Mary Rodgers Guettel may be best known as the author of “Freaky Friday,” which spawned two theatrical film adaptations, but she also found success as a composer. Guettel passed away Thursday in her Manhattan home, according to media reports. She was 83.
Juilliard School honored Guettel at their annual gala in 2012. From 1994 to 2001, she was chair of the board. She was also a director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and a board member of ASCAP.
Guettel was the daughter of Broadway icon Richard Rodgers. He found tremendous success writing music in partnership with Lorenz Hart, but found even greater fame when he partnered with Oscar Hammerstein, creating iconic musicals like “Oklahoma!,”South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music.”
His daughter attended a private girls’ school in New York City, before heading off to Wellesley College, where she majored in music. Guettel began her career unexpectedly by writing a children’s Christmas song during college. She parlayed writing children’s music into her first major job as Assistant to the Producer of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts.
Her first Broadway production came with a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” called “Once Upon a Mattress. It opened in 1959 with a young Carol Burnett starring as the persnickety princess, and would launch the comedienne’s career. Guettel would continue writing music for productions like “From A to Z,” “Hot Spot,” and “The Madwoman of Central Park West,” which was a one-woman show for Phyllis Newman.
By the late 1970s, though, Guettel had already begun her transition into writing children’s books. Her 1972 publication, “Freaky Friday,” became an award-winning modern classic, spawning several book sequels, including “A Billion for Boris,” and “Summer Switch.” The latest volume, Freaky Monday,” which Rodgers co-wrote with Heather Hach, was published in 2009.
Guettel even dabbled in screenwriting, handling the first adaptation of “Freaky Friday,” starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as the mother and daughter who swapped places. That 1976 film was followed by a made-for-TV movie in 1995 starring Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann, and another modern theatrical release in 2003 starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Mary Rodgers Guettel had been married to Harry Guettel, former Executive Director of the Theatre Development Fund, who passed away last year. She is survived by her sister, Linda Rodgers Emory, five children, including Tony Award winning composer/lyricist Adam Guettel, and seven grandchildren.