Moss Hart

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Moss Hart
Moss Hart 1940.JPG
Hart in 1940.
Born October 24, 1904
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died December 20, 1961 (aged 57)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Spouse Kitty Carlisle (1946–1961; his death; 2 children)

Moss Hart (October 24, 1904 – December 20, 1961) was an American playwright and theatre director.

Early years[edit]

Hart was born in New York City and grew up in relative poverty with his English-born Jewish immigrant parents in The Bronx and in Sea Gate, Brooklyn.[1]

Early on he had a strong relationship with his Aunt Kate, with whom he later lost contact due to a falling out between her and his parents, and Kate's weakening mental state. She piqued his interest in the theater and took him to see performances often. Hart even went so far as to create an "alternate ending" to her life in his book Act One. He writes that she died while he was working on out-of-town tryouts for The Beloved Bandit. Later, Kate became eccentric and then disturbed, vandalizing Hart's home, writing threatening letters and setting fires backstage during rehearsals for Jubilee. But his relationship with her was formative. He learned that the theater made possible "the art of being somebody else… not a scrawny boy with bad teeth, a funny name… and a mother who was a distant drudge."[2]

Career[edit]

After working several years as a director of amateur theatrical groups and an entertainment director at summer resorts, he scored his first Broadway hit with Once in a Lifetime (1930), a farce about the arrival of the sound era in Hollywood. The play was written in collaboration with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman, who regularly wrote with others, notably Marc Connelly and Edna Ferber. (Kaufman also performed in the play's original Broadway cast in the role of a frustrated playwright hired by Hollywood.) During the next decade, Kaufman and Hart teamed on a string of successes, including You Can't Take It With You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Though Kaufman had hits with others, Hart is generally conceded to be his most important collaborator.

You Can't Take It With You, the story of an eccentric family and how they live during the Depression, won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for drama. It is Hart's most-revived play. When director Frank Capra and writer Robert Riskin adapted it for the screen in 1938, the film won the Best Picture Oscar and Capra won for Best Director.

The Man Who Came To Dinner is about the caustic Sheridan Whiteside who, after injuring himself slipping on ice, must stay in a Midwestern family's house. The character was based on Kaufman and Hart's friend, critic Alexander Woollcott. Other characters in the play are based on Noël Coward, Harpo Marx and Gertrude Lawrence.

After George Washington Slept Here (1940), Kaufman and Hart called it quits, although throughout the 1930s, Hart worked both with and without Kaufman on several musicals and revues, including: Face the Music (1932); As Thousands Cheer (1933), with songs by Irving Berlin; Jubilee (musical) (1935), with songs by Cole Porter; and I'd Rather Be Right (1937), with songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. (Lorenz Hart and Moss Hart were not related.) Hart continued to write plays after parting with Kaufman, such as Christopher Blake (1946) and Light Up the Sky (1948), as well as the book for the musical Lady In The Dark (1941), with songs by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. However, he became best known during this period as a director. Among the Broadway hits he staged were Junior Miss (1941), Dear Ruth (1944) and Anniversary Waltz (1954). By far his biggest hit was the musical My Fair Lady (1956), adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The show ran over seven years and won a Tony Award for Best Musical. Hart picked up the Tony for Best Director.[citation needed]

Hart was the host of an early television game show, Answer Yes or No, in 1950. Arlene Francis was one of the panelists.

Hart also wrote some screenplays, including Gentleman's Agreement (1947) – for which he received an Oscar nomination – Hans Christian Andersen (1952) and A Star Is Born (1954). He wrote a memoir, Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart, which was released in 1959. It was adapted to film in 1963, with George Hamilton portraying Hart. The last show Hart directed was the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot (1960). During a troubled out-of-town tryout, Hart had a heart attack. The show opened before he fully recovered, but he and Lerner reworked it after the opening. That, along with huge pre-sales and a cast performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, helped ensure the expensive production was a hit.[citation needed]

In 1972, 11 years after his death, Moss Hart was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. He was one of 23 people to be selected into the Hall of Fame's first ever induction class that year.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Hart married Kitty Carlisle on August 10, 1946; they had two children.[4] She was with him when he died. Still working as a TV game show panelist and touring lecturer in 2001 (at age 91), Carlisle did not comment publicly on a Hart biography by Steven Bach published that year, forty years after her husband's death.[citation needed] This book claims throughout their marriage, many insiders in the entertainment business speculated that Hart was a closeted bisexual.[citation needed]

Death[edit]

Moss Hart died of a heart attack at the age of 57 on December 20, 1961, at his winter home in Palm Springs, California.[5] He was interred in a crypt at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Alan Jay Lerner gave tribute to Hart in his memoir, The Street Where I Live.

Work[edit]

Plays
Screenplays
Autobiography

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moss Hart profile: the early years
  2. ^ Bach, Steven (2001). Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart. Random House Inc. pp. 1, 13, 268. ISBN 0-679-44154-9. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  3. ^ "Uris Hall of Fame Names First Group". New York Times. October 27, 1972. 
  4. ^ Brenner, Marie (2000). "Kitty Carlisle Hart". Great Dames: What I Learned From Older Women. New York: Crown. pp. 12–34. ISBN 0-609-60612-3. 
  5. ^ "Moss Hart Dies at 57; Celebrated Playwright". Youngstown Vindicator (Youngstown, OH). Associated Press. December 20, 1961. p. 1. Retrieved September 30, 2012. 

External links[edit]