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Act One: An Autobiography
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Act One: An Autobiography

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  924 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Moss Hart was in the thick of American theater when everyone wore black tie on opening night and the world's most witty people entertained each other around a grand piano at late-night supper parties. It's an era of glamour that will never come again, but we have Hart's words on paper, and that is no small thing. A renowned director and theatrical collaborator, the brillia ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1959)
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Jun 16, 2015 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a white-knuckle glimpse into the world of theatre, and what a caveat for those of us who dream about one day writing a play. Novice playwright Moss Hart and Broadway master George Kaufman worked daily for weeks, months, to excise words and scenes, conjure better ones only to toss them out, and ultimately craft a storyline with dialogue that would do that elusive and mysterious of all things: delight a capricious audience.

Hart’s memoir describing his rise to success on Broadway reads like a
Thienan Nguyen
Mar 10, 2016 Thienan Nguyen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This autobiography is very much a entrepreneurial inspiration, a period piece and a captivating memoir. Published in 1959, Act One tells the story of Hart's life growing up in poverty in early 20th century New York and his struggle to make it as a playwright. Hart tells how the singular goal and mindset to be involved in the world of theater influenced and shaped his destiny. That fierce dedication was the catalyst that led to such a successful career as a playwright and director. I am at once a ...more
Lovely theatrical autobiography, a genre to which I have a minor addiction (only old ones; no interest in autobiographies of anyone who hasn't hit their seventies by now, and most of the best ones are by people who died at least ten years ago and/or in their nineties). I've read most of the major English ones--being an Anglophile and a stage, rather than screen person--and this is a lovely way to start on Americans. Moss Hart was obviously a nice man, as well as a talented one, and that helps a ...more
Jul 30, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ann Patchett recommended this book at ALA this year. I didn't know who Moss Hart was. This autobiography chronicles his early impoverished years through the success of his first Broadway play, "Once in a Lifetime". It was a little slow going at first but once I made it to his stories about working as a social director at a ramshackle summer camp I was hooked. I laughed out loud. I struggled along with him as he tried to perfect his play and cheered when he ultimately found success. This is a boo ...more
May 16, 2014 Brigitta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the ultimate portrayal of the Great American success story, going from rags to riches from pure hard work and passion. A must read for any theater junkie, especially those into the golden age of Broadway. Only gets 4 stars as it lags in certain parts, but if you persevere, the reward is great at the end. I actually picked it up based on a recommendation in Julie Andrew's memoir (Moss Hart staged My Fair Lady). It is a shame this book has gone out of print, as it highlights a wonderful Am ...more
Garry Klein
Mar 23, 2015 Garry Klein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some books are enjoyable and some are like a really nice confection. In the department of autobiography, this is one of my favorite recent reads. The writing style is engaging and the story is compelling. I would recommend this to any aspiring playwrights as a lesson in persistence and pursuing your dreams. For those who like knowing more about the immigrant experience, this may be for you as well. Moss Hart may no longer be seen among the greatest of the greats in his profession, but his autobi ...more
Everyone interested in the theatre should read this book. Moss Hart is an amazing writer, there are so many passages that are very quotable. You can tell he loves the theatre and what he was doing with all his heart. It was wonderful to read about his journey, with all its ups and downs and to finally have a success in the end.
Jan 25, 2009 Pattieb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Easy read about the NYC Broadway world of the 1930's and Moss Hart's entry into it from a childhood of poverty in the Bronx.

His basic lesson from life seems to have been, Money (gained doing what I love) makes me happy.

I enjoyed being in the world of 80 years ago for a while. He painted pictures really well and wrote with a light yet reflective hand.

Bernadette Quigley
loved every word of this Moss Hart. Beautiful and moving..and lots of great humor too...I wish he wrote Act Two and Act Three...
Enchanted Prose
May 21, 2014 Enchanted Prose rated it it was amazing
“Stage-struck”: From poverty to Broadway (Bronx/Brooklyn, NY, 1914 to 1930): Beautifully written storytelling that stayed on the bestseller list over forty weeks when first published in 1959 – a book with devotees in and out of the theatrical world – is too good for Enchanted Prose to pass up because it’s not fiction. Deeply felt books like this one seem to take on a life of their own, much like Moss Hart said a play has “its own peculiar and separate life.” And like playwriting, blogging does n ...more
Jul 31, 2011 Bruce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Two-and-a-half-stars, really. It's taken me forever to deal with this work... to begin with, it took me over 1 1/2 years to read and at least one abortive attempt, and then another 3-4 months to get around to reviewing. Part of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of Neil Simon (though he surely wouldn't want it) and part to Hart's stylings (yeah, yeah, okay, all blame lies with the reader, but...). I wouldn't have managed to muddle through it at all if I hadn't owned my own copy, and been ...more
Charlie Lovett
Dec 30, 2016 Charlie Lovett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoyed this memoir of Moss Hart's early days in the theatre. I had seen the Great Performances broadcast of the Lincoln Center stage version, which I thought was extremely well done. Hart writes beautifully, and it was a treat to have a look at the inner working of the theatre as it was in the 1930s. A lot of the second half of the book is about the long road to Broadway of his first hit, Once in a Lifetime. I was in a production of that play in college, and I can still recall particula ...more
May 21, 2016 DW rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because it was recommended by Lin Manuel Miranda in a NY Times article. I definitely wouldn't have picked it up otherwise, because I'd never heard of the author, knew nothing about plays in the 1920s and 30s, and I don't like the typeface (I feel like I've struggled through some classics written in this typeface, so I associate it with "boring").

Anyway, just as you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, neither should you judge it by its typeface. This story grabbed me from page
Dec 27, 2009 Asho rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I borrowed this book ages ago but put off reading it for a couple of years. I know I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover of this one just didn't appeal to me. I passed over it on my bookshelf again and again. Autobiographies and memoirs aren't generally my genre of choice. And even though I'm a theatre historian, I'll admit that I don't know as much as I probably should about Hart's play writing and directing career, so he was not a character who particularly piqued my int ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This might be THE theatre memoir. Moss Hart is endlessly witty, endlessly contemplative, endlessly interesting. It reminded me of Helene Hanff's wonderful Underfoot in Show Business in that it perfectly captures the swirl of things that make the theatre what it is but featuring Hart's astute observations about class and poverty and tender feelings for his family members. I read Once in a Lifetime shortly before this, and I recommend you do the same.
Sep 04, 2010 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Hart, Moss. ACT ONE. (1959). ****. Although billed as an autobiography, it really isn’t. Hart starts off with the saga of his boyhood, growing up poor in the Bronx and then Brooklyn; his father almost perpetually out of work. His one shining light during that time was his aunt, who lived with them. She was by all accounts lazy and too good to work, but she instilled in Moss the love of theater. Although she had less than no money, she always managed to get to the theater to see the shows. After ...more
Michael Emond
Aug 02, 2014 Michael Emond rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won’t give a play by play of the life of Moss but will say it is a perfect TRUE tale of rags to riches. The kind you would think was too fake if someone had tried to make it up. Inspired by his Aunt at an early age to love the theatre, Moss first works as a helper for a play producer, then writes a play overnight, gets it produced, has it flop, works as a social director, then again as a social director (this time for an evil man and a horrid camp, then we fast forward five years and Moss is ...more
V. Briceland
Jul 25, 2012 V. Briceland rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moss Hart's Act One is, to put it simply, the most riveting work I've read about working in the American theater.

The work is not a comprehensive biography of the noted playwright and director. There's no mention (save in passing) of mega-successes like The Man Who Came to Dinner or Lady in the Dark, no My Fair Lady, no Camelot. There's remarkably little celebrity gossip. There's no Kitty Carlisle. (Darn it.)

Act One instead is a vivid and detailed look at Hart's early life, from his poverty-weigh
Apr 18, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in US theater of the 1930s-40s
Recommended to Richard by: expectation of seeing the play
An unlikely book for me to read, but I am going to see the play ACT ONE at Lincoln Center in a couple of weeks; it received a generally positive review from Ben Brantley (NY Times) this week, and so my choice was serendipitous.

The book itself traces Moss Hart's life from age 12 when he had already developed a passion for the theater without having seen a play, through the series of fortunate occurrences that led him to a collaboration with George S. Kaufman, the success of ONCE IN A LIFETIME, an
Patrick Peterson
Fascinating! I read a small excerpt of this book when I was a freshman in high school. It captivated me, which was a bit surprising, since the topic - a non-sports or even socially oriented, young boy, a future playwrite, captivating his neighbor boys so much which his tales of stories they had never heard, and would probably never read - didn't really fit me at all. But that reading, tucked away over these many years, came out in a powerful desire to find out the rest of the story.

Rewarded I wa
Dave Thome
Oct 06, 2012 Dave Thome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone involved in the theatre.
Recommended to Dave by: Nancy Reddon's Aunt Mary
I received this book as a gift from a very dear friend-of-mine's aunt. Turns out, I'd been given a first edition copy!

Re-reading the book made it difficult for me to believe I'd already read it when I'd received it in the 1970s--it was as if I was reading the book for the first time.

It took a long time for Moss Hart to get to 'the good part'. Being a theatre person, I found the first three-fifths of the book interesting but heavily laden with a discontent that was stifling. Perhaps that's what M
Michael Stevens
Apr 03, 2014 Michael Stevens rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like great theatre, Moss Hart's biography tells a classic American Success Story with such finely honed words as to give it newness and human insight. As implied by the title, it covers only the very start of his journey so don't look for back stories on My Fair Lady or how he met Kitty Carlisle (whose elegant musings intrigued me on Tell The Truth as a kid). But the story of the challenges and fears of writing his way out of poverty are so honest and heartfelt that the reader feels their truthf ...more
Jan 21, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Theater is not so much a profession as a disease, and my first look at Broadway was the beginning of a lifelong infection.” Moss Hart declares.

I first read Act One in college 30+ years ago. I recalled ninety-nine percent of the events as I read the book for the second time. The memoir is a story of resilience. Moss Hart’s fervent passion of the theater is contagious and intense. The subtle humor in between the lines as the story develops is a striking example of pure comic genius. Before Woody
I have heard for a long time that, since I love and work in theater, I had to read 'Act One'. I have no good reason for not getting around to it sooner, but boy am I sorry it took me so long. Even though it was written in 1959 and talks about a time far earlier, it is eerie how perfectly Hart nails theater, even today. The ache of wanting to join show biz, the magic of the theater community, the tricky business of controlling a room as a Director, the strange collective genius of an audience, ev ...more
Apr 20, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Because we are going to see "Act One" in NYC, I wanted to read Moss Hart's memoir about his early life in the theater first. I enjoyed the glimpse into that era on Broadway -- the 1920's -- and learning about the colorful characters who roamed the streets of the theater district during that era, but I also appreciated Hart's insights into acting, writing, and the people who do both. From his telling, it had more to do with luck and perseverance than anything else, and he was definitely lucky -- ...more
Dec 25, 2007 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone remotely involved in american theatre must read this book!!!
This is, in many ways, my favorite book. I think I probably read it every year and a half. It is a wonderfully written story about Hart's life up until the moment he became a show business success. Born to an impoverished and dysfunctional family in the Bronx, Hart becomes a success through his tremendous love for the stage, and also through tremendous savvy and luck....My description of the tale makes it seem hackneyed to the extreme, but Hart is such a fantastic writer that the book speeds by ...more
Kirt Graves
Dec 14, 2015 Kirt Graves rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hart's long form storytelling isn't nearly as sharp as his plays, but then, it doesn't have to be. Reading Act One was like listening to someone tell the story of his life over the course of a long weekend. There was time to indulge in the details that clearly left an impression on a young Moss Hart but did little to enrich the telling of the story. I found myself looking for an opportunity to check out for a bit and come back in when the action was happening. "If I go to the bathroom now, will ...more
David Earle
Jan 05, 2013 David Earle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For anyone who loves the theatre, as I do, you will love “Act One”, an autobiography by Moss Hart who wrote some of Broadway’s biggest hits, as well as directing the world premieres of many of Broadway’s greatest sensations such as “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.” But you don’t have to be a Thespian to enjoy this book filled with laughter and tears of this “stage struck” kid with nothing but talent who fought his way up from the Bronx…to the Borscht Circuit…to the bright lights of Broadway fame! Bu ...more
Tim Sheridan
Sep 09, 2016 Tim Sheridan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for aspiring playwrights and screenwriters.
Jack Cheng
Very engaging memoir of the beginning of a Broadway career. I don't know that much about Moss Hart and his career and I still don't. Well, that's not true. I now know he's an engaging storyteller who grew up in poverty but had great ambitions in the theater.

How he got his first success is the subject of this book (it's only Act One, after all). There are some funny stories of what Hart had to do as a social director at summer camps for young 20 somethings in the 1920s and 30s.

Overall, great port
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Moss Hart was an American playwright and director of plays and musical theater. Hart recalled his youth, early career and rise to fame in his autobiography, Act One, adapted to film in 1963, with George Hamilton portraying Hart.

Hart grew up at 74 East 105th Street in Manhattan, "a neighborhood not of carriages and hansom cabs, but of dray wagons, pushcarts, and immigrants" (Bach 1). Early on he ha
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“The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from.” 15 likes
“It was possible in this wonderful city for that nameless little boy -for any of its millions- to have a decent chance to scale the walls and achieve what they wished. Wealth, rank or an imposing name counted for nothing. The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from.” 5 likes
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