Themes and Meanings

Once in a Lifetime is a play of unbridled optimism. May and Jerry succeed, and the most naïve character, George, becomes the farcical counterpart of the self-made man. Just as the Depression was getting well under way in the United States, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart offered hope to every person through this play, and especially the character of George. George flies in the face of conventional wisdom by challenging the power structure of Hollywood embodied in Glogauer.

As a counterpoint to George, Kaufman and Hart present the character of the New York playwright who was lured to Hollywood with a lucrative contract. Not only is Vail unable to see Glogauer in his office, but also he eventually has a nervous breakdown and must seek help in a sanatorium. In spite of the seemingly serious nature of Vail’s breakdown, it serves a comic function in the play.

The play was written at a time when the use of sound in films was in its nascent stages. It pokes fun at the film industry, showing overworked executives being forced to make major decisions much too quickly. Some of those decisions—for example, Glogauer’s decision not to use the invention that made talking pictures possible—are made without much foresight. Those quick decisions at times come back to haunt the executives. Certainly in the play Glogauer is swayed by financial considerations, but he is also motivated by the embarrassment he suffered by not being farsighted...

(The entire section is 443 words.)


Friendship and Loyalty
At the center of the Once in a Lifetime is the loyal friendship of May, George, and Jerry. From...

(The entire section is 667 words.)