Authors: Moss Hart

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

The Hold-up Man, pr. 1923

Jonica, pr. 1930 (with Dorothy Heyward)

Once in a Lifetime, pr., pb. 1930 (with George S. Kaufman)

Face the Music, pr. 1932 (libretto; music by Irving Berlin)

As Thousands Cheer, pr. 1933 (revue; music by Berlin)

The Great Waltz, pr. 1934

Merrily We Roll Along, pr., pb. 1934 (with Kaufman)

Jubilee, pr. 1935 (music by Cole Porter)

You Can’t Take It with You, pr. 1936 (with Kaufman)

I’d Rather Be Right, pr., pb. 1937 (with Kaufman; score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart)

The Fabulous Invalid, pr., pb. 1938 (with Kaufman)

The American Way, pr., pb. 1939 (with Kaufman)

The Man Who Came to Dinner, pr., pb. 1939 (with Kaufman)

George Washington Slept Here, pr., pb. 1940 (with Kaufman)

Lady in the Dark, pr., pb. 1941 (music by Kurt Weill)

Winged Victory, pr., pb. 1943

Christopher Blake, pr., pb. 1946

Light Up the Sky, pr. 1948

The Climate of Eden, pr. 1952 (adaptation of Edgar Mittelholzer’s Shadows Among Them)

Screenplays:

Flesh, 1932

The Masquerader, 1933

Broadway Melody of 1936, 1935

Frankie and Johnny, 1936

Winged Victory, 1944

Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947

Hans Christian Andersen, 1952

Prince of Players, 1954

A Star Is Born, 1954

Nonfiction:

Act One, 1959

Biography

Moss Hart, who also wrote plays by himself, is best known for plays written in collaboration with George S. Kaufman. He was born the son of Barnett Hart, a cigar maker, and Lillian Solomon Hart. The family was extremely poor, and Hart was forced to drop out of school after finishing the eighth grade. His first job was with a wholesale furrier, but Hart had acquired a love for the theater from his maternal aunt and dreamed of a theater-related career. He left the furrier after two years and found employment in the office of Augustus Pitou, Jr., a theatrical manager known as the King of the One-Night Stands. Hart began as office boy but eventually became Pitou’s personal secretary.{$I[AN]9810001208}{$I[A]Hart, Moss}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hart, Moss}{$I[tim]1904;Hart, Moss}

Because of his association with Pitou, Hart’s name was added to the free list at area theaters. At that time there were seventy theaters operating in New York City, with as many as eleven new plays opening simultaneously, and Hart managed to take in everything that was playing. Through this total immersion in the theater, Hart developed an ability to envision his plays as they would actually be performed. He had an instinct for the spoken as opposed to the written word, and he was able to write as if he were the director, watching the play unfold on the stage.

Hart’s first play, The Hold-up Man, was written in response to Pitou’s need for a new play. Hart, telling himself that he could write as well as some of the playwrights then producing plays, sat down and wrote the first act in a single night. The next day, he gave what he had written to Pitou, telling him that the author was Robert Arnold Conrad, a name Hart fabricated from the first names of three of his friends. Hart says in his autobiography that he intended to tell Pitou that he had written the first act as a joke, but when Pitou liked it and asked to see the second act, Hart did not have the nerve to admit that he was the author. Returning to his typewriter, he produced the second and third acts, after which he confessed. Unfazed, Pitou went ahead with production plans. The Hold-up Man opened in Rochester, New York, in 1923, and closed in Chicago shortly thereafter. Pitou lost forty-five thousand dollars on the play, and Hart lost his job.

Far from being discouraged, Hart continued to write plays–without success–while working during the summers as a social director at various Catskill resorts and as a little-theater director during the winters. Finally, in 1929, Sam H. Harris, a Broadway producer, agreed to produce Hart’s Once in a Lifetime if Hart would agree to rewrite it with the assistance of Kaufman, an established playwright who, with Marc Connelly, had written Beggar on Horseback (pr. 1924). Hart agreed, and for the next ten years he and Kaufman worked together to produce seven plays and one musical.

When their last collaboration, George Washington Slept Here, failed at the box office, Hart decided to attempt to write without a collaborator. His first play after his break with Kaufman was Lady in the Dark, a musical comedy about a woman in psychoanalysis that combined straight drama and musical fantasy. Hart used a similar combination of straight drama and fantasy in the third play he wrote after separating from Kaufman, Christopher Blake, where Hart uses daydream fantasies as a way of exposing the emotional impact of divorce on a young boy.

In the early 1940’s, Hart received a commission to write a play about the Air Force. The result was Winged Victory. Hart spent a considerable amount of time doing research, but, characteristically, the play was written in six weeks and staged in slightly more than two. Hart wrote another patriotic play, Light Up the Sky, in 1949.

Hart’s last play, The Climate of Eden, is an adaptation of Edgar Mittelholzer’s novel Shadows Move Among Them (1951). The play, which is set in British Guiana, has psychological overtones that reflect the playwright’s experience with psychiatric treatment. Hart considered this his most interesting work. He believed that it had offered him an opportunity to write a different kind of play and to explore and record his own feelings about what he called “a utopia of the heart.” Although some critics praised the play’s dialogue and characterizations, others found The Climate of Eden unnecessarily complicated. These critics suggest that Hart’s extensive excursions into psychiatric theory result in a confusing double plot that is difficult to follow. When The Climate of Eden closed after only twenty performances, Hart stopped writing plays and began work on an autobiography. Act One, which was published in 1959, covers the period from Hart’s early childhood to 1930, when Once in a Lifetime opened in New York City.

Hart’s individual contribution to the literature of the American stage is difficult to assess, not only because so much of his best work was in collaboration with George S. Kaufman but also because those plays that they produced together have completely overshadowed the ones Hart wrote alone. His contribution to comedy and farce probably cannot be overstated, however. Hart continued his association with the theater after he stopped writing by returning to directing.

BibliographyAshley, Leonard R. N. “Moss Hart.” In Great Writers of the English Language: Dramatists, edited by James Vinson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. An objective approach to Hart.Atkinson, Brooks. Broadway. New York: Macmillan, 1970. This general survey of the Broadway stage, written by the famous drama critic of The New York Times, explores the personal and professional dimension of the writer as well as the collaboration between Hart and George S. Kaufman. Atkinson enumerates their contributions to Broadway theater and maintains that they presided over an era. According to Atkinson, they wrote comedy that was unprecedentedly iconoclastic. Contains numerous illustrations.Bach, Steven. Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Brown, Jared. Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theatre. New York: Back Stage Books, 2006. A traditional biography of the playwright and director that charts his creative development, complete with forty-seven black and white photos and maps.Ferber, Edna. “A Rolling Stone Gathers Considerable Heart.” Stage 14 (December, 1936): 41-43. Ferber, a contemporary of Hart as a writer of Broadway plays and fellow collaborator with George S. Kaufman, describes her impressions of the man and his work. She gives him much credit for his iconoclastic artistic triumphs.Goldstein, Malcolm. George S. Kaufman: His Life, His Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. In this standard work on the Broadway theater of the period, Goldstein gives an insightful portrait of Kaufman as a man and an artist. Offers an interesting account of the period of collaboration between Kaufman and Hart. Contains numerous illustrations.Harriman, Margaret Case. “Hi-Yo Platinum!” In Take Them Up Tenderly: A Collection of Profiles. 1944. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972. This sketch of Hart presents a warm, if somewhat dated, portrayal.Meredith, Scott. George S. Kaufman and His Friends. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974. Discusses Hart’s work with Kaufman.Miller, Daryl H. “Like Father, Like Son? Sort Of, as He Stages Moss Hart’s Plays, Son Chris Learns from His Late Legend of a Dad.” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1999, p. 50. Christopher Hart, son of Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle Hart, discusses his father and the theater on the occasion of a staging of You Can’t Take It with You.Mordden, Ethan. The American Theatre. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. This chronicle of the American stage from its beginnings to 1980 discusses Hart’s 1936 play You Can’t Take It With You in the context of the Broadway stage in the midst of the Depression years. According to the author, a major feature of American drama in the 1930’s was its interpretations and affirmations of the democratic system.Sievers, Wieder D. Freud on Broadway: A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama. New York: Hermitage House, 1955. In this work on the relationship between the theories of Sigmund Freud and American drama, Sievers suggests that Hart achieved his psychological insights into character in part from personal psychoanalysis. Hart himself describes Freud’s theory of the unconscious as the most influential of Freud’s concepts on his work.
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