Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Maker of Musicals
Harold J. Rome was a songwriter who penned not only the lyrics but the music for most of his work. When he moved to Ridgefield in 1944, he was already well known for writing the Broadway musicals “Pins and Needles” and, with Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, “Sing Out the News.”
He was also known for his song “Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones,” sung by Ella Fitzgerald in 1938 and Judy Garland in the 1941 movie “Babes on Broadway.”
In December 1944, The Ridgefield Press reported that “Corp. Harold J. Rome, the Army’s songwriter, and Mrs. Rome, paid their first visit over the weekend to their newly acquired Ridgefield home … in the Limestone District.”
While living in Ridgefield, he was officially stationed at Fort Hamilton, Long Island. The 1944 Press article said, “Rome now turns out tunes tailor-made for scripts written by the orientation department. According to an article in Sunday’s ‘Times’ magazine section, ‘Rome has already written four such tunes with sophisticated lyrics that might easily be removed — sometimes after only a bit of scouring — to a Broadway musical show.
“He produced ‘The Gripers’ for a script on soldier gripes; ‘It’s a Small World’ for a dramatic interpretation of geopolitics; ‘All GI’s Got Rights’ for a show on the GI Bill of Rights; and ‘Do a Favor for Adolph, Please,’ to explain to the soldiers why they are given orientation instruction.”
After the war, Rome gained greater fame, writing such musicals as “Wish You Were Here” in 1952, “Fanny” in 1954, “Destry Rides Again” in 1959, and the show in which Barbra Streisand made her Broadway debut, “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” in 1962. A less-known show, “The Zulu and the Zayda” in 1965, dealt with racial and religious intolerance.
Rome was probably drawn to Ridgefield by his friend James Waterman Wise of Pumping Station Road. Wise was an author who was writing books exposing Nazism before Hitler even came to power. He was also a biographer of Vice President Henry Wallace, who lived in South Salem and was active in St. Stephen’s Church.
Mr. and Mrs. Wise often got together with the Romes and with Mr. and Mrs. Paul Draper — Paul Draper was a then-famous tap dancer and choreographer. All were involved in liberal causes, and Draper was once accused of being a communist.
Florence Rome, Harold’s wife, bought the 21-acre spread on the west side of lower Great Hill Road, but the couple apparently didn’t find country life to their liking. She sold the place a couple of years later.
Harold Rome, who was also a painter and art collector, died in 1993 in New York City at the age of 85. Florence died four years later.
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