For nearly thirty years, Moss Hart’s name was magic for theater audiences. His career consisted of one theatrical triumph after another, but unlike his heroes George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neill, and the modernists, he provided light, witty entertainment for the masses. In collaboration with Kaufman, he created two comedies that are theater classics: You Can’t Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). His script for the landmark Kurt Weill musical Lady in the Dark (1941) combined theories of psychoanalysis with the musical comedy format, and he directed the hit show My Fair Lady (1956). Theater audiences all over the United States knew the name and success of Moss Hart. Few people, however, knew the real man; they knew only the stories of his habit of profligate spending and his seemingly boundless ability to create theatrical triumphs. Consequently, Hart wrote this book to explain, to humanize, and to justify the man behind the successful façade. The book is a personal memoir for himself, his wife, his admirers, and his children in order to give them some sense of his origins. While it was not intended to be a book for young people, it is highly accessible to them and could be an inspiration to many.
The book begins with a description of the squalid life-style of the Hart family and the extremes they experienced in day-to-day living. Hart illustrates the psychological effects of poverty: fear, shame, and the belief that there is no escape from want. He further discusses the effects that these emotions have on a child’s view of his or her parents, such as resenting the parents’...
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Young people frequently believe that they are making their way alone through a world in which no one understands them. Often, they feel as though life has control of them rather than the opposite. It is an excellent lesson to learn that anyone can have plans arranged in a logical sequence to an end result and can accomplish this goal. Hart argues that one step at a time, without skipping any steps, is the way to approach and achieve any goal and that progress can be made in spite of family, socioeconomic status, and ethnic stereotypes.
It is impossible to read the book without learning much about the world and business of the theater, from both the outsider’s and the insider’s perspective. Young people interested in theater arts will learn that theater, far from being a glamorous escape, is a job like any other. It is less secure and more unstable, but it can offer great rewards for the talented, hardworking, and courageous who believe in themselves.
It would not be an exaggeration to call Act One an inspirational book told in complete honesty and candor and without self-pity or sentimentality. It is not, however, a simple Cinderella story, for it also depicts Hart confronting his feelings about his family and coming to accept and love them for what they are. These universalities make the book a classic.