November 17, 2017

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‘Freaky Friday’ Author Mary Rodgers Dies at 83

Photo by Michael Grecco/Sygma

Photo by Michael Grecco/Sygma

Mary Rodgers, author of the classic Freaky Friday and composer, died on June 26 at age 83 following a long illness.

Freaky Friday (Harper), Rodgers’s best known work, was published in 1972. Aimed at middle-grade readers, the humorous novel revolves around a 13-year-old girl, Annabel, who switches places for the day with her mother, eventually gaining a greater understanding about her family members. The book was well received, winning a slew of awards: it was named a 1973 American Library Association Notable book, and it won the Georgia Children’s Book Award and the California Young Reader Medal, as well as the Christopher Award, an honor bestowed upon works that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

The book eventually inspired three movies. Rodgers wrote the screenplay for the hit 1976 film, which starred Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. A second made-for-television film in 1995 starred Gaby Hoffman and Shelley Long, while a 2003 version featured Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Watch a clip for the 1977 version of the film below:

Though the humorous novel is still widely beloved and has gained a prominent place in pop culture, Rodgers is arguably known equally for her musical output. The daughter of famed composer Richard Rodgers, co-creator of musicals such as South Pacific and Oklahoma, the author put her own considerable talents to use early on. Born in New York City in 1931, she studied music as a child and began composing in her teens. Rodgers composed the music for several musicals, most notably Once upon a Mattress, a comedy based upon the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, which, when it opened in 1959 Off-Broadway, launched the career of then-unknown actress Carol Burnett.

Rodgers was also an avid reader for whom books were an outlet. As she told poet Lee Bennett Hopkins in an interview for his book More Books by More People (Citation Pr., 1974), “I had a regimented life, raised in a regimented house. The only way I could escape the regimentation was to read and read and read. And I did! I was always, I suppose, the family rebel, and like Annabel (the lead character in Freaky Friday) I yearned to live not worrying about to wear, not caring how my room looked, just being what I wanted to be.”

Her career as an author began later in life, with the publication of The Rotten Book (Harper) in 1969, a picture book about a young boy imagining what it would be like to be very naughty. She also wrote two books featuring the same characters from Freaky Friday: A Billion for Boris (1974), in which Annabel’s friend Boris buys a television set that can predict the news the next day, and Summer Switch (1982, both Harper), in which Annabel’s brother, Ben, switches places with his father. Her books were lauded for their fresh, original examination of the parent-child relationship and for their wit and humor.

Upon the spread of Rodger’s passing, the Twittersphere mourned her loss, including tweets from Fear of Flying (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973) author, Erica Jong and Jennifer Echols, author of The One That I Want (2011) and Endless Summer (2010, both S. & S.).

 

 

“Mary was warm, witty, welcoming, droll, a pleasure to be with,” said Hopkins. “Her sense of humor, as reflected in her books, was contagious. In a recent email she wrote, ‘I hope we meet again before it’s all over!’ We never had the chance.

Rodgers was married to the late Henry Guettel, who died last year, and is survived by her sister, Linda Rodgers Emory, and her five children.

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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