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Hart, Moss (1904-1961)  
 
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Despite severe insomnia and debilitating depression, Hart remained notably productive throughout the late 1930s. Between 1934 and 1940, he wrote eight plays with Kaufman and provided the scripts for three other successful shows (including the Cole Porter musical, Jubilee, 1935).

One of the most successful plays by Hart and Kaufman, You Can't Take It With You, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1936. In defiance of Hart's apparent concern with conforming to mainstream society, You Can't Take It With You concerns a household of happy eccentrics who refuse to pay attention to the outside world as they do just what they want.

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The initial Broadway production of Hart and Kaufman's The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) ran for 739 performances, a record for the era. The central character, Sheridan Whiteside, is obviously based on Alexander Woollcott, to whom Hart and Kaufman dedicated the play. An author, critic, and actor, Woollcott was a great celebrity in the later 1930s, although he generally is overlooked today.

A lifelong bachelor, who described himself as a "Fabbulous [sic] Monster," Woollcott managed to create an aura of sexual ambiguity. In his perceptive study of Woollcott's long and complex friendship with Harpo Marx, Ned Stuckey-French describes his carefully cultivated public persona as "the quintessential version of a certain modern gay style, a style that fends off sadness with wit and uses double entendres to hint at the double life."

Hart and Kaufman vividly captured this personality type in their characterization of Whiteside--a role played by gay actor Monty Woolley in the initial Broadway production and in the 1942 film. Whiteside addresses Banjo, a character based on Harpo Marx, as "you fawn's behind"--an endearment that Woollcott frequently applied to Marx in real life. Another character in the play, Beverly Carlton, is an affectionate satire of Noël Coward. Further enhancing the "queer feel" of The Man Who Came to Dinner are references to such iconic figures as Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. Although The Man Who Came to Dinner clearly has distinctly queer features, they would have been recognized as such only by those "in the know."

Despite their success, Hart and Kaufman ended their collaboration in 1940. The reasons for the dissolution of their partnership remain unclear, but Hart's ambition to write socially significant dramatic works in the spirit of Eugene O'Neill, one of his personal idols, may have been a contributing factor.

Hart on the Therapist's Couch

While in California in 1933, Hart began psychoanalysis with Dr. Gregory Zilboorg, a psychiatrist who had many celebrity clients; and he would remain in therapy for the rest of his life. By 1937, Hart was a patient of Dr. Lawrence S. Kubie, whose avowed specialty was the "conversion" of homosexuals to normative heterosexuality. Dubbed a "star fucker" by a disgruntled former client, Kubie's other long-term clients included Vladimir Horowitz and Tennessee Williams. Kubie tried to persuade both these men to give up their creative activities, because he believed that such pursuits enabled his clients to conceal from themselves the harmful consequences of their "perversions."

Until Kubie's retirement from practice in 1959, Hart met with him on a regular basis, usually having two sessions a day. As part of his therapy, Hart also underwent frequent shock treatments, often more than once a week. Many of Hart's friends recognized that his psychological state was not improved by this therapy. Lotte Lenya, for instance, wrote about Moss in 1944: "He is in an awful state. I am more than ever convinced that this Dr. of his is a great faker."

Although therapy seems to have done little to relieve his depression and constant insomnia, Hart became devoted to Kubie, and he conceived Lady in the Dark (1941) as a tribute to him. The "action" of Lady in the Dark revolves around the psychotherapy of Liza Elliott, a successful career woman who manages a leading fashion magazine. Intended as a musical with great dramatic significance, Lady in the Dark features a score by Kurt Weill, then in exile in New York, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Hart not only wrote the script, but he also directed the initial Broadway production, which starred Gertrude Lawrence and Danny Kaye.

As bruce mcclung has explained, Elliott's psychotheraphy is conducted according to the guidelines followed by Kubie in his own practice. Furthermore, Hart embodied Kubie's theories about the supposed causes of homosexuality in the two principal characters: Liza Elliott and Russell Paxton, a staff photographer. Kubie held that both sexual "perversions" and deep unhappiness resulted from the "the drive to become both sexes."

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