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Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Green Grow the Lilacs

A member of the Cherokee tribe, Lynn Riggs was born on a farm near Claremore, Oklahoma, on August 31, 1899. He attended the University of Oklahoma in 1920 and studied English. He wrote many plays set in Indian Territory and incorporated elements of his childhood into the plot and the characters.

In 1931 Lynn Riggs published and debuted the play Green Grow the Lilacs. The play tells the story of farmers living in Indian Territory in 1900, seven years before Oklahoma became a state. The play involves a love triangle between cowboy Curly, farm girl Laurey, and farmhand Jeeter. The character Aunt Eller was based on Riggs’ own Aunt Mary whom he adored. The play is named after a popular Irish folk song. In January 1931, Green Grow the Lilacs opened in New York City at the Guild Theatre. The show closed after sixty-four performances.

In 1942 Lynn Riggs was drafted into the US Army. While Lynn Riggs was in the army, he gave Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II the script for Green Grow the Lilacs, which they had been considering developing into a musical. Oscar Hammerstein II said he kept many of the lines from the original play without changes because they were so well-written.


Lynn Riggs at his home (2012.201.B1089.0220, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS). 2