On May 22, 1962 — 57 years ago this week — Richard Rodgers became the first person to win all four of the major entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. He achieved the feat when he won for outstanding music composition for a series for ABC’s Winston Churchill — The Valiant Years at the 14th Emmy Awards. Bob Newhart hosted the show, which was held at the Hollywood Palladium.
Rodgers probably had no idea that he had just done something historic. The Grammys had first been presented just three years earlier — in May 1959 — so the concept of sweeping all four of these awards didn’t seem momentous. That would only come when the Grammys established themselves as a co-equal of their older award siblings, which didn’t really happen until the Grammys became a live telecast in 1971. By the time Rodgers died in December 1979, two more people — actress Helen Hayes and actress/singer Rita Moreno — had completed their EGOTs. But even then it wasn’t the focus of nearly as much media fascination as it is today. (Media interest intensified after 1984, when actor Philip Michael Thomas coined the clever EGOT acronym.)
Rodgers won his first EGOT-qualifying award, the Oscar, in March 1946 for composing the serene ballad “It Might as Well Be Spring” for the movie State Fair. He won his first three Tonys in April 1950 for South Pacific, taking best musical, best original score and producer (musical). He won his first Grammy in April 1961 for The Sound of Music. It won best show album (original cast). All three were of these projects were collaborations with his long-time partner, Oscar Hammerstein II.
While Rodgers won just one Oscar and just one Emmy, he accumulated six Tonys. He and Hammerstein also won best musical for The King and I and The Sound of Music. Rodgers won best composer on his own, after Hammerstein’s death in 1960, for No Strings.
Rodgers also won a second Grammy on his own for No Strings, which took best original cast show album. The show spawned the pretty ballad “The Sweetest Sounds,” which was nominated for a Grammy for song of the year.
Rodgers was not yet 60 when he completed the EGOT, which puts him in the right middle of the pack of the 15 EGOT winners to date. Robert Lopez, John Legend, Moreno, Whoopi Goldberg, Marvin Hamlisch, Scott Rudin and Jonathan Tunick were younger on completing their EGOTs; Mike Nichols, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Mel Brooks, Hayes and John Gielgud were older. (Audrey Hepburn is the only EGOT winner to have completed the sweep posthumously. She died at 63.)
In addition to the awards he won in competition, Rodgers received three special Tony Awards, including one in 1979 for distinguished lifetime achievement in the American theatre. In 1989, he received a trustees award from the Recording Academy.
In 1978, the year before his death, Rodgers was one of the five inaugural recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. His other awards include the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, shared with Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, for South Pacific.