A Trip to the Library: NY Public Library Gets Bock & Harnick, Kander & Ebb Archives

News   A Trip to the Library: NY Public Library Gets Bock & Harnick, Kander & Ebb Archives
The professional archives of two of American musical theatre's most popular songwriting teams — Jerome Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and John Kander and Fred Ebb — will become part of the extensive musical theatre collections of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, it was announced June 15.

Dr. Paul LeClerc, president of The New York Public Library, announced the acquisition at a starry press conference.

"Thirty-five boxes of music, lyrics, letters and other materials — scrawled, hand-printed or typed on everything from manuscript paper to yellow pads and hotel stationery — shed light on the enigmatic combination of expertise and inspiration that led composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick to create such landmark musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me," according to the announcement. "The gifts from composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb include not only the synergistic wealth of their original musical compositions for Cabaret but also documentation of every detail of the show's rehearsal and production process, from pencil-frenzied blocking notes and dialogue changes to discounted vendor contracts."

Dr. LeClerc said, "These new acquisitions to our vast holdings are a reminder that The New York Public Library is not just about books. We've got baseball cards, Japanese scrolls, scientific patents, historical ephemera, comic books and illuminated manuscripts. Here, at our performing arts library on the Lincoln Center campus, we have set and costume designs, recordings, scrapbooks, programs, and videotaped stage productions. These new gifts from the very best of Broadway are sensational!"

Bock and Harnick and Kander and Ebb are all represented on Broadway at the moment. B&H's Fiddler is playing the Minskoff in a new Tony Award-nominated revival, and K&E's Tony Award-winning revival of Chicago is at the Ambassador.

* Begun in 1958 with The Body Beautiful, the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick partnership resulted in Fiorello!, She Loves Me, Tenderloin, The Apple Tree and The Rothschilds, and, of course, Fiddler.

The continuing, 40-year collaboration between John Kander and Fred Ebb is responsible for The Happy Time, Cabaret, Chicago, Flora, the Red Menace, Woman of the Year, the Rink, Steel Pier and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Their most recent work, The Visit and Skin of Our Teeth (the latter was called Over and Over in a Washington DC staging) have yet to see New York City.

"Among the several thousand facets of the creative process that make up the collections are the first glimmers of some of the most famous songs of all time as well as many fully realized compositions that never made it to an opening night," according to the library announcement. "Multiple versions of scripts and lyrics and melodies in-the-works provide a window onto the ineffable, now open to public view, while production notes, cost estimates, call sheets, and correspondence give a master class in the business of mounting a Broadway show.

Famed director and producer Harold Prince said in a statement: "Jerry and Sheldon, John and Fred are the American musical theatre at its best and I've been lucky enough, as director and/or producer, to have worked on ten musicals with them. The addition of their collections to the Library for the Performing Arts' vast treasure trove is invaluable."

Jerry Bock has transferred to the Library the entirety of his own collection. Sheldon Harnick has already donated many of his professional papers and musical compositions, with the rest to join the Library's holdings as a bequest.

Kander and Ebb have made an immediate gift of all of their materials from Cabaret and have stated their intention to bequeath to the Library the full remainder of the archives of their careers.

Said Sheldon Harnick in a statement, "Fifty years ago when I started writing lyrics for the professional stage, I never imagined that the thought process that went into writing the lyrics for a song, like 'If I Were a Rich Man,' for example, would be something worth saving and studying. But I've come to understand how seeing the evolution of an effective song is invaluable to anyone interested in learning this craft. I'm very happy our materials have found a good home at the Library."

In addition to their collaborative works for stage and television, the acquisitions from Bock and Harnick each contain materials from their individual careers and other collaborations prior to and following their legendary partnership, including pop songs, parodies, and compositions for film and television in addition to work for the musical stage. The evolution of the 1976 Richard Rodgers/Sheldon Harnick musical Rex is present in scripts, scores, and perspicacious revision notes from Harnick for a 2000 revival. The program from the 1945 Flushing High School production of the musical comedy My Dream (starring George "Mahairas") states that its young composer, Jerrold Bock, intends to forsake music for advertising.

"Second thoughts prevailed shortly as evidenced by a college-years musical based on the Paul Bunyan legend and programs from The Tamiment resort where Bock's colleagues included Neil and Dan Simon, Jack Cassidy, and Barbara Cook," according to the library.

The Bock-Harnick archive "will soon be available for aspiring tunesmiths, cultural historians, and theatre buffs alike to peruse first-hand and free of charge, due in large part to the efforts of Curator George Boziwick of the Library's Music Division," according to the announcement.

"If it weren't for George, I wouldn't be here," commented Jerry Bock. "I have seldom had both arms so gently and persuasively twisted to convince me of giving to the Library for the Performing Arts whatever I may have saved along the way. In the end, however, it was learning that Sheldon would also deliver his savings that made it all worthwhile since I do believe that the musical, unlike the poem or the painting or the novel, is the art of collaboration. So with both Sheldon's and my accumulated savings of our work deposited in the Library for the Performing Arts, I hope that those who come in, either out of curiosity or research, leave at least with something of value."


The Kander and Ebb collections will come in stages.

"Fred and I are thrilled that today you'll get everything we have from Cabaret: original lyric sheets, music manuscripts, even a quote on the price of a gorilla suit in 1966 for those who are interested," Kander said.

"The rest — Flora the Red Menace, Chicago, Spider Woman, The Rink, Steel Pier, Woman of the Year, and everything else — the Library will get later on as a bequest."

The Cabaret collection contains spiral-bound sketch books, copyist transparencies, original holographs, lyric sheets, letters, contracts, production and rehearsal scripts showing revisions and rewrites and director's notes, prop lists, and more. All the show's well-known songs are here, as are "Down, Down, Down," "Never in Paris," "It Must Be Love," and several others left out of the final production.

"Significant dialogue changes, character and thematic interpretations, and all the conceptual, practical, and legal intricacies of producing a Broadway musical are chronicled in their various, original forms, from the days of the working title 'Welcome to Berlin' through Cabaret's shocking Broadway debut and on to a 1987 reworking of the musical," according to the announcement.

"By giving our collections to the Library for the Performing Arts, John and I are insuring that the fun and inspiration that has always fueled our collaboration will never end," Ebb said. "To be among the likes of Richard Rodgers, Frank Loesser, Yip Harburg, Jerry Robbins, Hal Prince, Bock and Harnick, and so many others who've already donated their work is like attending a party in perpetuity with all our greatest heroes and friends. I hope those who come after us will do the same."

Visit www.nypl.org.

From Left: Harold Prince, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Fred Ebb, and John Kander
From Left: Harold Prince, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Fred Ebb, and John Kander Photo by Don Pollard
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