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Monday, June 2, 2014

June Is Bustin' Out All Over and the frisky sheep problem

Rodgers and Hammerstein's June Is Bustin' Out All Over is Mark Steyn's song of the week (and is now completely stuck in my head), and I loved this bit of background information:

Traditional Northern New England roof-dancing
 as captured in Rodgers & Hammerstein's 
In Carousel, "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" is, in essence, a paean to the mating season, and so at one point Hammerstein opted for a Maine version of the old joke about singing Gershwin in Wales or the Falkland Islands: "Embrace me, my sweet embraceable ewe." As Hammerstein wrote:

June Is Bustin' Out All Over!

The sheep aren't sleepin' anymore
All the rams that chase the ewe sheep
Are determined there'll be new sheep
And the ewe sheep aren't even keepin' score!
Etc. Everybody working on the show liked it. Then they started holding backers' auditions. And among the potential investors who attended a run-through of the songs was Mr G M Loeb, who subsequently sent Oscar Hammerstein a letter:

I do not think rams mate with ewes in June as they do in your lyrics but I am not really certain. We have been told to keep our rams separate at all times except when the ewes are in heat but we did not follow this precaution and in several years all mating seemed confined to September-October - no mounting whatsoever in June, or if so no results.
To modify a later Hammerstein song, the ewes were more likely to decline every mountin' than to exhibit the enthusiasm shown in "June Is Bustin' Out All Over". With the show slated to open on Broadway in April 1945, the author replied to Mr Loeb:

I was delighted with the parts of your letter praising my work and thrown into consternation by the unwelcome news about the eccentricly frigid behavior of ewes in June. I have since checked your statement and found it to be true. It looks very much as if in the interests of scientific honesty I shall have to abandon the verse dealing with sheep.
Sometimes, as Hammerstein liked to say, research "poisons" your work. And it seems to have done so in this case. But, after giving more thought to the matter, he decided to keep the offending quatrain. Which was just as well. A decade later, when Rodgers & Hammerstein were making the film version of Carousel, the Production Code Administration objected to certain "suggestive" sections and the author found himself running short of lyrics. The censors were relaxed about the four-legged friskiness but drew the line at those lines quoted above about the boys in Augusty feelin' lusty. Strange to think that a mere half-century ago, such a couplet was deemed too sexual for a Hollywood movie. But Hammerstein dutifully rewrote:

June Is Bustin' Out All Over!

The moonlight is shinin' on the shore
And the girls who were contrary
With the boys in January
Aren't nearly so contrary any more
- which the Production Code Administration graciously agreed to permit. As for the embraceable ewes, Hammerstein found himself fending off the occasional sheep breeder over the years and took to justifying himself as follows:

What you say about sheep may all be true for most years, but not in 1873. 1873 is my year and that year, curiously enough, the sheep mated in the spring.

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