Billy Rose (September 6, 1899 – February 10, 1966) was an American impresario, theatrical showman and lyricist. He wrote over 20 songs, such as "Me and My Shadow" (1927), "It Happened in Monterey" (1930) or "It's Only a Paper Moon" (1933). Billy Rose was a major force in entertainment, with shows, such as Jumbo (1935), Billy Rose's Aquacade, and Carmen Jones (1943), his Diamond Horseshoe nightclub, and the Ziegfeld Theatre influencing the careers of many stars. Billy Rose was inducted as a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. After divorcing comedian Fanny Brice, he had married Olympic swimmer Eleanor Holm.
Life and work
Born William Samuel Rosenberg to a Jewish family in New York City, he attended Public School 44, where he was the 50-yard dash champion. While in high school, Billy studied shorthand under the inventor of the Gregg System for shorthand notation. He became a world champion of using Gregg notation, taking over 200 words per minute, and writing forward or backward with either hand.
Billy Rose began his career as a stenographic clerk to Bernard Baruch of the War Industries Board during World War I, and became head of the clerical staff. Later he became a lyricist. In this role, he is best known as the credited writer or co-writer of the lyrics to "Me and My Shadow", "Great Day" (with Edward Eliscu), "Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight" (with Marty Bloom), "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" (with Mort Dixon) and "It's Only a Paper Moon" (with E. Y. Harburg).
Most of Rose's lyrical credits were collaborations. Biographer Earl Conrad said, "Nobody clearly knew what he wrote or didn't write.... Publishers tend to credit him with writing the songs known to bear his name as a lyricist.... But tales rumble on...that Billy could feed and toss in a remark and monkey around, but that others did most of the writing." Lyricists might have been willing to tolerate a Rose credit grab because Rose was very successful at promoting "his" songs.
He went on to become a Broadway producer, and a theatre/nightclub owner. In June 1934, he opened The Billy Rose Music Hall at 52nd and Broadway in New York with the first Benny Goodman Orchestra. He produced Jumbo, starring Jimmy Durante, at the New York Hippodrome Theatre. For the Fort Worth Frontier Days fair (1936/37), he constructed the huge elaborate dinner theatre Casa Manana which featured stripper Sally Rand and the world's largest revolving stage. He presented a show at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, Ohio in 1938.
Rose was diminutive in stature. When he attended a show, his practice was to book four seats: one for himself, one for his date, and the two in front of those so he would have an unobstructed view.
In 1938, he opened Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a nightclub in New York City's Times Squarein the basement of the Paramount Hotel. It initially opened with a version of his Fort Worth show. The Diamond Horseshoe operated under that name until 1951.
At the 1939 New York World's Fair, Billy Rose's Aquacade starred Olympian Eleanor Holm in what the fair program called "a brilliant girl show of spectacular size and content". He married Holm shortly after divorcing his first wife, comedian Fanny Brice. Future MGM star Esther Williams and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller were both Aquacade headliners.
Following the 1939 World's Fair, Rose asked John Murray Anderson, who had staged the Aquacade, to recommend a choreographer for a new show at the Horseshoe. Anderson recommended Gene Kelly, then performing in William Saroyan's One for the Money. Rose objected that he wanted someone who could choreograph "tits and asses", not "soft-soap from a crazy Armenian" (Yudkoff, 2001). However, after seeing Kelly's performance, he gave Kelly the job, an important step in Kelly's career.
Billy Rose's mausoleum in Westchester Hills CemeteryIn 1943, he produced Carmen Jones with an all-black cast. An adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, the story was transplanted to World War II America by lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. It was an instant hit. The New York Telegraph called it "far and away the best show in New York"; the New York Times said it was "beautifully done ... just call it wonderful." The New York Herald Tribune said that Oscar Hammerstein II "must be considered one of the greatest librettists of our day" and that Carmen Jones was "a masterly tour de force". It was made into a motion picture in 1954, for which Dorothy Dandridge received an Academy Award nomination.
Billy Rose founded the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem.
Rose died in 1966 in New York City, aged 66. At the time of his death, his fortune was estimated at about $42 million, which he left entirely to a foundation named after him, disowning both of his sisters. He is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Work on Broadway
- Charlot Revue (1925) - revue - featured co-lyricist for "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You" with Al Dubin, music by Joseph Meyer
- Padlocks of 1927 (1927) - revue - lyricist
- Harry Delmar's Revels (1927) - revue - co-lyricist
- Sweet and Low (1930) - revue - composer, lyricist, and producer
- Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt (1931) - revue - producer, librettist, and director
- The Great Magoo (1932) - play - producer
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1934 (1934) - revue - featured lyricist for "Soul Saving Sadie", "Suddenly", "Countess Dubinsky", and "Sarah, the Sunshine Girl"
- Jumbo (1935) - musical - producer
- Clash by Night (1941) - play - producer
- Carmen Jones (1943) - musical - producer
- Seven Lively Arts (1944) - revue - producer
- Concert Varieties (1945) - vaudeville - producer
- Interplay (1945) - ballet - producer
- The Immoralist (1954) - play - producer
- The Wall (1960) - play - co-producer
- Billy Rose at the Internet Broadway Database
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