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Adler, Richard


ADLER, RICHARD (1921– ), U.S. composer, lyricist. Bronx-born Adler, the son of a classical pianist-teacher, Clarence Adler, graduated from the University of North Carolina and served as a lieutenant (jg.) in the U.S. Navy during World War ii before concentrating on composing. He began collaborating with Jerry Ross, also Bronx-born and Jewish, in 1950 and had a popular success with the song "Rags to Riches." But their first Broadway musical, The Pajama Game, in 1954, brought them recognition for the way the songs worked with the plot and for their integration of American speech idioms. The show, about a labor-union conflict and the threat of a strike in a pajama factory, was directed by the venerable George Abbott and also launched the career of Harold *Prince as a producer and established Bob Fosse as a major choreographer. Jerome *Robbins was hired as a backup in case Fosse did not work out. The show had hit songs like "Hernando's Hideaway," "Hey There," and "Steam Heat." The next year Adler and Ross gave Broadway Damn Yankees, a musical comedy version of the Faust story, with such songs as "Whatever Lola Wants" and "(You Gotta Have) Heart." But Ross died that year, at the age of 29, of a bronchial infection and Adler began to work alone.

Adler had little commercial success with Broadway musicals in the 1960s and 1970s but his symphonic works, including "Yellowstone Overture"; "Wilderness Suite," commissioned by the Interior Department for full orchestra to celebrate the wilderness park lands; and "The Lady Remembers," commissioned by the Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island Foundation to celebrate the statue's centennial, also for full orchestra; and his ballets were performed widely and won awards. He also achieved success at composing musical commercials ("Let Hertz Put You in the Driver's Seat") and earned himself the sobriquet "king of the jingles." Adler was also called on to produce shows to mark celebrations and stage entertainments for inaugural galas. Perhaps his most celebrated show was produced on May 19, 1962, when Marilyn *Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy during a birthday salute at Madison Square Garden. Adler won two Tony (theater) awards and four Pulitzer Prize nominations; he was a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

In later years, Adler turned to a form of meditation called Siddha Yoga, which he said helped him deal with the grief when his son died of cancer at the age of 30 and when he himself battled throat cancer.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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