Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 677
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...
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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’ lack of initiative in correcting the situation or feeling paralysis in the face of a constant sense of futility that negates any hopes for the future. He also shows that, with a dream, intelligence, and courage, any career is possible for anyone. These are concerns that many young people share with Hart.
Hart, himself, never gave up his dreams, even when he experienced setbacks. He used his disappointments as learning experiences to help him on his way. His major regret, and also his major disgrace and shame, was that he never was graduated from public school. It was necessary that he take a full-time job to help support his family, but though formal education ceased, Hart informally educated himself by reading as much as he could. He read especially about the theater: Variety, plays, theory, criticism, and history.
His introduction to theater came from his Aunt Kate, who managed to have the admission price to attend performances and returned home to tell the family what she had seen. It was from this secondhand introduction that Hart fell in love with the idea of theater and decided to make it his career. This career began at age twelve when he became a storyteller to the boys in his neighborhood and told them the plots of books by Jack London and Bret Harte.
By the time that Hart was seventeen, he was nominative head of his family and had found himself the source of counsel for every family crisis. It was then that he set out to learn his craft and to better himself. He moved from theatrical office boy to actor, to little theater director, to social director in summer camps as he pursued his goal of bettering himself and his family in the process. At last, he wrote a play and had it accepted for production. Despite this struggle, however, the tone of the book is by no means grim or bleak. It is lightened by Hart’s own sense of humor and by his ability to laugh at himself, and there are moments of real hilarity.
Most young people can understand Hart’s story and profit from its example. He, himself, is a role model for any young person who has the desire for a better life and place in society. He proves that careers are possible for those who want them and are willing to plan and work for them.