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Act One: An Autobiography
Moss Hart
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Act One: An Autobiography

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  967 Ratings  ·  132 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
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published by Modern Library (first published 1959)
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Jun 16, 2015 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 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
Debra Pawlak
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Moss Hart is a Broadway legend. Act One is about his early years and how he made it to Broadway. There was nothing easy about it, but Hart tells his story with grace and humor. Reading about his contemporaries, like Sam Harris and George Kaufman, is like taking a peak at another era. Hart can be snarky and sarcastic, but he is always funny--never mean. I know that he died about two years after this book was published (1959). It would have been nice to see him continue his story including his mar ...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
Charlie Lovett
Dec 30, 2016 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
Jul 30, 2013 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 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 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 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.

Ayelet Waldman
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Delightful fun for theater geeks.
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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 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
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! As a playwright, Moss Hart reigned on Broadway for a couple of decades, writing such gems as 'The Man Who Came to Dinner' and 'You Can't Take It With You' with partner George S Kaufman. This autobiography covers Hart's poverty-stricken upbringing in the Bronx, his start in show biz, and his first success with Kaufman with 'Once in a Lifetime.' The writing is sharp and witty and traces a clear path for Hart from his difficult childhood to his rise in the world of 1930s theatre. ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This book was sitting on my family bookshelf all through my childhood. At some point it made it to my first apartment, and then was packed and moved with me from state to state. All while I had never opened the cover! Not sure why I never got around to reading it, but am certainly glad I finally did. I read in some other book that Act One was the best book ever written on Broadway, and I have to agree. First you get the story of Moss Hart - his upbringing. You see his perseverance in making it t ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great great great.
May 21, 2016 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 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 04, 2010 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 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 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 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
Jimmy Hickey
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read for theater fans.

Great book on life in the theater. Funny, revealing and full of Moss Hart' love of Broadway. Bravo!! I wish he'd written an Act Two!
Dave Thome
Oct 06, 2012 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 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 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 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
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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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