Lorenz Hart is known primarily as a lyricist. Although he collaborated on several librettos for stage comedies, he wrote more than a thousand song lyrics for those and twenty-four other stage comedies and revues and for ten motion-picture musicals, of which Love Me Tonight (1932) is representative. Hart also translated plays, operettas (such as Jean Gilbert’s Die Frau im Hermelin), and lyrics (such as those to the 1934 motion picture The Merry Widow, often without receiving credit).
Lorenz Hart played a major role in advancing musical theater from the level of vaudeville, revue, and spectacle to that of musical drama . He was not the first to take this step, nor did he take it alone, but he was one of the pioneers in an era that included such other musical-theater giants as George and Ira Gershwin, Herbert and Dorothy Fields, George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, Oscar Hammerstein II, Cole Porter, and Hart’s partner Richard Rodgers. In the early 1900’s, W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan were writing their satiric light operas in England; Sigmund Romberg, Vincent Youmans, Victor Herbert, and Rudolf Friml were writing operettas in the romantic Viennese tradition; and the team of Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton, and P. G. Wodehouse had just begun to adapt these European forms to an American form influenced by music-hall traditions. The satiric lyrics of Gilbert and Wodehouse strongly influenced the young Hart, and the stories that held these musicals together inspired him to want musical comedies in which the songs were closely integrated with the plots and characters.
When Hart and Richard Rodgers met, they found that they shared this vision of the musical theater, and their partnership thrived on their commitment to it. Their attempt to integrate song and drama began in the early shows, as with “Old Enough to Love,” a song for mature lovers in Dearest Enemy. It continued improving throughout their partnership to the Amazon’s defiant “Nobody’s Heart” in By Jupiter. In their early shows, the integration was not entirely successful, but the partners learned quite a lot about musical integration from their motion-picture...
Green, Stanley. “Rodgers and Hart.” In The World of Musical Comedy. 4th rev. ed. New York: DaCapo Press, 1980. Demonstrates how they formed the first composer-lyricist team in which each man received equal recognition. Provides standard biographies and traces the two artists’ development, show by show. Provides critical commentary on their artistic growth and on their contribution to the Broadway musical, detailing Pal Joey as the pinnacle of their collaboration.
Hart, Dorothy. Thou Swell, Thou Witty: The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. Hart’s sister-in-law lovingly but truthfully tells the story of his tortured life. Includes reminiscences by friends and associates such as Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers. Contains the lyrics for more than ninety of Hart’s songs, a complete listing of his plays and films with the songs he wrote for each, and numerous personal and theatrical photographs.
Lerner, Alan Jay. The Musical Theatre: A Celebration. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986. Lerner provides biographical and critical information about Hart from the perspective of a friend in the business. Of special interest is his description of Hart’s physical challenges and how they caused the melancholy and pessimism in his life and lyrics.
Marx, Samuel, and Jan Clayton. Rodgers and Hart: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bedeviled. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976. This popular, anecdotal double biography of Richard Rodgers and Hart chronicles their lives, collaboration, and achievements. It contrasts Rodgers’s storybook life with Hart’s sad and troubled one and examines how those difficulties influenced their work.
Nolan, Frederick W. Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Rodgers, Richard. Musical Stages: An Autobiography. Rev. ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995. Rodgers’s autobiography comments extensively on Hart.
Secrest, Meryle. Somewhere for Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers. New York: Random House, 2001. This biography of Rodgers covers his years of association with Hart. Bibliography and index.