act one
Back in 1959, Broadway veteran Moss Hart published Act One his story of how he got started in show business. Moss Hart’s family was dysfunctional and poor. His chances of making it to Broadway and having any impact on the 70 plays that were being performed at that time was slight. But Moss Hart’s story of his drive and passion to make it to Broadway is inspiring and funny. Hart’s strategy of spending summers conducting theater camps leads to mind-boggling complications. The story of how Moss Hart’s first play, Once in a Lifetime, goes through the creative process with George S. Kaufmann directing makes fascinating reading. Hart shows how scripts are written and revised. If you have any interest in Broadway productions and how a play is developed, Act One reveals all the nitty-gritty details. I found Act One to be a marvelous book!

36 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #355: ACT ONE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Moss Hart

  1. Dan

    Hart is prominently mentioned in a biography of Jed Harris by Martin Gottfried; their working relationship is a cautionary tale for any aspiring author.

  2. Deb

    Let’s not forget he was the “Hart” in the name of Kitty Calisle Hart!

    /watched a lot of “Match Game” in the 1970s.

    1. Todd Mason

      Mostly on TO TELL THE TRUTH when I was kid…NATCHH GAME was more for bibulous comedians in the ’70s…I was mostly aware of Hart for his work with the Narx Bros. back then, some of his plays since.

      1. Todd Mason

        Deb, a number of young, soon notable comic actresses managed early roles with the Marxes…Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe the most obvious examples…I wonder if Patti meant that Moss Hart was an old fave…

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    There was a movie version in 1963 with George Hamilton, of all people, as Hart, and Jason Robards, Jr. as Kaufman.

    George Hamilton later complained that “Schary de-ethnicized the entire production and took out the brilliance for good measure”

    Also, James Lapine wrote a stage version (Act One), commissioned by the Lincoln Center Theater and developed by the Vineyard Arts Project. A reading was held in July 2012. There was also a workshop on Martha’s Vineyard July 16-21, 2012, which featured Tony Shalhoub, Debra Monk, Chuck Cooper, and David Turner. The play premiered on Broadway, at the Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theater, in previews on March 20, 2014, with the official opening on April 17, 2014. The play stars Santino Fontana, Tony Shalhoub, and Andrea Martin, and is directed by Lapine.

    1. maggie mason

      Thanks, Jeff. I sort of remembered there being a movie based on Act One, but didn’t remember details. I have a vague recollection of seeing it, and if it comes on TCM, I’ll try to catch it.

      George, you have a wide and varied range of interests I get the feeling there are 36-48 hours in your day

      1. george Post author

        Maggie, I don’t have a cell phone (so I save a lot of time that way) and I don’t watch TV. I basically read whenever I have some free time!

      1. Matt Paust

        Laughing here…still laughing… I do remember enjoying the movie but recall only Robards. Always meant to read Act One, but… Maybe this was just the kick in the pants I need.

  4. Art Scott

    Not that forgotten. WSJ theater critic Terry Teachout (one of my favorite bloggers) frequently mentions Act One as the best book ever written about the theater.

  5. Beth Fedyn

    I’ve owned this book for a long time but never read it.

    Recently, I’ve noticed a LOT of people referring to how good it is. What made you pick this up, George?

    I need to move this further up the TBR pile.

    1. george Post author

      Beth, I think I saw ACT ONE mentioned in the WALL STREET JOURNAL as the best book about Broadway ever. After reading ACT ONE, I would have to agree!

  6. Elgin Bleecker

    In college, I found a beat up old paperback of ACT ONE, read it, and loved it. As I recall, he used to tell funny stories of his early days, and friends urged him to put them all down in a book. We can all be grateful that he did.

    1. george Post author

      Elgin, you’re right about all the funny stories in ACT ONE. Hart is a funny guy. But much of ACT ONE deals with disappointment and failures much like the movie, JOY.

      1. Elgin Bleecker

        It has been many years and I don’t remember it that way. My memory is of the humorous camp stuff and then later the work in crafting a play with Kaufman. Guess I need to dig it out and read it again.

      2. george Post author

        Elgin, the summer camp stuff is both funny and sad. Crafting a play with Kaufman–a difficult, eccentric guy–was fraught with problems. I found the book enlightening.

  7. Wolf Böhrendt

    Totally OT:
    The snowstorms and blizzards coming to the East Coast are all over the news here in Europe. Have you prepared for this kind of weather, will it touch you?

    We read about school and office closures, thousands of flights being cancelled, people emptying supermarket shelves etc …

    Hope everyone is alright and manages!

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, this historic East Coast storm is passing south of Buffalo. Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York City will get the most snow. So far, there have been 8 deaths due to the storm. Thousands of flights have been canceled but my son, who was attending a conference in D.C., managed to fly out this morning before the storm hit. This will be a 36-hour event. The biggest problem will be downed power lines. Losing power in a snowstorm is No Fun. I’ve experienced that and it sucks.

  8. Wolf Böhrendt

    George and Todd, thanks for the feedback and good luck!
    Our relatives near Nashville also reported school/university closures …

    Re power lines:

    That was one thing on our US travels (even the business jobs more than 30 years ago) that we never understood:
    Those tangles of power lines that crash when enough snow gets dumped on them – here in Europe most of them run underground, even though we don’t have those extreme weather conditions too often, thanks to the Gulf Stream.
    Though meteorologists say that we’ll have the remnants of “your” storm in much weaker form arriving in a few days …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, the United States Governments have ignored infrastructure issues for years. Our roads, bridges, and power grid are held together by duct tape.

  9. Jerry House

    George, I believe “Losing power in a snowstorm is no fun” was also the last communication from the Donner Party.


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