Part 3 of a weekly series by Liam Nolan


The very next musical smash hit on Broadway following Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’ was a fictionalised version of the life of Annie Oakley, whose real name was completely different.

She was born Phoebe Ann Mozee, or Moses, or Mosey. No one knows for certain. Her sisters called her Annie. Later, when she became famous as a phenomenally accurate markswoman, and wanted a professional name, she chose that of a Cincinnati neighbourhood — Oakley.

The proposal for a musical based on her life came from lyricist and libretto writer Dorothy Fields. Dorothy thought the project would be ideal for her friend, comedienne and singer Ethel Merman. Merman was enthusiastic. So Dorothy took the proposal to producer Mike Todd. Zilch. He wasn’t interested. This is where Rodgers and Hammerstein enter the story.

After the brilliant successes of ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Carousel’ they had decided to become producers of other authors’ works as well as their own. Dorothy took her proposal to them. Yes, they said, we’ll take it on. The plan was for Jerome Kern to write the music, Dorothy Fields to write the lyrics, and Dorothy and her brother Herbert Fields to do the book.

But as the poet said, “The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.” They went ‘agley’ big time in this case. Kern, shortly after returning from Hollywood in 1945 to start work on the Annie Oakley project, collapsed one day in a New York street — cerebral haemorrhage. He died shortly afterwards.

Producers Rodgers and Hammerstein and Dorothy Fields next turned to Irving Berlin. But Berlin wasn’t sure he could handle the task, even when Fields pulled out as lyricist because she knew that Berlin liked to write his own words for his own songs. However, Irving declined the Annie project.

Rodgers and Hammerstein prevailed upon him to take the script home for the weekend and (a) study it, and (b) try writing some songs based on it.

Lo and behold, he turned up at their office on the Monday morning with three songs he had written over the weekend. They were: ‘You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun’, ‘Doin’ What Comes Naturally’ and ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’ The listening group was ecstatic, their relief was massive — handshakes all round.

Berlin went on to compose the rest of the score to ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, his songs suiting the story perfectly. But one song that nearly got left out of the show was ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own