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Mary Rodgers dies at 83; composer was part of musical dynasty

Mary Rodgers, who dies at 83, wrote the 'Freaky Friday' story that was adapted to film
Mary Rodgers dies at 83; Her father Richard Rodgers, composed the music for 'The Sound of Music'

Mary Rodgers, composer of the musical "Once Upon a Mattress" that helped make Carol Burnett a star and author of the "Freaky Friday" story, has died. She was 83.

Rodgers died Thursday at her home in New York after a long illness, her son Alec Guettel said in an Associated Press report.

Aside from her own accomplishments in theater and writing, Rodgers was known for being the midpoint in a musical dynasty. Her father was Richard Rodgers, one of the most celebrated Broadway composers of all time with numerous hit musicals, including "South Pacific," "The Sound of Music" and "The King and I."

Her son is the Tony-award winning composer-lyricist Adam Guettel, who wrote the score for the musicals "The Light in the Piazza" and "Floyd Collins."

"I often feel I'm a gene conduit," Mary Rodgers said in a 1998 interview with the Columbus Dispatch. "I'm just passing it between my father and my son."

Her own hit musical opened on Broadway in 1959. Rodgers said Burnett was a perfect choice for the role, but she had little good to say about a 1996 stage revival with Sarah Jessica Parker. "That was absolutely terrible," Rodgers said. "You need a real clown, and they're very scarce. And finding a singing clown is even harder."

Mary Rodgers was born Jan. 11, 1931, in New York. She spoke frankly over the years about her legendary father, who was a difficult man, both in his professional and personal lives. In a 2001 New York Times interview, she talked about seeing a home movie of him playing with her joyfully when she was 10 months old.

"I looked at it and thought, God, where did that man go and why did I never see him? That charming-looking handsome kid turned into a wizened, sad, deer-in-the-headlights person," she said.

Rodgers wrote several young-adult books, the best-known being "Freaky Friday" about a mother and daughter who magically switch bodies. It was made into a 1976 film with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster (Rodgers wrote the screenplay) and then in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. A 1995 TV-movie version starred Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann.

In addition to Rodgers' creative work, she was on the board of the Juilliard School of Music and several other organizations. And she was closely involved with decisions about licensing her father's music and shows.

"I'm very happy with my life," the self-effacing Rodgers said in the Columbus Dispatch interview. "I'm not a driven, creative person — and drive has something to do with the amount of talent you have."

In addition to sons Alec and Adam, she is survived by another son, Tod Beaty; daughters Kim Beaty and Nina Beaty; a sister, Linda Emory; and five grandchildren, according to the New York Times. Her first marriage, to attorney Julian "Jerry" Beaty Jr., ended in divorce. She then married Henry Guettel, a former film executive and head of the Theater Development Fund, who died last year.

david.colker@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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