Moss Hart Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Moss Hart was born in the Bronx section of New York, the son of Barnett Hart, a cigar maker who was left without a trade when a cigar-making machine was developed. The family survived as best they could, but Hart’s early life was dominated by a sense of poverty. The two most important influences in his childhood were his grandfather and his Aunt Kate. These impractical, domineering people, though a great drain on the family finances, were the only sources of color and vitality for the young Hart. Aunt Kate, an avid theatergoer, introduced Hart to the world of drama, which formed in his mind a desire to escape from his squalid surroundings via the glittering stage.

At the age of seventeen, Hart got his first theatrical job as office boy to Augustus Pitou, a touring-show producer known as “the King of the One-Night Stands.” While reading plays that were submitted to Pitou, Hart began writing a play of his own, replete with the sentimental and hackneyed elements of those he had read. He presented the play to Pitou, who was enthusiastic about it and agreed to produce it. Entitled The Hold-up Man, it opened in Rochester in 1923 and flopped.

The failure of his first play also cost Hart his job. He worked as a director for little theater companies and as an actor, once playing the role of Smithers in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (pr. 1920) to glowing reviews. He spent his summers as a social director in various resort camps. During this time, he still nursed a desire to write...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

Moss Hart Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Moss Hart, who also wrote plays by himself, is best known for plays written in collaboration with George S. Kaufman. He was born the son of Barnett Hart, a cigar maker, and Lillian Solomon Hart. The family was extremely poor, and Hart was forced to drop out of school after finishing the eighth grade. His first job was with a wholesale furrier, but Hart had acquired a love for the theater from his maternal aunt and dreamed of a theater-related career. He left the furrier after two years and found employment in the office of Augustus Pitou, Jr., a theatrical manager known as the King of the One-Night Stands. Hart began as office boy but eventually became Pitou’s personal secretary.

Because of his association with Pitou, Hart’s name was added to the free list at area theaters. At that time there were seventy theaters operating in New York City, with as many as eleven new plays opening simultaneously, and Hart managed to take in everything that was playing. Through this total immersion in the theater, Hart developed an ability to envision his plays as they would actually be performed. He had an instinct for the spoken as opposed to the written word, and he was able to write as if he were the director, watching the play unfold on the stage.

Hart’s first play, The Hold-up Man, was written in response to Pitou’s need for a new play. Hart, telling himself that he could write as well as some of the playwrights then producing plays, sat down and wrote the first act in a single night. The next day, he gave what he had written to Pitou, telling him that the author was Robert Arnold Conrad, a name Hart fabricated from the first names of three of his friends. Hart says in his autobiography that he intended to tell Pitou that he had written the first act as a joke, but when Pitou liked it and asked to see the second act, Hart did not have the nerve to admit that he was the author. Returning to his typewriter, he produced the second and third acts, after which he confessed. Unfazed, Pitou went ahead with production plans. The Hold-up Man opened in Rochester, New York, in 1923, and closed in Chicago shortly thereafter....

(The entire section is 879 words.)