Image: Wall Street Journal

Hello, young lawyer, wherever you are!

I spent part of my recent vacation reading “Something Wonderful” by Todd Purdum. It’s the biography of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, arguably the most iconic partnership in American musical theater.

Rodgers, who wrote the music, and Hammerstein, who wrote the lyrics, came together following previous individual success. Rodgers had written a number of shows with Lorenz Hart, and Hammerstein had written “Showboat” with Jerome Kern.

But as a duo they had a run that likely will never be duplicated. Beginning in 1943, the pair wrote “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “The Sound of Music.” In the midst of that, they also produced “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Each of those shows contain timeless songs, most more than one. But the biggest creative innovation from the partnership was the notion that the songs in a musical could actually advance a plot. Before their run, most show’s musicals were like reviews — a collection of songs jammed into a forgettable, frivolous storyline. Hammerstein took the genre to a new level with his thoughtful lyrics, aided by Rodger’s tunes. “Hamilton” owes a debt of gratitude.

And they were courageous social voices as well. “South Pacific” includes the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.” It remains a stinging discussion about how prejudice is learned, not born. And they wrote that song in 1949, when Jim Crow was the law of the land in too much of the country.

And one more item of note. The duo worked with a lawyer named Howard Reinheimer, who helped them set up a corporate system where they owned all of the rights and intellectual property connected with the productions. This was unheard of at the time, but it made the two fabulously rich. More importantly, it allowed them to protect their brand at a time when no one even used the term “brand.” Jay Z should tip his hat as well.

So as you can see, the lesson here is, creative genius is well and good. But always have a good lawyer!