Mary Rodgers, a daughter of the celebrated composer Richard Rodgers who achieved her own artistic success with works including the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” and the novel “Freaky Friday,” died June 26 at her home in New York City. She was 83.
The cause was heart disease, said her son Alexander “Alec” Guettel. Another son, Adam Guettel, is the composer-lyricist of noted musicals including “The Light in the Piazza.”
Ms. Rodgers was the elder daughter of Richard Rodgers, who in partnership with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II produced many of the most enduring musicals in the history of American theater.
She grew up listening to her father coax tunes from the piano and observing the celebrity, if not always contentment, that came to him as a creator of musicals such as “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.”
She, too, displayed artistic promise — although she said her talent was not as abundant as her father’s — and pursued music as a vocation.
Ms. Rodgers was best known for composing the music for “Once Upon a Mattress,” which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a princess who proves her identity by daintily detecting a pea beneath a stack of mattresses.
“She has a style of her own, an inventive mind and a fund of cheerful melodies,” drama critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times, reviewing Ms. Rodgers’s work. “ ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ is full of good music.”
With lyrics by Marshall Barer, the musical opened in 1959 with the young comedienne Carol Burnett as Princess Winnifred. The show was nominated for the 1960 Tony award for best musical but lost to “The Sound of Music,” which shared the title with “Fiorello!” by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick.
Ms. Rodgers’s other musicals from the 1960s — including “Hot Spot,” a satire about a Peace Corps volunteer, and “The Mad Show,” a revue inspired by Mad Magazine — did not enjoy the same popularity. She later shifted her attention to writing books for young readers.
The most famous of them was “Freaky Friday” (1972), the story of Annabel Andrews, a teenager who, after quarreling with her mother, wakes up to discover that they have switched bodies. High jinks and, eventually, a degree of understanding ensue. The story, children’s author Jane Langton wrote in a Washington Post review, was “unputdownable.”
Ms. Rodgers wrote the screenplay for the 1976 film version of her book, starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as mother and daughter. Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann appeared in a 1995 TV version. A 2003 movie remake featured Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
Ms. Rodgers wrote several sequels to the book, including “A Billion for Boris” (1974), in which Annabel and a friend stumble upon a television set that broadcasts news from the future, and “Summer Switch” (1982), in which Annabel’s brother and father switch bodies in “Freaky Friday” fashion.
Years later, after Ms. Rodgers revealed in interviews the unhappy elements of her childhood, her zany novels seemed perhaps a sort of commentary on the chasms that at times exist between parents and children.
Mary Rodgers was born Jan. 11, 1931, in New York City. Her mother, the former Dorothy Feiner, pursued occupations including writing and interior design. Ms. Rodgers was acquainted with the lyricist Hart, who she said bestowed “lavish” presents, and Hammerstein, whom she described as “great, big, tweedy, rumply, gentle-voiced . . . but, on occasion, sharp-tongued.” He was not, she told an Australian newspaper, a “teddy-bear.”
In adulthood, she and her sister, Linda, described their father’s personal struggles, which included alcoholism and depression. Ms. Rodgers recalled her surprise at seeing a home video of herself with her father when she was a baby.
“There’s a really handsome, loving, funny guy lying in a pair of swimming trunks on the grass playing with this baby, with a kind of good-natured, silly joy that I had never seen in my life because I was too young to remember that,” she told the New York Times. “And I looked at it and thought, God, where did that man go and why did I never see him? That charming-looking handsome kid turned into a wizened, sad, deer-in-the-headlights person.”
Ms. Rodgers majored in music at Wellesley College but left before graduating to marry. While raising her children, she worked as a composer, collaborating with artists including Leonard Bernstein. She credited her close friend Stephen Sondheim with promoting her both as a composer and as a writer.
She said she generally did not call on her father for musical advice. On one occasion, when she played for him a selection from “Once Upon a Mattress,” he remarked critically on the tempo she had chosen.
“I told myself I must never ask his opinion again,” she told the Times, “because I’ll never know who wrote the music and neither will anybody else.”
Her first marriage, to Julian “Jerry” Beaty Jr., ended in divorce. Her husband of 51 years, Henry Guettel, died in 2013. A son from her second marriage, Matthew Guettel, died at 3 from asthma.
Survivors include three children from her first marriage, Richard Rodgers “Tod” Beaty of Cambridge, Mass., Nina Beaty of Southampton, N.Y., and Constance Peck “Kim” Beaty of New York City; two sons from her second marriage, Adam Guettel of New York City and Alec Guettel of Bedford, N.Y.; her sister; and seven grandchildren.
Ms. Rodgers once remarked that of her father’s musicals, “Carousel” was her favorite.
“I think for me it has to do with the father and daughter,” she told the Times. “I’m not an easy crier, but there’s something about redemption between parents and kids and forgiveness that always makes me cry. Forgiveness, saying you’re sorry.”