabel is about silent film star Mabel Normand and producer/director Mack Sennett; it flopped in '74, Herman thought, because David Merrick never stopped fiddling with it. Critics say it lacks a story and a big song, but it keeps being revived; e.g. in London's West End '95 with Caroline O'Connor, who Herman feels is a genuine new star. As Mark Steyn wrote, 'Only under the peculiar disciplines of the Broadway musical do you spend 21 years on fixes and re-writes just to get back to the point you started from.' Mame became TV special in '96, and Herman was writing songs for Lansbury's Mrs Santa Claus, also for TV.