Friday, August 24, 2012

Lorenz Hart: “Ship Without a Sail” – Some Comments and an Excerpt

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

According to Stanley Green, the musical theater historian, the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart collaboration “was a near perfect combination of [Hart’s] frequently sharp, sophisticated lyrics set to [Rodgers’] music that was just as frequently warm and lyrical. The remarkable thing, of course, is how well each man complemented the other’s style, adding something both inseparable from, and indispensable to, the total effect.”

I never knew much about the life of Lorenz Hart, although I was always attracted to a quality about his lyrics which Deena Rosenberg described in her insert notes to Ella Fitzgerald: The Rodgers and Hart Songbook: “Hart delighted in the incongruities of word play.”

Frankly, I remained mystified by the magic of all the great lyricists – Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, the Gershwin’s, Johnny Mercer and Lorenz Hart, among many others – until I read the following assessment of their gifts by the late, Jazz writer, Gene Lees:

“We absorbed into memory lyrics by … [Hart, Mercer, et al.], those magnificently literate men who gave us, in collaboration with some very gifted composers, the common, everyday, garden-variety popular songs of the period. One assimilated from them one’s sense of the English language. [emphasis mine]

They were glorifying and elevating it, not in inaccessible works of High Culture, but in popular music that you heard everyday on the radio.”

In his book, The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe – which, incidentally, is “dedicated to Larry Hart” - Lees goes on to say of Hart that “he was the man who did the most to make Fritz Loewe believe that he had the talent to make a life as a lyricist.”

Loewe is quoted by Lees as having said of Hart: “He was kind, endearing, sad, infuriating and funny, but at the time I knew him, in a devastating state of emotional disarray. I worshipped him.”

Returning to the Ella-Rodgers/Hart Songbook, Gary Giddins as this to say about the union of the vocalist and lyricist on this recording in his Visions of Jazz: The First Century:

“Yet throughout the Rodgers and Hart volume, Fitzgerald affirms Hart's preeminence among lyricists even as she mines for all they are worth the ingeniously jazzy, endlessly appealing melodies Rodgers had in him be­fore he tailored his art to the ponderous musings of Oscar Hammerstein II. Hart brought out his soul, and does the same for singers. An alcoholic, de­pressive, four-foot-eleven, Jewish homosexual who died at forty-seven, thinking Oklahoma! was the promised land, Hart always avoided the ob­vious. He wrote love songs for people who didn't expect to be loved, like "My Funny Valentine": "Is your figure less than Greek/Is your mouth a little weak/When you open it to speak/Are you smart?" Don't answer, just be mine. Fitzgerald understands Hart wonderfully well, knows, or ap­pears to know, about "ordering orange juice for one," love with and with­out "dizzy spells," and the blessed absence of people ("Who needs peo­ple?" ). She makes the most of the "Little Girl Blue" who is as "merry as a Carousel" and doesn't flinch from the chill observation of her adulthood that "all you can count on is the raindrops/that fall on Little Girl Blue." She's as understanding of the desperation in "Ten Cents a Dance" as she is of the pleasures of "Mountain Greenery."” [p. 203]

The occasion for these reflections and remarks about Lorenz Hart is Simon and Schuster’s publication of Gary Marmorstein’s new biography of him entitled A Ship Without a Sail from which the following is excerpted. At the conclusion of the excerpt, you’ll find links to retailers should you wish to order the book.


I’m a Sentimental Sap, That’s All

ON THE morning of November 29, 1943, one week after the death of
Lorenz Hart at age forty-eight, several people gathered at the Guaranty Trust
Company, on the southwest corner of Forty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue,
to open the decedent’s safe-deposit box. Hart was considered by many to be
the greatest of all American lyricists. Hart’s attorney Abraham M.
Wattenberg arrived with his young associate Leonard Klein, bearing an
order, duly made by Surrogate James A. Foley, to open the box with the
express purpose of removing Hart’s will. A representative of the state tax
commission agreed to be there at 11:45 A.M. to oversee the task. Already
present were the two executors named in the will: William Kron, who had
been Hart’s accountant for the past five years; and Richard Rodgers, the
composer with whom, over the course of twenty-five years, Hart had written
more than eight hundred songs, including “My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It
Romantic?,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Blue Moon,” “My Romance,” “With
a Song in My Heart,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Thou Swell,” “I Didn’t
Know What Time It Was,” “Mountain Greenery,” “Manhattan,”
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “I Could Write a Book,” and
“Where or When.”

Expected at the bank were Hart’s younger brother, Theodore, an actor
known personally and professionally as Teddy, and Teddy’s wife, Dorothy.
Teddy had lived with Lorenz—or Larry, as he was called—and their mother
until January 1938, when he married Dorothy Lubow and the couple moved
to an apartment in the West Fifties. Never living far from Larry, the Harts
often looked after him—and few intelligent, able-bodied men have needed
such looking after—especially in the six months following the death of the
boys’ mother, Frieda, in April 1943. When they arrived at Guaranty Trust,
they did not know what was in the will. The others did.1

The state tax commission representative was delayed. Teddy Hart, who had
always played up his lack of book knowledge in clowning contrast to the
erudition of his brother, now asked Abe Wattenberg if he had a copy of the
will. Wattenberg, in fact, was carrying two copies, and he gave one to Teddy
and one to Dorothy. Sitting side by side in the funereal hush of the bank, the
Harts read through Larry’s will, dated June 17 of that year. The high-ceilinged
space had not always felt so sepulchral; decades earlier it had been occupied 
by the opulent restaurant Sherry’s, where Charles Pierre, who later built the Hotel Pierre, 
was captain, and diners were serenaded by live music and the clatter of silverware and crystal.2

“Do either of you have any questions?” asked Wattenberg.
Dorothy Hart finally looked up from her copy. “Does this mean that if I have
any children, they’re cut off?” Yes, said Wattenberg, that’s what it meant.
“That’s hardly fair,” Dorothy said. She pointed out that Larry’s estate ought
to remain in the family; given the way the will was worded, if she were to
have children, they would have no share in his legacy.

By then Teddy and Dorothy had been married for nearly six years; to Abe
Wattenberg, a Hart child seemed an improbability. Nevertheless, Wattenberg
assured her that the Harts would be ably supported by the $100,000 life
insurance policy that Larry had left to Teddy—more than enough to take
care of the Harts and any children they might have. “In any case,”
Wattenberg went on, “I followed your brother’s instructions to the letter.

This is what he wanted.” Wattenberg, a music publishing insider who over
the years had represented John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Jerome
Kern, and Vincent Youmans, had been Larry Hart’s attorney since 1925 and,
as he reminded Teddy and Dorothy, every legal action he’d taken had been
in his client’s best interests. Wattenberg produced a waiver of citation that, if
signed by Teddy, would enable probate to go through within three or four
days. Anxious about holding up the proceedings, Teddy signed.

The state tax man appeared. The safe-deposit box was extracted from the
vault and taken to a conference room. The will inside it was compared with
the copies read by the Harts, and everyone agreed the copies matched the
original document. Wattenberg gave the original to a bank representative,
who would forward it to the Surrogate’s Court. At this point Richard
Rodgers, having no reason to remain, left the bank.

Wattenberg led the Harts, both groping for purchase in a fog of legalese, up
to the second floor to get Teddy Hart’s signature notarized. Wattenberg then
handed the notarized waiver and the petition to probate to his associate, who
took the documents away to file with the court.

The Harts remained in the conference room with Wattenberg, who did his
best to placate the befuddled couple, and with Larry Hart’s financial
manager, William Kron, whose position in the decedent’s will was its most
perplexing aspect. A full 30 percent of the Lorenz Hart estate was to go to
Kron; when he died, that same 30 percent would pass on to his children, and
then to his children’s children, and so on, presumably until the family
stopped reproducing. Although the will bequeathed Teddy Hart 70 percent,
with his share going to his wife when she was widowed, no provision was
made for their issue; the Harts’ participation in Lorenz Hart’s future
royalties, which were sure to be considerable, would end with Dorothy’s
death. Then the 70 percent share would be payable, in perpetuity, to the
Federation of Jewish Philanthropic Societies (later known as the United
Jewish Appeal).

This was curious, because Larry Hart—although he’d been bar mitzvahed at
Mt. Zion synagogue in Harlem and been generous to several Jewish
organizations, notably the Jewish Theatrical Guild—was not known to have
been devoted to Jewish causes. If the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies
maintained a strong link with anyone even remotely involved in the
proceedings, it was with Rodgers’s wife, Dorothy. Felix Warburg, a close
friend of Dorothy Rodgers’s family, had been first president of the
Federation, and Dorothy Rodgers’s mother, May Adelson, was a founder of
the Federation’s thrift shops. If Dorothy Rodgers had a lifelong cause, it was
the battle against anti-Semitism and raising funds to help in that battle. Larry
was sympathetic, but the cause wasn’t his. William Kron was said to be an
ardent supporter of the Federation. It was just as likely, however, that the
Federation’s inclusion in the will had been engineered by Rodgers to
acknowledge his wife’s profound interest in the organization.

As they left the bank that day, the Harts were drifting into shock. Dorothy
knew at least one thing that Wattenberg and the others did not. One week
earlier—on the day her brother-in-law died, in fact—she had gone to her
doctor, concerned about abdominal discomfort that she thought was an ulcer,
only to learn she was pregnant.

Larry Hart’s will, dated June 17, 1943, was filed in New York City’s
Surrogate’s Court on November 30. The will named Rodgers and Kron as
coexecutors and trustees and instructed them to form two trusts out of the
residuary estate—the Teddy Hart share and the William Kron share. Before
there was a residuary estate, however, bequests had to be made. Teddy Hart
was bequeathed $5,000 outright, with another $2,500 going to Dorothy. The
other legatees were Hart’s cousin Sidney Hertz (the family surname before
Hart’s father changed it); his friend Irving Eisenman; Mary Campbell,
known to the Hart family as “Big Mary” and in their employ as housekeeper
for twenty years; and Dr. Milton (“Doc”) Bender, a dentist turned talent
agent who had been as close to Hart as anyone for more than twenty years.
These legatees received $2,500 each. Hart’s aunts Emma Kahn and Rose
Elkan were to receive $2,000 each, as was his uncle William Herman, but
Elkan predeceased Hart by six weeks, and the bequest did not pass through
to her two children.3 Herman, too, died before probate, his share going back
to the residuary estate. Bequests of $2,000 also went to Irene Gallagher, who
had spent years with Chappell & Company, one of the more powerful music
publishers, and to Rodgers’s two daughters, Mary and Linda.

As executors, Kron and Rodgers legally seized control of the Rodgers &
Hart copyrights and could direct payouts from various income sources,
particularly the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers,
better known as ASCAP. What made Kron’s position as a primary
beneficiary so baffling, however, was that he had been imposed as
accountant on Hart by Rodgers only a few years earlier. Hart was known to
be a big spender; so, although he was never poor after 1925, when Rodgers
and Hart’s Revolutionary War–era musical, Dearest Enemy, became a hit, he
was frequently broke. In Rodgers’s eyes, Kron, who had handled the
financial affairs of playwright Edna Ferber and composer Jerome Kern, was
the antidote to Larry’s devil-may-care attitude about money. The Rodgerses
saw Kron as saving not only Larry’s money but saving Hart from himself.
Dorothy Rodgers said, “Willy Kron, Larry’s good friend and financial
advisor, went away with him for short trips and played endless card games
to keep him from drinking.”4

In 1929, Rodgers and his father, William, a prominent obstetrician known as
Will, had opened a savings account for Hart at a bank at Eighty-Sixth and
Broadway; Hart’s royalty checks, according to Rodgers, went directly into
that account. This was something of a hedge against not only Larry’s
profligate ways but also his generosity—supporting his mother and brother
for many years, routinely picking up checks for people he barely knew, and
being widely known as the softest touch on Broadway. “Later on, when
there was a great deal more money available,” Rodgers remembered, “what
[Willy Kron] did was virtually the same thing that my father and I did, with
one exception. He took Larry’s money and distributed it in savings accounts
all over the city, in Larry’s name. There was no way for Larry to get at it,
and no way for anybody else to get at it.”5

Not everyone saw Kron’s caretaking as magnanimous. Kron often appeared
in the lobby of the Ardsley, Larry’s apartment house on Central Park West,
and someone down there—a doorman or a friend—would phone upstairs to
the penthouse to signal that the accountant was on his way up “ostensibly to
discuss business,” as the Hart biographer Frederick Nolan has said, but
really to check out the evening’s festivities. Everyone tried to scatter before
Kron made it up there. “It was like dodging the truant officer,” Nolan has
written. “Larry loved it.”6

“The relationship between Kron and Lorenz Hart was, as far as I could see,
purely a business relationship,” Mary Campbell, the Hart family’s devoted
cook and housekeeper, testified in New York’s Surrogate’s Court. “Lorenz
never expressed any affection for Kron. Kron’s children visited very rarely
and only when Kron brought them there.” If Campbell’s testimony
suggested that Kron’s closeness to Larry had been inflated by the
coexecutors, other remarks she made were more troubling.

“I also heard Kron tell Lorenz Hart that Dorothy Hart, Theodore’s wife, was
planning to put him in an insane asylum because Dorothy wanted Theodore
to inherit Lorenz’s money and when he did she would take the money away
from Theodore Hart and leave him. On each occasion Kron said he would
protect Lorenz against any such acts on the part of Dorothy and that he
would see to it that Dorothy would not put him away.

“Lorenz Hart frequently repeated these statements, more particularly when
he was under the influence of liquor.”

Campbell, however, emphasized the Hart brothers’ mutual fraternal
devotion. “I have never known two brothers who were more attentive to
each other and who loved each other more. When Lorenz spoke of Teddy he
frequently cried. Lorenz, during his lifetime, frequently said that whatever
he had in life was for his mother and Teddy and when his mother died he
said that everything was for Teddy.”7

If the testimony sounded coached, there was still ample evidence, pictorial
as well as written, of how close the brothers were. Larry did not hang
photographs of himself, whether pictured alone or with others, in his various
residences, but he kept a photograph of Teddy’s appearance in the
play Three Men on a Horse in his bedroom. Even as adults the two famously
undersized men—at five feet one or so, Teddy was slightly taller than his
older brother—had lived and occasionally worked together. Teddy’s leading
role in The Boys from Syracuse was created for him by Larry. Kron’s
accusation that Teddy and Dorothy Hart were planning to put Larry away by
declaring him insane sounded wild on its face and was almost certainly false.
It would be more reasonable to conclude that Larry Hart was being
manipulated by Kron, and probably at the direction of Rodgers. Yet Larry
drank, according to Doc Bender, “morning, noon, and night,” and the
paranoia that often accompanies such chronic alcoholism had kicked in,
exacerbated by the loss of the one person—his mother—who had given him
unconditional love.8

It was rumored that Larry was bankrupt—that those deposits in “savings
accounts all over the city” had vanished. Teddy and Dorothy Hart suspected
that all that cash had gone into Willy Kron’s pocket. According to an Order
to Show Cause for Approval of Compromise Agreement, not counting two
insurance policies—$100,000 from New York Life, and a separate $10,000
policy that turned up—the estate showed a total of $33,462.69—more than
$29,000 in ASCAP royalties and $4,000 from a checking account.9 But this
wasn’t enough to pay immediate expenses, including $22,500 in bequests;
costs incurred from Larry’s last illness and burial, which amounted to
$16,500; and Larry’s bequest of $1,000 to Mt. Zion Cemetery, in Maspeth,
Queens, for the perpetual care of the Hart family plot. (The will makes no
mention of cemetery space for Teddy or Dorothy Hart.) It also turned out—a
shock to the Harts—that the New York Life policy erroneously named the
estate as beneficiary, not Teddy.

This was not even the final insult to the Harts. In the last week of 1943,
given the stunning insurance policy mistake and now desperate to slow the
probate process, Teddy Hart filed an affidavit in Surrogate’s Court stating
that his brother had been “an alcoholic addict” and was subject to undue
influence when he had revised his will the previous spring, shortly after the
death of his mother. Teddy Hart’s affidavit declared: “In the last three years
of his life he acted like a man mentally unbalanced and one who did not
know what he was doing and did not understand the nature of his acts. His
friends and business associates recognized this.”10 Acknowledging his
brother’s alcoholism was painful for Teddy, but it was necessary to
challenge the will.

In a counter-affidavit, Rodgers wrote, “If I did not think Lorenz Hart was
physically and mentally capable of carrying on with his part in the
production of [the revival of A Connecticut Yankee], which required an
investment of $100,000, I never would have risked the investment of that
large sum nor would I have risked my own professional standing and

Rodgers was in a tricky position. Through years of Larry’s alcoholism,
Rodgers had gone to great lengths to get him to work. As early as 1938,
during the writing of the stage version of I Married an Angel, Hart’s long
unexplained absences had greatly truncated the team’s writing sessions.
Rodgers, if pressed, could write lyrics, sometimes even good lyrics, but they
were not Hart lyrics. For two decades Rodgers had hung in, forgiving Hart’s
tendency to vanish and trying to get him to see a psychoanalyst. If Rodgers
and Hart were hardly (as one admiring newspaper profile put it) the Castor
and Pollux of Broadway, they had loved each other. “Part of it was Dick
really adored Larry,” said costume designer Lucinda Ballard, “and he would
get frantic with worry because Larry was always getting half drunk across
the street with somebody; he would disappear from his cronies as well as
from everybody else. He might disappear just at a time when a lyric was
desperately needed or a change or something. Their relationship was more
like brothers who are fond of each other but become estranged by different
lifestyles. You know how in families people can still love each other, and I
think Dick wanted to protect Larry.”12 When the success of Oklahoma!,
written by Rodgers with Oscar Hammerstein II after Hart had expressed no
interest in it, had quietly but obviously pierced Hart, it was Rodgers who
pushed to revive their 1927 hit A Connecticut Yankee so that Hart would
have work to focus on.

But Rodgers also wanted control of the works he’d produced with Hart.
“There is a statute of limitations on gratitude,” Rodgers said of the artistic
debt he owed Larry.13 Fed up with decades of worry and anxiety, of playing
the responsible, chiding brother to an erratic imp, Rodgers figured it was
time to get something back for his suffering. Given that Larry Hart had to be
practically locked in a room to write a lyric, it’s astounding that he and
Rodgers wrote any shows at all. As it was, they produced nearly thirty shows
and some eight hundred songs in twenty-five years (with additional “lost”
lyrics still turning up now and then). At least fifty of those songs are among
the finest American songs ever written.

Further countering Teddy Hart’s accusation of undue influence on his
brother, Rodgers tiptoed along the precipice of perjury. “The
New Connecticut Yankee has been received with great acclaim and is one of
the current New York hits,” Rodgers testified (though the revival was not a
hit). “Its present success depends in a large measure upon the excellence of
the lyrics for which Mr. Hart was solely responsible and to the brilliance of
the book which he assisted in rewriting.” Among those lyrics was “To Keep
My Love Alive,” one of the wittiest songs written in the twentieth century,
about an oft-married queen (“I’m never the bridesmaid/I’m always the
bride”) who kills off each and every one of her imperfect husbands—a list
that Larry Hart kept expanding as delighted audiences demanded additional
choruses. “From the foregoing I can unhesitatingly state that between May
and October, 1943,” Rodgers went on, isolating the period when the team
was revising its 1927 show, “Lorenz Hart was never under the influence of
liquor in my presence and that at all times during that period as far as I know
he was in complete possession of all of his mental faculties and aware of his
every act and competent to understand the nature of same.”14 The kindest
thing to say about that closing sentence may be that Rodgers was being
technical. His claim was supported by Dr. Jacques Fischl, the young Doctors
Hospital resident who had seen Larry on June 17, 1943, the day he signed
the last will, and testified that the lyricist had shown “not the slightest trace
of intoxication.”

The Harts’ jaws could not have dropped lower. Although the Harts were
hardly genteel Upper East Side people who aspired to Society—the kind of
which Dorothy Rodgers might have approved—Dick Rodgers carried no
animosity toward them. What he coveted was revealed in the Fourth Part of
the June 17 Hart will:

In this connection I respectfully request those persons who are authorized to
renew copyrights of any of my literary compositions, dramatic compositions,
dramatico-musical compositions, musical compositions and songs pursuant
to rights of renewal of such copyrights, to procure such renewals of
copyrights and after they have done so to assign them to my Trustees
hereunder, or to the legal entity which may be organized by them under the
provisions of this, my Will.

I also respectfully request that all sums that may be payable to me by the
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers be paid to my
Executors and Trustees hereunder or to the legal entity which may be
organized by them under the provisions of this, my Will.

The underlining was done by Abe Wattenberg, who took pains to emphasize
the assignment of copyrights to the will’s Trustees—the control that Trustee
Rodgers had wanted all along. It was the last paragraph, directing that all of
Larry’s ASCAP royalties be paid to the Trustees, that set Teddy Hart off on
another round of litigation.

The will’s Trustees, Rodgers and Kron, were represented by the white-shoe
law firm of O’Leary and Dunn. Teddy was represented by the scrappy Louis
Brodsky, who found himself in something of a bind: he did believe that
Larry Hart had been a victim of undue influence in signing the June 17 will;
he also believed that Teddy Hart’s consent to go ahead with probate was not
made under duress, and there was only so much that could be done in light
of that fact. Prepared to compromise, Brodsky wrote a letter to Emil
Goldmark, attorney for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, reviewing
the situation:

The decedent undoubtedly believed that the $100,000.00 [New York Life
policy] was payable to his brother. This belief was shared by his attorney,
and immediately after the death of Larry Hart, the policy was delivered to
Teddy Hart for the purpose of cashing the same, but when he attempted to
do so and filed the necessary papers, he was told that the policy was payable
to the estate.

Brodsky went on at some length about Larry’s alcoholism and pushed for a

I have suggested, subject to the other elements that may enter into it, such as
taxes, etc., that the Federation be paid the sum of $10,000.00 in cash in lieu
of their interest in the policy of $100,000.00, and if such a proposition is
acceptable to the Federation then Mr. Dunn and I can resume our talks with
a view to straightening out the whole matter.

Brodsky sent the letter to Goldmark’s office and kept his fingers crossed.
The Federation, as it turned out, was prepared to compromise; Brodsky’s
client, Teddy Hart, was not.

The first Surrogate’s Court judge on the Hart case was James A. Foley, a
veteran of the so-called New Tammany. When Foley stepped down, he was
replaced by James A. Delehanty. Sixty-four years old when the case came
into his courtroom, Delehanty seemed to give Teddy Hart every legal
opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the June 17 will.

Meanwhile, Larry Hart was remembered in a March 5, 1944, memorial
service, organized by Oscar Hammerstein II, at the Majestic Theatre.
Proceeds went to Armed Forces Master Records, which supplied servicemen
with records (and sometimes the phonographs to play them on). Although
Hart had made it clear he did not want a funeral, he would have been proud,
as a patriotic American deemed too small to serve in the First World War, of
the $6,000 raised that day at the Majestic.15 The opening speaker was
Deems Taylor, president of ASCAP, who would be named within the year as
part of Teddy Hart’s complaint against ASCAP. Six days after the memorial
service, the revival of Connecticut Yankee ended a Broadway run of less
than four months. Oklahoma! was entering its second sold-out year, its
authors reaping the fruits of the new all-American brand known as Rodgers
& Hammerstein.

On April 28, Louis Brodsky, at his wits’ end, tried one last time to persuade
Teddy to accept $86,250.00 out of the insurance fund: $50,000.00 in cash
and $36,250.00 set aside to pay federal and state taxes, with the excess
eventually returned to him. In addition, the Harts would get back property—
furniture, silver, many personal effects, etc.—which had been seized by the
Trustees’ agents as collateral against the estate. “I believe that this
settlement is as fine a settlement, short of winning the case itself, as could
possibly be made,” Brodsky concluded.16

Regarding Brodsky’s eagerness to compromise as a betrayal, Teddy fired
him. Teddy hired Arnold Weissberger, an attorney based on Madison
Avenue. The Surrogate’s Court judge, tolerating Teddy’s apparent
intractability, came up with yet another compromise, but that too proved
inadequate. “Mr. Theodore Hart has asked me to advise you that he is not
prepared to accept the modifications of the proposed settlement agreement
suggested by Your Honor,” Weissberger wrote, “and requests that the
agreement be withdrawn.”17

In early June Teddy had pulled out of the cast of the Kurt Weill–Ogden
Nash musical One Touch of Venus, though the show would continue to run
for a while. Lorenz Hart II was born that summer. And Rodgers and
Hammerstein were preparing their second musical collaboration,Carousel,
which Rodgers would claim to be his favorite of all his shows. Carousel was
based on Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom, which was first produced in 1909 in
Budapest, where it bewildered audiences because the playwright killed off
his hero in the fifth scene. More than a decade later, when the Theatre Guild
presented an English-language version of Liliom, the translation was signed
by Benjamin F. Glazer, a literary agent with ambitions to write and direct.

Unacknowledged in public was that the translation used for the 1921
production—a theatrical run so successful that it kept the Theatre Guild
afloat through bad times—had been made by Larry Hart as part of his
routine work for Shubert associate Gustave Amberg. Larry received $200 for
four weeks at $50 a week. Although never credited, Larry didn’t make an
issue of the fact that the translation was his.

Throughout 1945 Teddy Hart lost one appeal after another. Rodgers secured
what he’d wanted: control of the copyrights to those extraordinary songs.
It is pointless to suggest that Larry Hart’s lyrics would have gripped us as
they have without their marriage to Rodgers’s music. No American
composer is so frequently recorded as Rodgers. Noël Coward said of
Rodgers that the man positively pees melody (Rodgers did not, as some
antagonistic critics have claimed, say it of himself), and if the line is hardly
elegant, it is metaphorically accurate. Though Rodgers’s music has been
sometimes derided for having no discernible style—unlike, say, the
constantly shifting rhythms of George Gershwin or the absolutely right blue
notes of Harold Arlen—that is more a testament to his fecundity than to his
limitations. Larry Hart, annoyed by the lack of depth and adventurousness in
American lyric-writing, overhauled the art—but he probably needed the
disciplined, endlessly imaginative Rodgers to succeed.

In his seminal study, American Popular Song, the composer-lyricist Alec
Wilder wrote about Rodgers: “Though he wrote great songs with Oscar
Hammerstein II, it is my belief that his greatest melodic invention and
pellucid freshness occurred during his years of collaboration with Lorenz
Hart. … I have always felt that there was an almost feverish demand in
Hart’s writing which reflected itself in Rodgers’s melodies as opposed to the
almost too comfortable armchair philosophy in Hammerstein’s lyrics.”18 In
their collaboration Rodgers’s music usually came first and Hart’s lyric
second, but Wilder is surely referring to Hart’s high standards, which pushed
Rodgers to create fresh, memorable melodic lines.

The longtime music director Buster Davis said something similar about Hart
inspiring his more disciplined collaborator. “Rodgers & Hart: I put them a
little bit ahead of George and Ira. Musically, Rodgers, though not given to
the rhythmic variation of Gershwin, had an incredible harmonic sense; his
melodies go places the Gershwins never thought of. The reason:
Rodgers catered to Hart—and Hart’s lyrics, especially the later ones, are
complex, multidimensional and unique.” Like tobacco or alcohol, a tune,
Rodgers said, was a stimulant to Larry—he needed it to get started. “Hart
was a mercurial, thoroughly unreliable tortured genius who drove Rodgers
up the wall,” Davis said. “Finally it was too much. Rodgers behaved with
great cruelty but he certainly had been provoked.”19

There is plenty of evidence that Rodgers did not intend to be cruel. Two
years after Larry Hart’s death, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put a biopic about
Rodgers and Hart into development. Rodgers could have quashed the project
immediately but signed off on it because he wanted the Harts to reap the
payoff that came with it. Or so he claimed. Rodgers’s go-ahead benefited
him and Kron as well, of course, because the money paid by MGM for what
are called “grand rights” or “cavalcade rights,” to depict the songwriters’
lives and use their musical compositions, would be considered income and
thereby apportioned to the estate.

Apprised of the lucrative movie contract, Teddy Hart still could not rest. He
contended that the right to privacy—his as well as his brother’s—was being
sold, along with a permit to have his brother represented by an actor, and
therefore should be considered principal, payable to him. But Teddy was
manacled by a provision in Larry’s will, cleverly inserted by Abe
Wattenberg six months before Larry’s death, which stipulated that if Teddy
were to anticipate income from the trust, or if he became so financially
overburdened that creditors would attempt to reach into the trust, Teddy’s
share would be eliminated.20 Challenging MGM’s legal department as well
as the trustees’ attorneys, Teddy had to be cautious.

MGM turned to Guy Bolton, Rodgers and Hart’s collaborator from the
1920s, to sketch the story. By July 1946, Bolton had turned in the outline
of With a Song in My Heart, a biography of the songwriters that was almost
dizzying in its fictions. Bolton provided the sober Larry with a girlfriend he
never had; Larry’s swift decline, in Bolton’s version, is due to heterosexual
romantic grief that Larry never suffered, so far as is known—the first
stirrings of portraying the lyricist, in the words of Wilfrid Sheed, as a
“lovelorn dwarf.”21

Bolton was replaced by other scenarists. The project’s title for a while
became Easy to Remember. To coproduce, MGM brought in Rodgers’s
brother-in-law Ben Feiner, who had known Rodgers since boyhood and Hart
since adolescence. When the biography was finally filmed and
renamed Words and Music, script credit went to Feiner and Fred
Finklehoffe, whose play Brother Rat had been a smash hit in 1937. That may
partially explain why Feiner himself is a character in the movie, while more
important characters from Hart’s life—notably his father, Max, and Teddy
and Dorothy Hart—are omitted.

Despite its myriad inaccuracies, Words and Music offers some significant
pleasures. It contains the extravagant, accelerated rendition of that
marvelous song “Where’s That Rainbow?,” led by Ann Sothern (whose
early career got a tremendous boost from her appearance in the 1931
Rodgers & Hart show America’s Sweetheart). “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,”
rechoreographed and danced in the film by Gene Kelly, had been conceived
by Larry Hart, even though it was an instrumental piece with no lyrics. And
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney appear together on-screen for the last
time, trading lines in “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” easily the best lyric
ever written about the sometimes violent, sometimes out-of-control rush of

In fact it is Mickey Rooney who rises above Words and Music’s infelicities.
Despite obvious differences between actor and role—Rooney is light and
Irish where Larry was dark and Jewish; Rooney is irrepressibly heterosexual
where Larry was quietly, discreetly homosexual—Rooney captures many of
Larry’s mannerisms and much of his personality: the way he rubs his face or
his hands, his easy laughter at other people’s jokes, his delight in the big
black cigars he smokes, his generosity, and the dynamic way he moves. “I
think of him as always skipping and bouncing,” Hammerstein wrote of
Larry, and he might as well have been describing Rooney’s version of him.
“In all the time I knew him, I never saw him walk slowly. I never saw his
face in repose. I never heard him chuckle quietly.”22

However entertaining Rooney’s performance might have been, Words and
Music left a sour taste in the mouths of its primary beneficiaries. In early
July 1948 Rodgers sent a telegram to producer Arthur Freed full of praise for
the picture, but secretly he hated it. Teddy Hart—no surprise—lost his case
against MGM in New York’s Supreme Court, which decreed that:
the showing of a motion picture in which the compositions of Rodgers and
Hart will be made known to a wider audience than they have hitherto
enjoyed will result in larger sales of sheet music and phonograph records
and in a larger use by musicians of the music and words and in a larger use
of the compositions in radio performance and in television shows.23

Teddy and his wife would have to be content with 25 percent of the contract
proceeds, while the remaining 75 percent went to the estate.
Perhaps that was all that could be hoped for. The motion picture, a
photographic medium before it is a dramatic or philosophical one, has
always struggled to show what’s internal and complex; why expect it to be
able to cope with Larry Hart’s work, which was interior and often too clever
by half, the lyrics spinning with what Rodgers referred to as their “pinwheel
brilliance” and much more dazzling than the narratives they were set in?
“There is more going on inside a lyric, and inside Hart’s head, than in
anybody else’s,” the performing arts critic Gerald Mast wrote. “Hart was the
most confessional of theater lyricists—the most able and willing to put his
own feelings, thoughts, pains, sorrows, fears, joys, misery into the words of
songs for specific characters in musical plays. What he could never say
aloud, even to his closest friends in private, he let characters sing in public.
He was a gay bachelor who wrote the best love lyrics for women and the
most joyous lyrics about falling in love and the most melancholy lyrics
about falling out of love.”24

Such encomiums suggest that Larry Hart was a poet, as he’s often been
called. His friend Henry Myers thought otherwise. “Larry in particular was
primarily a showman,” Myers wrote. “If you can manage to examine his
songs technically, and for the moment elude their spell, you will see that
they are all meant to be acted, that they are part of a play. Larry was
a playwright.”25

Hart usually wrote for specific characters, and his lyrics often take on even
greater depth when we return to their original settings. “You Are Too
Beautiful,” for instance, was written to be sung to an amnesiac. “Have You
Met Miss Jones?” was originally addressed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“This Can’t Be Love” was sung by two relatively new acquaintances who
fear they might be already related by marriage, if not by blood. “I Could
Write a Book” was a pickup line of Pal Joey’s. As fast as Larry Hart wrote,
he always kept his characters in mind.

Ben Feiner, as writer and associate producer on Words and Music, thought
Hart’s energy—if only it could be captured on the screen—would make the
picture irresistible. “At no time was Larry ever an ordinary conventional
human being. He was always tremendously high-strung, and consequently
either way up or way down. His dialogue was extremely dynamic and
colorful. It was never bland, and he never indulged in clichés or even the
usual patterns of speech.” He was a curious contradiction, this man whose
lyrics could be so nuanced and indirect, his behavior so direct—shouting
when he was angry, laughing when he was pleased, crying openly when
displeased. “Remember that living with Larry for a protracted period of
time,” Feiner wrote, “would be something like existing in the midst of a
continuous demonstration of brilliant and varicolored fireworks. At times
they are totally extinguished. And then the silence and the darkness become
that much more emphatic.”

From A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL by Gary Marmorstein. Copyright © 2012
by Gary Marmorstein. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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