Mary Rodgers Guettel, who followed gently in the footsteps of her famous father, Richard Rodgers, when she helped turn the Hans Christian Andersen tale of The Princess And The Pea into the musical that launched Carol Burnett’s career, died Thursday of heart failure in New York. She was 83.
In addition to Once Upon A Mattress, Rodgers also earned fame as the author of Freaky Friday, a young readers’ novel in which a teen switches bodies with her mother. Rodgers adapted the 1972 book for the 1976 film starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. It was remade for TV in 1995 with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman starring and again as a 2003 feature film with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Mattress was a saucy, parodic revision of the Princess And The Pea story, on which Rodgers collaborated with lyricist Marshall Barer and the legendary director George Abbott. In the show, Burnett played Princess Winnifred The Woebegone, a clever, determined young royal from the swamps who meets the increasingly preposterous challenges set up by the prince’s mother to block him from marrying, and wins the hearts of the prince and the entire royal court. The cast also included Jack Gilford and Jane White. A 1996 Broadway revival starred Sarah Jessica Parker as Winnifred.
Rodgers also wrote the music for Hot Spot (1963), a short-lived Broadway political satire that starred Judy Holliday, and The Mad Show (1966), a lively off-Broadway collection of skits adapted from Mad magazine.
Rodgers lived famously at the center of the Manhattan theater world. Her closest intimates included Stephen Sondheim, a friend from childhood; her late husband Henry Guettel, who spent many years running the Theater Development Fund; and the most talented, theater-struck writers and composers from several generations. Among them is her son Adam Guettel, the accomplished composer-lyricist of The Light In The Piazza, which won the Tony Award for Best Score in 2005, and the earlier Floyd Collins.
Her other survivors include sons Alexander and Richard Rodgers Beaty; daughters Constance Peck Beaty and Nina Beaty; a sister, Linda Rodgers Emory; five grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.