Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway

Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway

by Frederick Nolan, Lorenz Hart
     
 

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Lorenz Hart singlehandedly changed the craft of lyric writing. When Larry Hart first met Dick Rodgers in 1919, the commercial song lyric consisted of tired cliches and cloying Victorian sentimentality. Hart changed all that, always avoiding the obvious, aiming for the unexpected phrase that would twang the nerve or touch the heart. Endowed with both a buoyant wit

Overview

Lorenz Hart singlehandedly changed the craft of lyric writing. When Larry Hart first met Dick Rodgers in 1919, the commercial song lyric consisted of tired cliches and cloying Victorian sentimentality. Hart changed all that, always avoiding the obvious, aiming for the unexpected phrase that would twang the nerve or touch the heart. Endowed with both a buoyant wit and a tender, almost raw sincerity, Hart brought a poetic complexity to his art, capturing the everday way people talk and weaving it into his lyrics. Songs had never been written like that before, and afterwards it seemed impossible that songs would ever be written any other way.

Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway presents the public triumphs of a true genius of the American musical theatre, and the personal tragedies of a man his friend the singer Mabel Mercer described as "the saddest man I ever knew." Author Frederick Nolan began researching this definitive biography in 1968, tracking down and interviewing Hart's friends and collaborators one by one, including a remarkable conversation with Richard Rodgers himself. A veritable who's who of Broadway's golden age, including Joshua Logan, Gene Kelly, George Abbott and many more, recall their uncensored and often hilarious, sometimes poignant memories of the cigar-chomping impresario who composed some of the best lyrics ever concocted for the Broadway stage, but who remained forever lost and lonely in the crowds of hangers-on he attracted. A portrait of Hart emerges as a Renaissance and endearing bon vivant conflicted by his homosexuality and ultimately torn apart by alcoholism.

Nolan skillfully pulls together the chaotic details of Hart's remarkable life, beginning with his bohemian upbringing in turn of the century Harlem. Here are his first ventures into show business, and the 24-year-old Hart's first meeting with the 16-year-old Richard Rodgers. "Neither of us mentioned it," Rodgers later recalled, "but we evidently knew we would work together, and I left Hart's house having acquired in one afternoon a career, a best friend, and a source of permanent irritation." Nolan captures it all: the team's early setbacks, the spectacular hour long standing ovation for their hit song, "Manhattan," the Hollywood years (which inspired Hart to utter the undying line, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean the bastards aren't out to get you"), and the unforgettable string of hit shows that included "On Your Toes," "The Boys from Syracuse," and their masterpiece, "Pal Joey." But while success made Rodgers more confident, more musically daring, and more disciplined, for Hart the rounds of parties, wisecracks, and most of all drinking began to take more and more of a toll on his work. When Hart's unreliability forced Rodgers to reluctantly seek out another lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, and their collaboration resulted in the unprecedented artistic and commercial success of "Oklahoma," Hart never truly recovered.

Meticulously researched and rich with anecdotes that capture the excitement, the hilarity, the dizzying heights, and the crushing lows of a life on Broadway, Lorenz Hart is the story of an American original.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Antonucci
A breezy and frank, yet exhaustively researched biography of Broadway's "Laureate of Lyrics," who, with Richard Rodgers, authored the hit musicals "Pal Joey" and "On Your Toes", as well as a host of classic popular songs including "My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp," and many others. When the 24-year-old Hart met the 16-year-old Rodgers, some said it was, for Hart, "love at first sight," though Rodgers claimed never to be aware of what Nolan calls Hart's "sexual ambivalence." From their big splash in 1925 with the hit song "Manhattan," through the innovative "Pal Joey" (1940) and their sort-of falling out in 1942 (which resulted in Rodgers teaming with Oscar Hammerstein to do "Oklahoma!"), the two set the standard for musical comedy on Broadway and in Hollywood. If Hart's homosexuality was, as Nolan claims, his "personal tragedy," drink and the high life were the means to his early death at 47 in 1943. Nolan's account of Hart's life provides a wonderful look at Broadway's Golden Age, and a quite readable, informal peak backstage. Unfortunately, his failure to secure permission to use Hart's lyrics leaves a hole in an otherwise fine effort.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195068375
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/27/1994
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.43(d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:

Frederick Nolan is the author of the acclaimed biography Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of their Music.

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