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Act One: An Autobiography
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Act One: An Autobiography

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  713 ratings  ·  101 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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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
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
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
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
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
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...
Michael Emond
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
Enchanted Prose
“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
Apr 22, 2014 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.

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
Michael Stevens
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
Shirley Conley
This was a very hard book to read. The book was not a page turner. I read it over a long period 3-4 months with lots of books in between. It is the story of Moss Hart’s love of the theater from a very early age and his long, long, long journey through the actual presentation of his first hit on Broadway – Once in a Lifetime. The play took him initially a few days to write and a year or so to get accepted for production and a year or nine months to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite to get into actual pro ...more
V. Briceland
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
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
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
“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
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
Dec 13, 2012 Dave Thome rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
This is great American tale about hard work, making the big time and the love of the theater. Written in 1957 shortly before he died Moss Hart was the playwright for You Can't Take it With You, My Fair Lady and dozens of others of hits during the thirties through the fifties. This is a delightful story of Hart's early days growing up poor, working his way through his first broadway Hit--Once in a Lifetime. This memoir was recently turned into a play itself starring Tony Shaloub. I hope they make ...more
David Earle
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
Dec 25, 2007 Ben rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
What a terrific memoir! Thanks to the play at Lincoln Center, I looked for the fuller story. Theatre goers who have wondered why so many plays begin well but have trouble with the final act will learn a lot about the challenge of writing a play. I was sorry to see the book end.
Jessica Barkl
My graduate school playwrighting instructor, Stuart Spencer, told us that this was the best book on theater...for acting, for directing, for playwrighting, for producing, for everything...I thought he was crazy, but...I finally picked this up recently, and I read it quite furiously, and...he was right. I don't like saying people are right very often, but in this case he is. I don't think I could even teach as much knowledge that is located in this 400+ book. It's too bad there isn't an ACT TWO b ...more
Kent Hayden
A well-written book about Hart's formulative years in Broadway leading to his first big hit and co-written with George Kaufman.
Dan Annie
Vivid, gripping, honest and interesting. A fun and great read with many details surely to be remembered many years from now.
Nathan Agin
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Really, really enjoyed this book. Was interested in this after reading Julie Andrews autobiography and it was so fascinating to read about his life and how he got started.
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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
More about Moss Hart...
You Can't Take it With You The Man Who Came to Dinner Once in a Lifetime George Washington Slept Here Light Up the Sky

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