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Moss Hart - Playwright and Director

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Updated May 11, 2008

A Rough Start in Life:

Moss Hart was born October 24, 1904, in one of the poorest sections of New York. Forced to drop out of school in the seventh grade when his father lost his job, Hart worked at a variety of menial jobs and began writing plays at an early age. At 25 a Broadway producer paired Hart up with playwright George S. Kaufman, and many of their collaborative efforts remain staples of the theater today, with no sign of diminishing popularity. Probably best known is the delightful You Can't Take It With You, which won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Mood Swings and Marriage:

At the age of 40, Hart married singer and actress Kitty Carlisle and they had two children, Christopher and Catherine. Carlisle told writer Marie Brenner, "For years, I heard about the brilliant Moss Hart in his apartment on the 26th floor of the Waldorf Towers, blocked in his writing and threatening suicide." She said he was attracted to her because she was an excellent listener - but although he talked at length about his psychiatrist, he never spoke of what went on in their sessions. "Until much later, I never figured out that Moss had periods of mania and depressions," she told Brenner.

Harnessing Moods:

In 1940, Hart used his own experience with mania, depression and psychoanalysis to write the script for the musical Lady in the Dark, collaborating with Ira Gershwin (lyrics) and Kurt Weill (music). In 1955, while directing rehearsals for the smash hit My Fair Lady, he became manic. Carlisle told Brenner, "Moss conceived the great black-and-white scene at Ascot on a manic high. He told me later that he could never have visualized that scene except in a mania."

Unanswered Question:

Was Hart homosexual or bisexual? Biographer Steven Bach, in Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart, says yes. Carlisle says no: "I asked him about it. I said, ‘Are you homosexual?’ This was before we got married. And he said, ‘Absolutely not.’ He said there had been a couple of people who had made passes at him. And that was it," she told Brenner.

Later Years:

By all accounts, the marriage of Moss Hart and Kitty Carlisle was a very happy one. Their son Christopher told Marie Brenner, "My parents had a mystical marriage. They were both very high-strung and creative. They fought with everyone –- the servants, the children, their friends. But they never fought with each other." Carlisle, whose mother displayed some manic-depressive behavior, was endlessly patient with her husband, staying awake if he needed her when insomnia struck him, indulging his need for theatricality in daily life.

Hart died of heart failure on December 20, 1961, at the age of just 57.

Noteworthy Works By and About Moss Hart:



With George S. Kaufman:
Once in a Lifetime - 1930
You Can't Take It With You - 1936
The Man Who Came to Dinner - 1939
George Washington Slept Here - 1940

Plays and Musicals by Hart:
Lady in the Dark - 1941 (with Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill)
Winged Victory - 1943

Screenplays:
Gentleman's Agreement - 1947 (won Best Picture Oscar)
Hans Christian Andersen - 1952
A Star is Born - 1954 version

Director:
Dear Ruth - 1944
My Fair Lady - 1956
Camelot - 1960

Biographies:
Act One by Moss Hart
Moss Hart: A Prince of the Theater by Jared Brown
Dazzler: The Life and Times of Moss Hart by Steven Bach

References:

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