A judicious yet candid biography of Hart (1904–61), the Broadway Prospero who transformed out-of-town dross into opening-night gold—and his own torments into opportunities for success.
Escaping a miserable, poverty-stricken upbringing, Hart achieved celebrity in 1930 with Once in a Lifetime, a Hollywood satire that he co-wrote with George S. Kaufman. He went on to collaborate on seven more shows with Kaufman (including You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner), then wrote his own comedies (Light Up the Sky), musicals (Jubilee with Cole Porter, Lady in the Dark with Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill), and screenplays (Gentleman’s Agreement and A Star Is Born), while also directing (My Fair Lady and Camelot). Bach (Marlene Dietrich, 1992, etc.) relates with aplomb the backstage dramas behind these productions, and is especially good at relating how Hart handled such titanic egos as Alexander Woollcott, Gertrude Lawrence, Rex Harrison, George M. Cohan, and Lerner and Loewe with intelligence, moxie, and charm. But he also explores (with the help of numerous oral histories and interviews with Hart’s associates) the shadows on the other side of Hart’s sunny surface. Hart coped with his manic depression through work, shopping sprees, countless psychiatric sessions, and even shock treatment. With sensitivity, Bach also discusses Hart’s ambivalence about his sexual orientation—fears that did not subside until into his 40s, when he married Kitty Carlisle. In the face of all this, Hart emerges triumphant in Bach’s telling, living “a life of uncommon generosity in an often mean-spirited world, a life more painful than we knew, and maybe a little braver, too.”
A savory treatment of a beloved yet troubled theater legend.