The author of The Label: The Story of Columbia Records (2007) returns with a deeply sympathetic biography of Lorenz Hart (1895–1943), the talented, troubled lyricist of film and Broadway fame.
Marmorstein, who has published often about the popular arts, has done an enormous service for fans of stage and movie musicals of the early decades of the 20th century. Here, the author details Hart’s short life, explores his most productive professional partnership with composer Richard Rodgers, chronicles his descent into the alcoholism that killed him, speculates about his sexuality (his colleagues knew he was gay; the public did not), and provides numerous examples of Hart’s witty, sometimes risqué lyrics (risqué, of course, by 1940s standards). Hart, whose adult height perhaps touched 5 feet and who seemed always to have a cigar, wrote some 800 songs with Rodgers, many of which are Broadway classics, among them “Manhattan,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Where or When.” But Hart was a psychological mess. Perhaps due to his height (a constant joke about him in the press, and even from Rodgers’ mouth) or his sexuality (frequently he would disappear in the evenings) or the enormous pressure to write on quick deadlines, Hart became so increasingly unreliable that Rodgers approached Oscar Hammerstein II to write the lyrics for the show that would become Oklahoma! Hart subsequently wrote only a handful of songs. Marmorstein often summarizes the shows of Rodgers and Hart (routinely referring to them as “the boys”), sometimes too thoroughly, and there are so many interesting characters on his stage—like Cole Porter and George Abbott—that occasionally he loses track of Hart, who, sadly, left few intimate documents, excepting, of course, those wondrous words.
“Ev’rything I’ve got belongs to you,” goes one Hart lyric that now, thanks to the author’s thorough, affectionate research, holds another, profoundly poignant meaning.