Why Mary Rodgers Pushed to Make Her Memoir Meaner, Funnier and More Revealing About Her Life Among Broadway Greats

Mary Rodgers Stephen Sondheim Shy
Courtesy of the Rodgers-Beaty-Guettel Family

The composer (“Once Upon a Mattress”), young adult author (“Freaky Friday”) and philanthropist Mary Rodgers wanted to write a memoir that was candid, cutting, dishy and vanity-free — the exact opposite of the books penned by her father, the legendary Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, and her mother Dorothy Rodgers.

“Mary didn’t want it to be fake like her parents’ memoirs had been,” said Jesse Green, the co-author of Mary Rodgers’ recently released memoir “Shy.” Speaking on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast, Green explained, “She wanted it to spark with the actual sound of people enjoying thinking about their lives.”

So in “Shy,” Rodgers and Green get real about a life lived among the biggest names in the history of musical theater, starting with Richard Rodgers and including Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Hammerstein, Hal Prince, Arthur Laurents and many, many more. The book’s biggest bombshell lies in a revealing story about a failed “trial marriage” arrangement between Rodgers and Sondheim, whom she met as a teenager and loved all her life.

“Clearly the story about the trial marriage with Sondheim is the biggest surprise of the book, and it really knocked me to the floor when she told me about it,” Green said. It’s so intimate a story that many readers assume that Green and his publishers waited to release “Shy” until after Sondheim’s death.

“That’s not true,” Green revealed. “I was talking to Sondheim all along about various things in the memoir, although I never got to [the story of the trial marriage] because Mary was so uncertain about talking to him about it.” (Sondheim died in November at 91.)

Green added, “We talked a lot about when to talk to Sondheim about it. She did not want to. She was very protective of the truth of the book. That’s one reason why she didn’t allow her own family to read the book until it was already in galleys.”

Rodgers died in 2014; Green wrote “Shy” based on hundreds of hours of interviews with her over more than two years prior to her death. By then, she had seen only the first 10 pages of the book.

“Mary did not think the first 10 pages were mean enough or funny enough,” Green recalled with a laugh. “Which was shocking, because they were plenty mean and plenty funny.”

To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify and the Broadway Podcast NetworkNew episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.