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The Greatest Showbiz Book Ever Written

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Bach’s most remarkable feat of sleuthing was to track down Glen Boles, who, as a young actor, had played the juvenile in the original touring company of You Can’t Take It With You. Boles was still alive—he died at 95 in 2009—and told of a long-lasting friendship and passing sexual relationship with Moss that began during that show’s rehearsals. Bach was conscientious about not pushing the evidence any further than was warranted. He quoted Boles as saying Hart “may have been experimenting” in their liaison: “Sexuality per se was less important to him than wanting to love and be loved. He used to say, ‘If I could love somebody, I wouldn’t care if it was a man, a woman, or a pig.’ ” There is circumstantial evidence that Moss had other gay liaisons as well in his bachelor years; among other clues, Bach found that Hart spent four and a half months on a cruise with Cole Porter, his wife Linda, and “the Porters’ moveable family, all of them”—like Cole—“from Yale and all of them gay.” Bach also discovered that Moss turned up as a thinly disguised character, a star playwright propositioning a young actor in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, where Hart indeed lived in the ’30s, in a best-selling gay pulp novel of 1970 by Gordon Merrick, once a young actor in the original Broadway cast of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Whatever Hart’s sexual orientation, or confusion about it, his long conversations with Boles about his experiences with psychoanalysis inspired the young actor to go to medical school on the G.I. Bill after serving in World War II. He set up a psychiatric practice in New York that lasted well into the ’90s and that centered, Bach writes, “mostly on young gay men trying to adjust to their sexual orientation in a still hostile social atmosphere.”

The upsetting revelations in Dazzler are not about Hart’s sexuality, but about the terrifying bipolar disorder that he had likely inherited genetically from his grandfather, a beloved figure briefly glimpsed early in Act One. Crippling depressions had long tortured Moss, as Cerf had alluded to at his memorial. The paralyzing bouts of despair were famously followed by manic shopping sprees, whether to buy himself gold trinkets at Cartier or to secure lavish new apartments and houses that he redecorated and stuffed with antiques before abandoning them for the next. In Act One, Moss writes of how his younger, poorer self “would stroll into the lobby of a fashionable hotel and walk around for as long as I dared, making believe that I belonged there.” But later, no luxuries could sate him. A much-repeated joke, variously attributed to Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, had it that Hart’s over-the-top summer estate in Bucks County was “just what God would have done if he had the money.”

There was nothing funny about Hart’s mental illness, however, and the treatment he received for it was a tragedy. He became a devotee of a Manhattan analyst, Dr. Lawrence Kubie, known for collecting celebrity patients, including those like Tennessee Williams and Vladimir Horowitz, whom he sought to “cure” of what was then considered the disease of homosexuality. Kubie’s practices were destructive: He told Williams that he would benefit by giving up writing. To treat Hart, he sometimes convened two sessions daily—running from 50 minutes to two and a half hours—and subjected him to electroshock treatments every other day. On top of this regimen, Kubie was a regular in the Harts’ social lives and a supplier of seemingly indiscriminate dosages of prescription drugs. That Hart was able to function at all in this period—let alone direct My Fair Lady and write Act One—was a miracle, albeit one for which he probably paid with his life.

Kitty Hart ignored the publication of Dazzler, but perhaps to counter it she finally cooperated with another Moss Hart biography, by Jared Brown, published in 2006, and gave him access to the 1953–54 diary that was denied to Bach. But it was too late. Hart’s shelf life as a book-length subject for anyone except cultists had expired; Brown’s book attracted little notice and few reviews.

After Kitty’s death, the restrictions on access to Moss’s archives were lifted, and a researcher can judge the full evidence firsthand. The diary, written as Moss was turning 50 as “an exercise in discipline for no other eyes but my own,” is shocking not because of anything it has to say about Kitty, the Harts’ marriage, his sex life, or their children. Quite the contrary; Moss’s love for his first real family is apparent on nearly every page. What’s upsetting is his punishing depression. It stalks him even as he goes about the professional chores he did carry out in this period, including his repeated trips to Hollywood to meet with Garland and the director George Cukor on A Star Is Born, his directing of Kitty in her first Broadway starring vehicle as an actress, and his early stabs at writing a memoir.


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