Famed dramatist and director Moss Hart is about to reach an audience even bigger than Broadway's. His visage will soon travel worldwide on envelopes and packages - a commemorative postage stamp of Hart was issued yesterday, one day after the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The stamp features a painting by Tim O'Brien, who based his portrait on a vintage photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of Hart in Times Square.
Hart is perhaps best known for musical comedies he wrote during the 1930s. He collaborated with George S. Kaufman on stories that warmed the heart of the nation during the Great Depression, notably "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1939) and "You
Can't Take It with You" (1937), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He also garnered a Tony Award for directing "My Fair Lady," which Lerner and Loewe had adapted from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion."
Among his other credits, Hart wrote and directed the first musical play about psychoanalysis, "Lady in the Dark" (1941), which featured a young Danny Kaye.
In Hollywood, he was nominated for an Academy Award for "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), a film that was among the first to explore the subject of anti-Semitism. He also wrote the screenplay for "A Star is Born" (1954) featuring Judy Garland.
Hart grew up in poverty and quit school in eighth grade to help support his family. As he wrote in his autobiography, "Act One" (Random House), "My feet were embedded in the Upper Bronx, but my eyes were set firmly to ward Broadway."
He died in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1961. Only a few months earlier, Moss had delivered a eulogy at the funeral of his collaborator, Kaufman.
At the unveiling of Hart's stamp at New York University's Kimmel Center yesterday, John Walsh, governor of the United States Postal Service, spoke, as did the president of New York University, John Sexton. Mr. Sexton highlighted the achievements of Hart's widow, Kitty Carlisle Hart, and said that everyone in the New York arts community owes her a great debt of gratitude for her contributions.
"I'm so grateful," said Ms. Hart, stepping up to the microphone. Ms. Hart, who was married to Moss Hart from 1946 until his death in 1961, reflected on her late husband's zest for life. Looking around, she said, "He loved celebrations."
Hart's son, Christopher, also spoke. The younger Hart was 12 years old when his father died and has followed in his footsteps: Mr. Hart is a director in Los Angeles. He is currently working on a production of "You Can't Take it with You" at the Geffen Playhouse.
He remembered asking his mother for help on a school assignment on frogs. "Frogs are your father's department - go ask him," he recalled her responding. He jokingly said how surprised he had been to learn that his mother and father had divided up responsibilities for various topics, and was impressed with how much his father knew about frogs - ably discussing tadpoles, amphibians, and even myths about frogs and warts.
Mr. Hart also told an anecdote about heading to the family vacation home off the coast of New Jersey for Thanksgiving one year. On the way, his father sang show tunes in the car - melodies from shows that he had created. When they arrived, his mother put the turkey in the oven. About four and a half hours later she cried out - she had forgotten to turn on the stove. Moss consoled his wife by saying it would be Thanksgiving at Howard Johnson's, adding, "I'll bet Howard Johnson never sang 'Carmen.'"
John Guare spoke last, representing the Dramatists Guild, an organization Moss Hart once served as president. Mr. Guare recounted a story from his days at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It was 1959, and he was scanning the ads in the Washington Post at a local library when he saw a job posting for an assistant to the manager of the National Theater, Scott Kirkpatrick. The job opened up when the prior assistant - Warren Beatty - had decided to pursue acting in New York. The announcement said the requirement for the job was that the applicant be stage-struck.
Mr. Guare arrived for his interview, where he was met a long line of hopeful candidates. Each got about a minute-long interview. When Mr. Guare's turn came up, he said that even though there were about 200 applying for the job, nobody was as stage-struck as he.
On the way home, he saw Moss Hart's bestselling autobiography "Act One" in a bookstore window in Georgetown and
bought it. He later got a call from the manager of the National Theater informing him he got the job. "Why did I get the job?" Mr. Guare inquired. "You're right - you were the most stage-struck," Kirkpatrick told him.
Among those in attendance were Moss Hart's daughter, Dr. Catherine Hart, who is a physician, as well as three of his grandchildren: James Stoeckle, age 17,Kate Stoeckle, age 15, and Emma Hart, age 9. Also seen were Kaufman's daughter, Anne Kaufman Schneider, and the daughter of a former postmaster general, Preston Tisch, Laurie Tisch, who was headed to Lincoln Center to attend a board meeting.
Mr. Guare said Hart joined other great figures and Dramatists Guild members such as Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Thornton Wilder, who have also been commemorated on stamps. Other postage stamps coming out next year include that of Yip Harburg ("Over the Rainbow" and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime") on April 28, and actor Henry Fonda in May.
Literary and artistic gems are up for bids at the Coffeehouse Club on Wednesday evening at the club's annual auction. Items include the following: the author of "On Writing Well," Bill Zinsser, will help you write about your life or your family; award-winning television producer Alvin Perlmutter will record your memories on videotape, and veteran Scrabble player Lois Kahan will show you how to play and win at her favorite word game. Other items include four seats in Jock Whitney's former box at the Yankee's; tickets to "Madame Butterfly" and "Tales of Hoffman," and a classic photo by Andre Kertesz.