In 1980, I appeared in a musical revue- Rodgers & Hart. I had the thrill of singing: I Could Write A Book, Isn’t It Romantic & Where Or When. It was my understanding that I was very good. I do have a way with a song, a dance & an audience.
Lorenz Hart was born 118 years ago today- May 2nd. Hart wrote over 500 songs with the most sophisticated lyrics for the most enthralling melodies. But this is a sad story. He agonized over life. His felt that he was a misplaced person, whose job was to observe the beautiful people, then put ravishing words in their perfect mouths, to make them sound & feel as smart as they seemed.
Richard Rodgers, the Broadway composer, enjoyed long collaborations with the 2 most prominent lyricists of the American musical. He worked with his first partner- Lorenz Hart, from 1919 until Hart's death, at 48, in 1943. He teamed with Oscar Hammerstein II from the groundbreaking Oklahoma! until 1943 with Hammerstein's death, in 1960. His work with Hart makes their tunes particularly non-Hammerstein in flavor.
Written 70 to 90 years ago, mostly for now forgotten Broadway shows & movies, brittle & world-weary tunes: Manhattan, Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine, Where or When, The Lady Is a Tramp, Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, & many more, sound both of today & timeless. They sing with confident wit, & confidential despair about hearts ready to break, melt or explode. Rodgers' melodies get you humming & dreaming, but the subject & style of these songs come straight from Hart's heart.
Hart was very short of stature & unattractive in face. Lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, "a man who seemed deprived of the happiness his lyrical gifts gave to others.” He was profoundly alcoholic & gay. Hart found little enjoyment in his homosexual experiences. Terrified of intimacy, he would wait for sex partners to fall asleep, then creep out of bed & curl up on the floor of his bedroom closet to get some sleep. Several of Hart's acquaintances confirm that he went to private orgies, but strictly as a voyeur. He found watching from the sidelines less stressful than joining in. He seems to have been incapable of any intimacy, & sought solace in the sexual company of hustlers & the occasional chorus boy. His erratic behavior & troubled ways moved the very straight Rodgers to eventually choose another writing partner.
Offered the chance to write what would become Oklahoma!, Hart sensibly said no thanks. (It's hard to imagine a less Hart-ish show.) After the opening night performance, Hart walked into Sardi's & told Rodgers, "This is one of the greatest shows I've ever seen in my life, &it'll be playing 20 years from now."
Rodgers & Hart collaborated one more time though. In 1943, they did 5 new songs for a revival of their 1927 hit A Connecticut Yankee. The last lyric Hart wrote was for To Keep My Love Alive, sung by a noble lady who tires easily of men,15 husbands &15 early funerals:
"Sir Philip played the harp; I cussed the thing.
I crowned him with his harp to bust the thing.
& now he plays where harps are just the thing,
To keep my love alive."
Just before the opening of the show, Hart had been on a drinking & hustler binge, & when he arrived at the theater an exasperated Rodgers refused to let him enter the theatre. Hart sat in the November rain on a curbside drinking & crying. 2 days later, ill with pneumonia, he was taken to Doctors' Hospital where he died 3 days later. He was just 47 years old. Now he plays where harps are just the thing.
Some of the Hart lyrics:
• Bewitched, Bothered, & Bewildered
• Blue Moon
• Dancing on the Ceiling
• Falling in Love with Love
• Glad to Be Unhappy
• Have You Met Miss Jones?
• He Was Too Good to Me
• I Could Write a Book
• I Didn't Know What Time It Was
• I'll Tell The Man In The Street
• Isn't It Romantic?
• It Never Entered My Mind
• It's Easy to Remember
• I've Got 5 Dollars
• I Wish I Were in Love Again
• Johnny One Note
• The Lady Is a Tramp
• Little Girl Blue
• The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
• Mountain Greenery
• My Funny Valentine
• My Heart Stood Still
• My Romance
• Ship Without a Sail
• Sing for Your Supper
• Spring Is Here
• Ten Cents a Dance
• There's a Small Hotel
• This Can't Be Love
• To Keep My Love Alive
• Where or When
• With a Song in My Heart
• You Took Advantage of Me
Hart's bitter sophistication paired well with my own sensibilities & my whiskey-voiced interpretations & I had several Rodger's & Hart songs in my repertoire. It Never Entered My Mind fit my range & disposition rather perfectly. Maybe I should dust it off.