In 1959, at the peak of his career as one of Broadway's legendary playwright-directors, Moss Hart published his riveting autobiography Act One. A sensation upon its publication, Act One became an instant classic, remaining on The New York Times bestseller list for almost a year. The memoir, a rags-to-riches story of a young playwright striving to make it in the theater, inspired generations of playwrights, directors and actors to seek a career in the theater.
Born in 1904, Moss Hart was raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn and as a teenager worked as an office boy for the theatrical producer Augustus Pitou. It was while working for the producer that Hart, under a pseudonym, wrote a play produced by Pitou called, variously, The Hold-Up Man or The Beloved Bandit. Hart's first big success, his collaboration with playwright-director George S. Kaufman on his own original play about Hollywood, Once in a Lifetime, opened on Broadway in 1930. The two men went on to collaborate on a series of plays including Merrily We Roll Along (1934); You Can't Take It With You (for which they won the Pulitzer Prize, the film version by Frank Capra won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1939) and the musical I'd Rather Be Right, with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (both in 1937); The Fabulous Invalid (1938); The American Way and The Man Who Came to Dinner (both in 1939); and their final collaboration George Washington Slept Here (1940). During this period Hart also collaborated with Irving Berlin on the musical Face the Music (1933) and the revue As Thousands Cheer (1933); adapted the book for the musical The Great Waltz (1934); and wrote the book to Cole Porter's score for the musical Jubilee (1935). Hart wrote the book for the 1941 musical Lady in the Dark, which he also directed, with a score by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, and was the playwright and director of Winged Victory, a tribute to the Air Force (1943), Christopher Blake (1946), Light Up the Sky (1948) and The Climate of Eden (1952). As a director, he had successes with Junior Miss (1941), Dear Ruth (1944), Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty (1948) and Anniversary Waltz (1954). His film work includes the screenplays for Gentleman's Agreement (1947 Academy Award for Best Picture), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), A Star Is Born (1954) and Prince of Players (1955), among others. In 1956, Hart directed Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, one of the greatest successes in musical theater history, for which he won both the Tony and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Director. It was equally well-received in London in 1958. Hart collaborated with Lerner and Loewe a second time, on the musical Camelot (1960). In 1946, Hart married the actress and singer Kitty Carlisle, with whom he had two children, Christopher and Catherine. After Camelot, Hart moved his family to Palm Springs for health reasons. He had begun work on what he called a "comedy of manners" when he was stricken suddenly with heart failure in 1961.