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Hart, Moss (1904-1961)  
 
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Moss Hart, a prominent American playwright and director, achieved great commercial success and popular acclaim. Nevertheless, throughout much of his adult life, he suffered from severe depression and other emotional problems that were intensified, and possibly caused, by intense anxiety concerning his sexual orientation.

Hart probably is best known today as the co-author with George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) of such quintessentially American comedies as You Can't Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1938). In collaboration with Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, and other composers and lyricists, he provided the books for several successful musicals, including As Thousands Cheer (1933) and Lady in the Dark (1941). Independently, he also wrote many other dramas and comedies for stage and screen. As director, he is credited with giving definitive form to such hits as Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady (1956).

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Recognition of Hart's place in history has been hindered by his widow, Kitty Carlisle Hart, who has tried to prevent access to any sources that might contain evidence of his sexuality. Carlisle has sealed Hart's diaries, his correspondence with other homosexual men, and many other personal papers, and she also has discouraged Hart's associates from speaking frankly with scholarly researchers. In effect, Carlisle is continuing Hart's own attempt to "heterosexualize" his life story by omitting details of his close relationships with Dore Schary and other homosexual men who are mentioned in his memoir, Act One (1959).

Nevertheless, in his pioneering biography (2001), Steven Bach presents extensive evidence concerning Hart's romantic and sexual relationships with other men. Although a few of his associates were willing to speak frankly with Bach, he had to depend primarily on information in publicly accessible documents. Fuller information about Hart's homosexual relationships must await the release of his personal papers.

Because he often characterized the theater as a refuge from the harsh realities of life, it is perhaps not surprising that historians generally have not attempted to investigate ways that Hart's plays reflect his sexuality or other aspects of his experiences. However, the assertion of Kurt Weill, one of his collaborators, that "Moss can only write about himself" suggests that his work may have significant autobiographical dimensions.

Background and Early Career

Hart was born on October 24, 1904 in a tenement on East 105th Street in New York City. Although Hart described his background as one of "genteel poverty," his family actually lived at a level of bare subsistence. Dominating the household in Hart's early years was his grandfather, Barnett Solomon, an unsuccessful cigar maker. The black sheep of a distinguished British Jewish family, Barnett Solomon was the uncle of the Symbolist painter Simeon Solomon, who became notorious because of his openly homosexual lifestyle.

Hart's account of his childhood in Act One recalls the sissy archetype. He maintained that his strong dislike of physical activities and his gentle personality isolated him from his peers. However, he found that storytelling provided a means for him to gain the attention and respect of other boys. He was introduced to the theater by his Aunt Kate, who took him to matinees at local theaters, beginning in 1911.

In October 1919, just as he was beginning eighth grade, Hart was discharged from school so that he could contribute to the support of his family. In June 1922, as a clerk at National Cloak and Suit Company, Hart scripted and staged his first theatrical production, The National Review, performed by other employees for a company event. In 1923, Hart sold a script, entitled Oscar Wilde, to silent film producer Louis Burston. Unfortunately, the only copy of the script was destroyed in 1924 in an automobile accident, which also killed Burston.

By 1923, Hart was working for George Pitou, a producer of touring shows, who called himself "King of the Road." Interviewing candidates for jobs, Hart made many lifelong friends, including George Cukor, then seeking work as a stage manager. In 1924, he wrote The Beloved Bandit with Eddie Eliscu and persuaded Pitou to stage it in Rochester and Chicago. On the train from Rochester to Chicago, Hart shared a sleeper car with actor Gerald Griffen, who inscribed sheet music for the show, "To Mossy--who knows that the Garden of Eden is not the one night stands or in a sleeper from Erie." In its "out of town" try-outs, Bandit incurred significant financial losses, which were among the factors that caused Pitou to close his business in 1925.

Newly unemployed, the handsome and charming Hart quickly made friends in coffee shops in the theatrical district. Among his openly homosexual acquaintances was Lester Sweyd, a former dancer and actor who had become a literary agent. Twelve years older than Hart, Sweyd was deeply attracted to Hart and resolved to promote his career. As a tribute to his protégé, Sweyd made a comprehensive scrapbook of Hart's life. The scrapbook included a studio portrait, inscribed by Hart "Here's that picture--sleep with it next to your heart" and by Sweyd "A Dirty Mind is a Perpetual Solace."

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