Book: Act One by Moss Hart

Excellent autobiography of a twentieth-century playwright

Moss Hart
Act One: An Autobiography
St. Martin's Griffin, 1987 (originally published by Random House)
ISBN: 0-312-03272-2
444 pages

Moss Hart is famous for the plays he wrote in (including The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can't Take it With You) and for the plays he directed (including Camelot and My Fair Lady). It's evident that his ability to tell a good story extends to narrative because his autobiography, Act One, is a splendid book.

Mr Hart was born in 1904 to a poor family in the Bronx, in New York city. As a boy, his only pleasure was going to the theater with his aunt, and he became so captivated by the theater that he became determined to make it his profession. The agonies he goes through because of that determination indicate a remarkable resolve on his part and make the story fascinating and even gripping at times. They also made me think, from time to time, that he might have spared himself some trouble if he had chosen a profession in which success is easier to come by, such as brain surgery.

He manages to get a job as an office-boy for a theatrical producer and from there goes on to try his hand at acting. He works as a social director in summer camps for adults on the "Borscht Circuit", directs amateur theater groups, and writes numerous plays that aren't produced. Then he gets his Big Break. But even then, success is far from assured.

Mr Hart's life is interesting and the world of the theater is interesting and together they make the book a very interesting read. If the book has a flaw, it's that Mr Hart's playwright's sense of drama leads him to include only the most dramatic episodes from his life. We rarely get a sense of what his daily life was like. But the book is pretty long already and there's nothing I would have cut. The only real shame is that the book ends in 1930 and he never wrote an Act Two.

I confess that it bothered me slightly that the book has the spelling "theatre" throughout. It may be conventional among people involved in the theater, but it still looks odd to me in a book written by an American, published in America, and about American theater.

Posted: Sun - September 11, 2005 at 07:03 PM   Main   Category: