Artist speaks; Moss Hart
The artist speaks the first in a series of programs produced and recorded by station W.H. y y in Philadelphia underground in aid from the National Educational Television and Radio center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. AA. The way to the arts is through the artist himself. And during the course of the series leading artists of our time will speak about their own creative work. Now to introduce the distinguished American playwright of Moss Hart on this the first
program subtitled The playwright speaks. Here is the host of this series Charles Engle. We are indeed fortunate in having as our guest the distinguished playwright most heart Mr. heart began one of the greatest careers in the modern American theater by collaborating for 10 years with George S. Kaufman in a series of incomparably brilliant and what he comedies among them once in a lifetime. You can take it with you. And the man who came to dinner. He then went on to an equally brilliant and even more varied solo career producing such landmarks in the theater as late in the dark. Christopher Blake and the climate of the last heart kept it all and produced the finest book ever written about the theatre when he published his stunningly written autobiography Act 1. Now without further ado here is Moss Hart. Your book Act 1 deals with the early part of your life. But I wonder today if I might not
talk with you a little bit about the later period. For some 10 years between nine hundred thirty one thousand forty you collaborated with George S. Kaufman on a series of highly successful plays. Is it possible looking back at that period to say what qualities you brought to the collaboration and which ones Mr. Kaufman brought to it. Well not completely possible. You must remember the qualities I brought brought to the collaboration then was an enormous eagerness driving ambition and awe of Mr. Compton. But Mr. Calvin Borel was he was already a legend in the theater by the time we met and it was at that time that teacher and disciple almost like going to see a yogi in India. Now I must have brought some gifts of my own to the collaboration. But the
emotional bonds the emotional atmosphere of our attitude toward each other which I describe in detail in the book was. One of the teacher and pupil though my recollection is that the curious thing that what happened was that this attitude of only ons would last until the moment we started to work and I forgot that this was the great George Carlin but I believe this young boy is not quite out of Brooklyn yet and we worked as workers. That's the most I can say about that particular time. May I ask what method or procedure of work you and Mr. Kaufman used at that time. Well you know the whole mystery of collaboration is that there is no mystery about it. It's like the story of a happy marriage is always a dull one an unhappy marriage has a hell of a story all the way a happy marriage has no
story at all to tell and there is no mystery about collaboration if the two people are compatible as people. We. Talked over four or five ideas before we agreed on the one we both like. We then made a rough scenario together and then a piece of paper. I'm saying this rather pedestrian time would make it as simple as possible. I was put in the typewriter and each line was almost intermingled sometimes one line was thought of by either Kaufman or myself and then changed like the other word all the or a cadence of a the structure of a sentence old as it was impossible to tell. By the time the play was finished and it always has fascinated I don't know why it always seems to have fascinated many people who wrote this long. I thought of that but when it wasn't possible for either one of us to tell. By the time the play was finished
who did what. It was a simple as that the the mystery of collaboration is that there really isn't any mystery. One of your most famous plays the man who came to dinner. Your main character was named Sjodin Whiteside and supposedly was based somewhat on the character of Alexander Woollcott. I wonder how the idea of writing a play about this man came about in the first place. Well it wasn't based somewhat on Alexander. It was damn well placed. And all I can say is that the man that came to dinner or the character of Sheridan Whiteside was the more charming side of his nature. And actually it is the only play idea that I have had anything to do with that literally happened out of actuality. And by that I mean this I had a farm in Bucks County in those days me in New Hope Pennsylvania is about a fact I had it for
17 years and then sold it to that deeply honest fellow Lowell Burrell who was now in Brazil. However I was there one weekend with a houseful of guests an unannounced and uninvited Alexander Woollcott appeared one Saturday night he was playing in Philadelphia in a play by I send them a cold wine of choice here remember. Yes I do. And he just did. And demanded to be put up until Monday. I got an extra room but he was behaved just abominably disliked the other guests I had insulted them was very difficult with the savings demanded meals and all kinds of odd hours and all kinds of special foods. Finally on Sunday night he said would I drive down with him on Monday and have dinner and see him in the play. Well I'd have gone to China to get him out of the house and I did go to Philadelphia with him and then I saw the play and I came back. I stayed
overnight and came back Tuesday and George Kofman had a fall about three miles from me towards dogs down and on the way to my fall. I stopped in a Georges and told him about this really horrendous weekend and you know like Bucks County fathers with an old house that was on several different levels with steps leading from one room to the other. And I said to George you know all through this terrible weekend all I could think of because woke up was a very fat man. All I could think of was that if by some terrible mischance Wilcott slipped and broke his leg I'd have to keep him in the house I kill myself. But as I said that we both looked at each other and said. There's a plane here and indeed there was and that's how actually the play came to be written. Didn't he play in some of the performances. Oh yes he did he played in the royal couple. How was it. Well he had one tremendous advantage over any other actor he was welcome when he walked on the stage it was him you know so I have an extra thing. He wasn't bad
he wasn't a very good actor at all he fancied himself as an actor he really was. You know but in this particular part because he had this tremendous advantage. Would you say that the type of play which you wrote in collaboration with Mr. Kaufman could be written today or one of those plays essentially products of the times in which they were written. Oh no no I think you know if you sit still long enough the pendulum swings a play this year. Call the best man Gore Vidal's which is a big hit on Broadway is a swing back to what I can call quickly a play play as in the handful of rain or a handful of nothing or a handful of mood. It is a play with each act has a beginning a middle and an end. Curtains it is very skillfully constructed and most enjoyable and when you see it you can almost feel the audience's relief at seeing
a play that is once more after a long time. I play and not an amorphous mercurial thing of mood and symbolism. Their enjoyment of it is enormous and so was my own. This doesn't mean to rule out the other kind of play but I think at it which only allows for one kind of anything is wrong and in the last 10 to 15 years there has been such a swing to a kind of Tennessee Williams off the Millikan to play which is fine when it's written by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller but what is written by second rate Tennessee Williams are third rate off the millers. We start very good but the whole swing has been away from the well-constructed well-made play and my long winded answer to your question was no cos they could have been written today. Those kind of plays the Medicaid the DNA is a sounded modest but it's so long ago that I'm speaking really objectively as though it was somebody else's extremely well-made comedy of manners of
that kind now. That's good in any time. I think you once called it a comedy of insult. Yes well whatever you want to label it but nevertheless certainly of course is dated today and is very solutions through the play but there be no reason why couldn't be that kind of play is not as enjoyable. May I ask whether any ever any repercussions to the allusions in the play to various people that we of the audience took for granted was somebody else's. Oh no they were all delighted about it so to be thought that was it. You and Mr Kaufman wrote the book for the Rodgers and Hart musical. I'd rather be right this is a rather personal question I don't know anything about the musical would you tell me a little bit about it. Well. It was I think the first musical I had done a show many years before with raving Berlin called us thousands of us in which every character was a real person and we did have Gandy and he said it was fierce and
the royal family of England of that time and it was supposed to be all the truth it was the newspaper on the stage only with real people. Well I'd rather be right. Had Roosevelt Francis Perkins and James Folley all as themselves and it was a political play a political satire and a wonderful idea. It wasn't quite as well done. I mean we didn't do it quite as well as the idea called for but it was an enormous success and as you know George M. Cohen played Roosevelt and. It looks very much like it is that fell apart. Yes he did mean cast actors who really have stunning resemblance to Frances Perkins and James folley and Taylor Holmes played Morgan thought it looked exactly like him finally did I once read that that Cohen was none too happy in the in the play or in the role something of that kind. I don't think it was the role. KOHAN was an unhappy man in the sense
that he had been the great god of the American theater and deservedly so. You know he was a combination of Noel Coward and I try to think and I get it escapes me an American example. He wrote music he wrote lyrics he wrote plays he acted in them. He was in the stunt to sing the other man. And somehow or other the end of the theater it passed him by the theater of his time and he resented in a way being in a big hit of somebody else and not of his own not of his own. What was the music like I don't know the music either. Well actually curiously it was the only bad score Raja's in hearts ever wrote. You know they wrote scores for some bad shows but the scores were only as good if this was a the the slimmest most unmusical score
they have provided a wide but it just they didn't get along with come on a tall man and this may have had something to do with it. It had one song Have you met Miss Jones which is still played mildly but it was not one of the better school. Other any of the Toughman harp plays which you would particularly like to see revived at this time. I don't really think so. I'd like to see a kind of All Star revival of the man who came to dinner sometime. Maybe the city center or something like that. But no I don't think so. Am I right in sensing that you that was your favorite of those plagues of the cuff in high places. I think it was yes it's mine too. Yes it was the group after 1940 there were no more Kaufman Hart plays. I wonder if you could tell us how and why the decision to drop the collaboration came about.
Well everyone thought at the time it was a quarrel like the Gilbert and Sullivan quarrel you know over the coffin in which they split never came together again but actually. That was not true. It was a not a hard and fast decision of my own. I was the one who made it but I felt that I wanted to write another kind of play other than the kind we had become so associated with. And this was a very difficult decision to make because it is sometimes easy to break if a collaboration is unsuccessful or if there been a series of failures and then you say well perhaps we're no good together anymore but we're at the height of our success and together and we got along wonderfully together and we're deeply devoted to each other as friends apart from work. So it was a difficult decision to make but I felt that like Kansas City I have got about as far as I could go along that line. And I was
anxious and eager to try my wings in a different way. And that was the only reason. And I must say that George was immensely understanding and we remain devoted friends ever since now at that time I had no idea that we would not work again together. But that's how it turned out. I must say my favorite of yours at any rate has been the lady in the dark. I suppose because it was the first legitimate play I ever saw. Oh yes you like me right now but I'm glad to hear you say that because it is my favorite. My own wonderful play as I understand it you originally conceived it as a straight play rather than as the play with music that we know of. That's right and I had written it originally I was going to write it for Catherine Cornell because I was an old admirer of her and I once said to well I am determined to write a play for you and then I had this idea
and I told her about it. As a matter of fact she was touring in no time for comedy and I went to Philadelphia. Philadelphia is very wrapped up in my career and life in many ways beginning with once in a life time which tried to get ahead and read the first act which she liked very much this was what it was with our music and then I determined that it needed music to illustrate the dreams and work with Kurt was on it. And then across the Mew-Mew the more music that went into it the more apprehensive I became that Cornell couldn't do it. And yet I had. Said it was for her and she got off on a long tour and then I became convinced that the ideal woman to play at was go to Florida
and that was a very difficult position to be in say the least. But that was the it was true it was written originally from Cornell and of course the felony was compounded by the fact that Dr. Lawrence said she was delighted with it would be delighted to do it but kept putting off and putting off the actual signing a contract so I didn't dare let not just let Miss Cornell go but I didn't dare tell Cornell until I was short of dirty and I couldn't make Grady make up my mind. Jenny made a mind up came from I suppose it was late because in the beginning. After I completed it and I think I came clean with her and said I must let. No it isn't fair it is going to leak into the papers were having supper together every night. Obviously something is afoot and if it leaks to the papers she reads it in the times that's terrible. And gordie would say you're absolutely right. Now my astrologer and I'm not
making this up. My astrologer says that I must do nothing until May 17. And so I wait until May 17 or so about two weeks away then. And she called me and said You see I was absolutely right because the astrologer said don't do anything until May 17th and this morning I got a cable from no was arriving here in three weeks and as you know I never do anything unless he reads it first and then I have to wait till Noel Coward got here and the day he arrived. I called he was barely off down the gangplank and I said No all I need to do this to you but you know Grady as well as I do and I told him my difficulty which I just described to you and said Will you let me read this to you the sense to know what the small and you have lunch and I read it quickly and then when you come to the matinee she was playing in the skyline. Then the Roscoe and you like it come back to the dressing room and then we'll pin it down and very sweetly which was wonderful of you just had landed that morning at eight o'clock. I
rushed to the Gulf and hotel and I read in the script which he very admiring on and he said I remember what he said as a matter of fact he said play it why she ought to pay you to be into such a wonderful party. And off we trotted to the Moscow theater at 5:30 and we went to the dressing room and he said more or less the same to her she said to me. There you see I told you how I was a baby and I knew I was right but now I can do it with a happy and happy and heart and one of the astrologer right you see no it's come and I was like that and I thought Well now there it is how one man we left we walked down the. The stage rallied together and I said No thank you so much and you just have crystallized the whole thing and he said Don't be silly this is when your troubles begin she said yes and he was absolutely right because this was in May. And she actually signed the contract the following November. Oh my lord at Grand Central Station
on her way to to make the tour of Skyline. Before we went into rehearsal. Fabulous. And they were all kind. I can't describe I. She got married in July not when she got married it was not to sign the contract but she couldn't be talked to that she couldn't be you couldn't dare bother a bride with signing a contract and then oh I don't know what all went on. But this it began in January and she finally signed the contract the following November. And of course this was her greatest success I guess or was this or have I must say she was worth it was worth waiting for was one which was absolutely wonderful. Would I be wrong in saying that during the 1940s and 50s your plays with certain exceptions like light up the sky tended to deal with more serious matter. Yes that's absolutely true. But I suppose you know in the age we live in one I begin to think it's wrong. I think that you can say what you want to say in terms of comedy just as well you can in terms of anything else
but. I've always hated to be pigeonholed as a comedy writer or a musical writer and so I've tried all forms of the atom and that was why I changed. You've written a number of distinguished screenplays for Hollywood perhaps most notably a star is born for Judy Garland and gentlemen's agreement. Most people tend to deride Hollywood and filmmaking in general. How do you feel about it. Well I can only tell you that I will. I've always been treated very well in Hollywood. I want to I've gone out there for special assignments. Most authors complain bitterly about what is done to their planes when they're made into movies with us I don't share that feeling atoll. I think that if you sell a play one of your plays to the movies and take a great deal of money for it then you want to shut up and not complain. I've sold many of my all of my plays the movies and some of them I haven't
even sat through when they came on the screen but I've never complained publicly because I think you have no right to if your play is so beautiful and so tender and so necessary to you then don't sell it or go out and do it yourself protected. But if you take the money then you have no right to complain about Hollywood. You know what I mean yes I do. No lie by and large I've I've been treated well by Hollywood I mean they haven't done the plays well I sell them but that was my affair to protect it or not. And I didn't and I took the money I was delighted to take the money and that I had no right to complain and cry about it. But when I worked out there I haven't been there a long time not as a star's ball but any of the pictures I've done so far is the writing of the book and say I was treated extremely well. There were no kinds of censorship I had exactly I was able to say exactly what I wanted to say Francis and gentlemen's agreement which in the climate of its
time was a courageous picture and I only agreed to do it if I could do it exactly as I wanted to and as the book was written and they said yes you could and that was the way it was done. Now if you write a screenplay and a director miss shapes it or distorts it that's another story but in terms of the actual writing the way you're treated as a writer. I was always treated extremely well. May I ask if we may expect a new play or perhaps a sequel to act one from you sometime in the near future. Well as far as a sequel is concerned. I don't know. I wonder whether I ought to try with my luck who got one whiff of such a sauce of unexpected pleasure to me. I had no notion that it would ever be the kind of riotous excess it was and is and I am apprehensive about a sequel. The reason that I ask is that you put at the end of the book instead of and intermission and I just wondered whether that indicated further back was that it was an absolute
accident as a matter of fact. I had a great fight with the publishers and my wife when I was writing the book about I had decided from the very beginning that that was where the book was going to end. The opening night of my first play. Yes and I insisted that this was the architect architecture of the book because the thing that has always fascinated me about people successful people is. The figure behind the Sunday interview the figure behind the legend and most always the most interesting part was the struggle because success is usually a bore to read about you know like it was going to write one of those books that I wrote and then I met so-and-so and so-and-so. A kind of gossip column a collection of names and I insisted this was where the book was going to end. And but it's safer with publishers of which you cannot And today you cannot call this an autobiography when people know that you just directed My Fair Lady in all those
other plays you cannot say this is a definitive. And I said well that's when I insist on doing. And then I got the title decided to call a fact one and when I sent the manuscript in. He said I just cannot publish this and say act one of the end of it the end because it isn't the end. And so over the telephone I said well then just say intermission. I said I suppose because it's called act one and does a intermission at the end that it did lead people and I must say that I was with flattery in a sense they all said they were waiting. Back to yes really give everybody is but I wonder whether I should my feeling is unless I could whack one was the story it was the anatomy of a struggle. Well there is. A book to be written about the difficulty of success. Success has its own Sachs says as a whole always in its quality.
And if there was a way of telling that I might be tempted to do it but you can't order these things. No one has to let the law in see what happens. You heard the first programme in the series. The artist speaks this week with the distinguished American playwright Moss Hart. This is James Keeler inviting you to join us next week plan. Host Charles angle will present S. N. Behrman on part two of the playwright speaks. In. VAIN. The artist speaks is produced and recorded by station W.H. y y Philadelphia undergrad in aid from the National Educational Television and Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters.
- Artist speaks
- Moss Hart
- Producing Organization
- WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This episode centers on American playwright, Moss Hart.
- Series Description
- Leading artists of the time speak about their own works.
- Fine Arts
- Artistic collaboration.
- Media type
Host: Engel, Charles
Interviewee: Hart, Moss, 1904-1961
Producing Organization: WHYY (Radio station : Philadelphia, Pa.)
Speaker: Keeler, James
Subject: Kaufman, George S. (George Simon), 1889-1961
Subject: Vidal, Gore, 1925-2012
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 4940 (University of Maryland)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Artist speaks; Moss Hart,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 7, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1r6n3s7r.
- MLA: “Artist speaks; Moss Hart.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 7, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1r6n3s7r>.
- APA: Artist speaks; Moss Hart. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1r6n3s7r