Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy birthday, Moss Hart

Moss Hart
It is the birthday of playwright Moss Hart (1904), who is best remembered for teaming with George S. Kaufman for a string of hit Broadway plays, including You Can't Take It With You (1936), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1937. It tells the story of a warm, wacky family's impending marriage to an young man from a stiff, cold and distant wealthy family. It is set during the Depression.

The two also wrote The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939), which is about a caustic man who injures himself on a ice and must remain in a wealthy Midwestern family's home for six weeks, much to their consternation. It is based on the playwrights' friend, Alexander Woollcott, who was a commentator for The New Yorker magazine.

Hart's first Broadway hit was Once in a Lifetime (1930), which he wrote with Kaufman. It deals with the arrival of talking pictures in the movie industry, and is packed with a cast of zany characters. How he came to work with Kaufman is a fascinating tale in theater lore.

In 1929, 25-year-old Hart was an aspiring playwright with a stack of scripts and no productions. He attracted the attention of high-powered theater producer Sam Harris, who offered to have Hart's play about the talkies adapted as a musical. Hart declined but Harris told him he'd produce his play if he'd work with established playwright Kaufman, then 40, to polish it. They wrote and rewrote until it was right. The play was a success and one of Broadway's legendary writing teams was born.

The two only worked together for 10 years. Their other plays together were Merrily We Roll Along (1934), I'd Rather Be Right (1937), The Fabulous Invalid (1938), The American Way (1939), and George Washington Slept Here (1940).

Each went on to write successful plays separately and with other collaborators. and to direct other hits. They remained good friends, and Hart's 1959 autobiography  was widely considered a tribute to his writing partner. 

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