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I went to hear Moss Hart speak at NYU. His thrilling memoir, ACT ONE had just come out, and neither Treva, my writing collaborator, nor I, could wait to hear him. Not only had he directed My Fair Lady, he’d written the screenplay for A Star Is Born, the comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner and Lady In the Dark, a daring musical which portrayed psycho-analysis onstage for the first time. We all jammed into some hall down on the campus, and he spoke of his hair-raising experience getting his first show on with the help of George S. Kaufman. Afterwards, he opened the floor to questions; most of the people asked pretty dumb things, like, Which comes first, the music or the lyrics? really pedestrian stuff. I decided to ask a smart question, one which had been concerning me: ‘Mr. Hart,’ I called out, “could you tell us the difference between writing a comedy, as opposed to writing a musical?’ “Oh my,” he replied, “that’s a complicated issue -I’ll be glad to answer you, but it’ll take longer than we have right now; why don’t you see me afterwards?” I squeezed Treva’s hand. Wow. I was going to get some personal face-time. But afterwards, he was besieged by fans who wanted him to sign copies of his book. I found myself up on the stage, frantically waving above the heads of the autograph seekers. Suddenly Kitty Carlisle, his wife, was by my side. “You’re the fellow who asked that question, aren’t you?” I acknowledged that I was. “Why don’t you call us at home,” she continued, to my astonishment, “we’re in the book.”  Outside, Treva was amazed: “My God!” she said, “call him at home! I don’t believe it.”  I was so excited. My mind built a fantasy scenario: on the phone, Mr. Hart would issue an invitation. Why don’t you come for dinner? he’d say, and we’ll talk, and when I did he’d  recognize what a special talent I was, and make me his protege, introduce me to his favorite producer and get my show, Jubilee Jim, on Broadway.

Cover of

Cover of Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart

In those days (1962) I was charging $25.00 to play auditions for performers, and I had one scheduled the next evening for a singer named Michael. His audition was scheduled for six thirty, and at six o’clock I placed a call from the wall phone of the rehearsal hall to Hart’s residence (1185 Park Ave). In my mind, this was a preliminary call, merely a formality to allow Mr. Hart to proffer that dinner invitation I was sure would be forthcoming. Kitty answered the phone herself. “Yes, John, of course. Let me get my husband.” A momentary pause, as Michael caught my eye. “This’ll only take a minute,” I assured him. Hart got on the phone. “Yes, John, your question requires a three-part answer: The first thing you have to realize, is that, in a comedy–” Michael was at my elbow. “John, somebody didn’t show; they can take us early.” I covered the mouthpiece. “Just a minute–” I whispered to him. “But John–” I made a grimace of impatience: “I’ll be there in a minute,”I repeated, trying to listen to Hart, who was finishing his point.    “–because if you don’t, you won’t have established your characterization. Secondly, before your first act curtain, you must make absolutely sure–” Michael had returned and was now pulling my sleeve. “John, they’re ready for us.” “Dammit, Michael,” I hissed at him, “I said I’ll be there! Just give me thirty seconds!” I returned to the receiver. “–when they leave for the intermission. Now, when your second act begins, it’s a good idea to–” I saw the Stage Manager peering from the doorway, and Michael,talking to him in an attitude of explanation. The two of them began coming towards me. “Mr Hart,” I said, “you’ll have to excuse me, but I need to go now.” “Well, said Hart, “I hope I’ve been of some help.”