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...
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