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Enter Moss Hart

In this Act One excerpt, the author who dreamed of working in the theater gets his first shot.

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Illustration by Tony Millionaire  

When the elevator door opened, it would not have surprised me at all to see Marilyn Miller step out on the arm of Florenz Ziegfeld; but it was empty. I got in and managed to blurt out, “Eighth floor, please.” As the elevator shot upward I sniffed delightedly. I am not certain that it is so, but it has always seemed to me that theatres, both backstage and front, have a very special odor of their own. It is an odor as definite to my nostrils as the smell of a hospital or a ship. I have always been immediately conscious of it, and I was aware of it then.

When I got out at the eighth floor I hesitated. What in the world was I going to say to [my friend] George? My sudden appearance would be certain to plunge him into a paroxysm of shyness. But I was determined to go through with it. I opened the door marked “Augustus Pitou, Theatrical Enterprises” and walked in. I recognized [George’s] Aunt Belle immediately in the tiny outer office, just as George had described it. She sat typing fiercely, her head bent over the machine. Without looking up and before the door had even closed behind me, she barked out, “No casting today. Come back in two weeks.” She finished the letter, ripped it out of the roller, and as she inserted the envelope she spoke again, still without looking up. “Didn’t you hear me? No casting today.”

“May I speak to George, please?” I said.

“George isn’t here,” she answered, her fingers never stopping, her head still bent over the typewriter. It had never occurred to me that George might be out on some errand. If I left now, without even a glimpse of the office, I would have to start looking for a new job and the chance would most certainly not occur soon again.

“Could I wait for him, please?” I pleaded.

“He won’t be here any more. He quit today.”

“He quit? You mean he gave up the job?” My voice must have had a note of such incredulity in it that Aunt Belle looked up for the first time.

“Who are you? A friend of George’s?”

I nodded. “We live next door to each other.”

“Well, he quit,” said Aunt Belle. “Try and do good for your relatives!”

She glared at me in annoyance, and as I still stood there staring at her, she said, “Well, good-bye. I’m busy. Maybe he’ll explain to you why he walked out of an easy job that pays fifteen dollars a week.” Her head bent over the machine again.

In a dazzling moment, I saw the finger of fate beckoning me on. I took a deep breath and plunged. “Miss Belle,” I said, “could I have the job? I just quit my old job today, too.”

The typewriter stopped and she looked at me again. “Sure, why not? Save putting an ad in the paper, and I got no more nephews, thank God. Go in and see Mr. Pitou and ask him if it’s all right if you’re the new office boy. Don’t tell him you’re a friend of George’s—make like you just came around looking for a job.”

I stood there immobilized.

“Go ahead,” she said irritably, “you want the job or don’t you?”

Did I want the job!

From Act One, by Moss Hart; foreword by Christopher Hart. © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.


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