Sunday, May 04, 2014

Act One

I finally read Moss Hart's "Act One," his autobiography from his childhood to writing his first play with George S. Kaufman.  It's fantastic. I'd been hearing about it for years, and it sat on my shelf for many. I think I bought it when I lived in New York. It looks like you can read the whole thing online here.

It's quite a read - rags to riches, it reads like an adventure story itself.  Actually, it was just turned into a play this season by James Lapine and was nominated for a Tony, as was Tony Shalhoub for playing George S. Kaufman.  What struck me most was how little has changed.  His milieu was Broadway in the twenties, as well as the mountain camps that singles would go to every year for their summer vacations.  His struggle, his tenacity, and his self-knowledge are all remarkable.  True, too, his assessment of actors, directors, producers, and everyone involved in the theater.  I was struck at what he said about actors:

The general conception is that all actors are born exhibitionists is far from the truth. They are shy, frightened people in hiding from themselves - people who have found a way of concealing their secrets by footlights, make-up, and the parts they play. Their own self rejection is what made most of them actors. What better way to solve the problem than to be someone other than the self one has rejected, and be accepted and applauded for it every night. They have solved the problem, but not its torment.

He's got some great things to say about directing and writing, and working with a group of disparate personalities, to say nothing of the great character drawn of George S. Kaufman. It's funny, touching, and hard to put down. I can remember few books that have ended with me tearing up, but this is one of them.  Great book.

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