South Pacific




Production history



James Michener was an editor at MacMillan publishing and an historian before the war. He was stationed in the Hebrides Islands (now Vanuatu) in the Melanesia Island chain where he served as a lieutenant. After his first tour of duty, the Navy commissioned him to investigate reports reached about irregularities happening in teh South Seas. It was rumored a general built a road at great monetary and manpower costs from his mistress’ home to his. It had no other purpose. Enlisted men finished their tour and refused to go home. A base was open from 9-5 and then it was deserted. It was found that all the men had homes with natives that they returned to in the evening, leaving the base totally unprotected. Michener investigated these and other reports. For the most part, they were all true. He reported back, softening stories when he could. It was during the second tour that he traveled to 49 islands and began to listen and write down the stories he heard.  He describes in his autobiography an evening in which he considered his past life and contemplated his future. He wrote that many men in the South Pacific front did the same thing. It was a life-changing experience for many. For most of them, the American way of life was all they knew or had heard about. Seeing a new world opened them up to new possibilities in their own lives. He wanted to write down these experiences for the men and woman who lived them. He knew everyone would look back on this time and want to remember it, including himself. He wrote it for the soldiers. He claimed he had no thought of anyone else. He didn’t think anyone else would be interested or understand. 

According to Michener's autobiography, (some variations in sequence of events) Josh Logan read and loved "Tales of the South Pacific." Logan told Richard Rodgers about it at a party and Rodgers read it, loved it, and showed it to Oscar Hammerstein II. They secured rights to the story quickly. They both agreed  that “Our Heroine”-the romance between Emile and Nellie should be the main story. They liked “Fo Dollas” but thought it sounded too much like Pucchini’s Madame Butterfly.(of course, they used it anyway) They liked the character of Luther Billis, and used him for comic relief.

Josh Logan was under contract for directing and co-producing the play. He had just written and directed a big hit, Mr. Roberts, another story that poignantly but comically describes the loneliness, alienation, fear and boredom of sailors far from home. They weren’t in battle, but support and they didn’t always see their contribution to the war effort. Logan had served in the military. Richard Rodgers approached Logan about assisting Hammerstein with writing the play. Hammerstein didn’t serve in the military and admitted to having problems with that aspect of the play. He was experiencing writer’s block at the time and the writing was coming slowly. Logan went to Hammerstein’s home for what he thought would be a day or two. It turned out to be 10 days. Hammerstein worked on lyrics in the morning then in the afternoons and evenings, Logan and Hammerstein would read dialog into a Dictaphone which was transcribed later by their secretaries. Logan was a southerner-born in Louisiana- and read Nellie’s part as she was a southerner. Hammerstein read Emile’s lines.

Hammerstein was to receive sole writing credit. Logan contributed a lot besides military information and became afraid he was being used. When he saw Richard Rodgers, Rodgers  said nothing about giving him credit. He asked Hammerstein about it who apologized and assured him he would share writing credit. Logan received a call the next day after Hammerstein saw his lawyer. He was told he would receive writing credits but no royalties and his directing credit dropped to 60%. Logan found out his lawyer had already signed the contract and Logan only had a few hours to sign or be dropped. The message received was-he’s dispensable. 

James Michener’s response to South Pacific

“I find to my deep pleasure that Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers and Josh Logan have improved my work at almost every point. I can’t imagine a writer who could be more satisfied with a stage translation than I am with South Pacific.”….”The manner in which the loves of the strange quartet (Nellie, Emile, Cable and Liat) cross and become involved lead on to tragedy and triumph is the exclusive work of Hammerstein and Logan.”

In his autobiography, Michener has nothing but good things to say about the production and claims no contributions other than the original text, "Tales of the Pacific". He regretted that they couldn't use the last chapter of his book, "A Cemetary at Hoga Point," but thought they said so much about race relationships in the song "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," and kept with the spirit his book loyally.

The World is my Home: a memoir by James Michener
Call number: 921  M5828Aw
Duluth Public Library
This gives a personal account of how South Pacific came about and the author’s feelings and perceptions.
Musical Stages : autobiography by Richard Rodgers
Call number 782.8092 R616Am
Duluth Public Library
Rodgers doesn’t mention Logan’s contribution to the writing, but it gives a different view

of Logan’s direction. Interesting account of how Rodgers saw things develop. (pp. 258-264)
My Up and Down, in and Out Life autobiography by Josh Logan
Available through MnLinks
Lively, easy reading account of Josh Logan’s life. pp. 213-246 deals with South Pacific
A South Pacific Companion by Laurence Maslon
Available through MnLinks
Excellent resource for the play-how it developed, life in the 40s, reviews of all major productions

It’s been over 50 years since the first Broadway production of South Pacific. It has been produced in numerable high school and college productions but not on Broadway since its close in 1954. People wanted to get away from the war by the 1950s. Home life and returning to “normal” was the norm of the time. Social changes in the 1960s made the play seem irrelevant.

The Women’s movement objected to the portrayal of women, the Vietnam war caused any depiction of the military objectionable. The civil rights movement was sensitive to the racial issues portrayed in the play. By the turn of the century, it was time for a new a new look at the musical. official site of Rodgers and Hammerstein-basic information

Broadway revival- Lincoln Center March 1, 2008 to August 22, 2010
It won 7 Tony awards in 2008.
Kelli O'Hara played Nellie and  Paulo Szot,played LeBeque
Director-Bartlett Sher,  Musical Staging- Christopher Gattelli, Music Direction-Ted Sperling  Sets- Michael Yeargan, Costumes- Catherine Zuber, lighting- Donald Holder, Sound- Scott Lehrer    home page for South Pacific student guide for South Pacific  NY Time review of production Variety’s review- praises the shows restraint, making the emotional content stronger, relevance of race relationships noted…

National Theatre, South Bank, London.  December 2001 to April 2002 home page for National Theatre’s production of South Pacific- also link to reviews




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