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Hart, Lorenz (1895-1943)  
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Barely five feet tall, balding early, and possessing a disproportionately large head, Larry Hart was the first to disparage his own attractiveness. His jokes, however, masked a deeply-rooted inability to accept the possibility of romantic happiness or sexual gratification.

Hart impulsively proposed marriage to several women friends, none of whom thought his offer serious. And when he allowed himself to act upon his desire for other men, he seems to have had difficulty performing sexually. (Biographer Frederick Nolan quotes one unidentified male partner's shock at discovering Hart cowering in the bedroom closet after sex, suggesting that the songwriter was unable actively to pursue homosexual pleasure without being overcome by guilt.)

The result of such emotional imbroglio is that, despite having written lyrics as witty as any sung on the Broadway stage before or since, Hart is best remembered for his songs of unfulfilled desire and failed romance.

Born Lorenz Milton Hart on May 2, 1895, to an immigrant Jewish family, Hart learned from his entrepreneur father that self-assertion allows survival. Never without a business venture, many of which were dishonest, Hart's father provided Larry with a lasting model for the cycles of impulsive free-spending and resulting impecuniosity that characterized Hart's own life.

Hart entertained both friends and strangers lavishly, often living far beyond his means, but with a (sometimes unfounded) optimism that something would turn up. And, like his father, Hart was a ball of ferocious energy, both physically and creatively.

Recalls Oscar Hammerstein II, "In all the time I knew him, I never saw him walk slowly. I never saw his face in repose. I never heard him chuckle quietly. He laughed loudly and easily at other people's jokes and at his own, too. His large eyes danced, and his head would wag. He was alert and dynamic and fun to be with."

As disorganized and undisciplined as he was tirelessly inventive verbally, Hart possessed a nervous energy that could make him an exasperating person to work with. Words poured so easily from him that, increasingly as he aged, he preferred socializing and drinking with hangers-on to working.

And although Hart seems to have inspired genuine affection in everyone he met, no one who knew him was surprised when he died on November 22, 1943, of pneumonia contracted while wandering the streets of Manhattan in a downpour, badly intoxicated.

Composer Richard Rodgers, with whom Hart began an extraordinarily successful collaboration in 1919, recollected that when he met Hart he acquired "in one afternoon a career, a best friend, and a source of permanent irritation." Their early years together, spent writing musical revues and novelty songs for burlesque comedians, culminated in their first Broadway hit, A Connecticut Yankee, in 1927.

Finding their chances of continued financial success in New York severely limited by the Great Depression, however, they followed many of their Broadway contemporaries to Hollywood where, after the initial success of writing the songs for Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight (1932), they were frustrated by the pedestrian projects they were assigned by studios, and by the increasing criticism that Hart's lyrics were too witty and too darkly satiric to succeed on sets decorated with plastic palm trees.

Their return to New York resulted in their final and most fruitful period, which saw the hit productions of Jumbo in 1935, On Your Toes and Babes in Arms in 1936, The Boys from Syracuse (a musicalization of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors) in 1938, and the breakthrough musical Pal Joey in 1940.

Apart from their polysyllabic rhymes and sophisticated wit (master poet W. H. Auden included Hart's "Take Him, He's Yours" in an anthology of light verse), Hart's lyrics are remarkable for two reasons. First, they are amazingly frank about sexual matters. In Pal Joey, the title character openly boasts of the sexual chase in "Happy Hunting Horn"; his credo is suggested by the double entendre inscribed in the title of another of the play's songs, "Do It the Hard Way."

His inamorata, philandering socialite Vera Simpson, sings of her mid-life sexual reawakening in "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered": "I'll sing to him / Each spring to him / And worship the trousers that cling to him."

Far from being taken sexual advantage of, Vera is shrewd about the paradoxical nature of sexual desire. Men, she observes, are stimulants, "Good for the heart / Bad for the nerves," or ornaments which are "Useless by day / Handy by night." And if she complains that men are "all alike," she's also honest enough to acknowledge that they're "all I like."

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Lorenz Hart (standing, right) with Richard Rodgers in 1936.
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