Lorenz “Larry” Hart’s parents, Max and Frieda Hart, were immigrants who instilled in their son a love of language and literature. He attended his first play when he was seven, and was permanently hooked on the theatre. Rodgers wrote of their first meeting in Theatre Arts: “Neither of us mentioned it, but we evidently knew we’d work together, and I left Hart’s house having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend and a source of permanent irritation.”
A friend, Philip Leavitt, introduced Rodgers to the young Lorenz Hart. Leavitt believed that the two would make a good songwriting team, so they began trying to write together. Leavitt was pleased with the way the two boys got along. He convinced Lew Fields to listen to their songs, and the producer decided to interpolate a Rodgers and Hart number, “Any Old Place with You,” in his Broadway show A Lonely Romeo (1919). Rodgers and Hart contributed songs to an Akron Club show, You’d Be Surprised (1920). On the show, they collaborated with many young professionals who would later achieve fame through their collaborations including Herbert Fields and Oscar Hammerstein II (in the cast was Dorothy Fields, later to become a famous lyricist in her own right).
Lew Fields hired the boys to write their first complete Broadway score, Poor Little Ritz Girl, but by the time the show opened Fields got cold feet and replaced most of their score with music by Sigmund Romberg and Alex Gerber. Rodgers and Hart received their big break in 1925. The show was a revue, The Garrick Gaieties, produced as a two-performance benefit for The Theatre Guild. The show, featuring the nearly unknown songwriting team and an unknown cast (including Sterling Holloway, Libby Holman, Romney Brent, and future acting coach Lee Strasberg), was an immediate smash hit. Six performances were added which sold out almost immediately and the Guild decided to give the show an indefinite run. For the show, Rodgers and Hart contributed one of their best tunes, “Manhattan.”
Rodgers and Hart wrote a number of musicals in collaboration with librettist Herbert Fields starting with Dearest Enemy (1925) (the top price was $3.30!). Critic Frank Vreeland, writing in the New York Telegram, wrote, “We have a glimmering notion that someday they will form the American counterpat of the once great triumvirate of Bolton, Wodehouse, and Kern.” The trio went on to write, among other shows, The Girl Friend (1926), Peggy-Ann (1926), and A Connecticut Yankee (1937).
Like many of their Broadway contemporaries, Rodgers and Hart were wooed to Hollywood in the early 1930s. The completed a series of films including The Hot Heiress (1931), the brilliant Love Me Tonight (1932), The Phantom President (1932) starring George M. Cohan, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933) starring Al Jolson, Hollywood Party (1934), and Mississippi (1935).
The duo returned to New York with Jumbo (1935), certainly their biggest show and one of the largest shows ever seen in New York. Producer Billy Rose rented Manhattan’s enormous theatre, the Hippodrome, for the extravaganza that employed an entire circus. The production has been promised for three months before it actually opened, but most critics felt that it was worth the wait. After Jumbo, Rodgers and Hart entered their most productive and successful decade. It began with the opening of 1936’s On Your Toes. The show was the story of a vaudeville family who get mixed up with gangsters and a Russian ballet company. The score featured such great songs as “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Glad to Be Unhappy,” and the title song. There were also two ballets, “La Princess Zenobia” and the classic ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”
Following a largely unsuccessful return to Hollywood with the film Dancing Pirate (1936), Rodgers and Hart presented Broadway with one of their most exuberant hits, Babes in Arms on which they also contributed the libretto. Almost every song in the score became a standard. They included “Where or When,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Johnny One-Note,” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Their next show, “I’d Rather Be Right” (1937), marked the first time that a living president was depicted in a musical comedy. For the role, they chose George M. Cohan, one of the most patriotic Americans and one who could give a mature, serious performance even when dancing and singing. “I’d Rather Be Right,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?,” and “Off the Record” were the hits in the score.
For their next show, I Married an Angel (1938), they wrote a wonderful score, the most important song being “Spring Is Here.” One of the team’s greatest accomplishments followed, The Boys from Syracuse (1938), the first musical based on a work by Shakespeare. The songwriters were obviously inspired by the material, because they wrote a terrific score. “Falling in Love with Love” and “This Can’t Be Love” were the big hits, and the remainder of the score was equally well crafted. Rodgers and Hart followed The Boys from Syracuse with a show that ran longer but is almost forgotten today, Too Many Girls (1939). The score was sometimes inspired, though it was not as good as their best work. There was, however, one standout song, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”
1940’s Higher and Higher (“It Never Entered My Mind”) was followed that same year by Pal Joey, not the typical musical comedy. For one thing, the lead character, the unscrupulous Joey, a scoundrel: talented and attractive, but a scoundrel. The score was among the team’s most sophisticated and adult. In fact, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” had to have its lyrics softened before radio stations would play it. The film They Met in Argentina (1941) was released prior to the opening of the team’s last Broadway show, By Jupiter (1942), for which they supplied the book, music, and lyrics.
Unfortunately, it was the last full-scale collaboration between Rodgers and Hart. Rodgers was a disciplined man used to working regular hours with great determination and single-mindedness. Larry Hart was exactly the opposite. Whereas Rodgers knew exactly where he stood in the world, Hart was insecure and unstable, becoming increasingly more difficult as the partnership progressed. Often, Hart would disappear for days, forcing Rodgers to halt production or even write lyrics himself. Hart’s insecurities led to heavy drinking and missed deadlines. Rodgers reached the end of his patience during By Jupiter and began quietly to inquire about other partnerships.
Theresa Helburn of the Theatre Guild wanted Rodgers to adapt the play Green Grow the Lilacs into a musical comedy. Rodgers reluctantly approached Hart, who realized he wasn’t up to the role either mentally or physically. Rodgers then turned to his old friend and sometime collaborator from the early days at Columbia University, Oscar Hammerstein II. The result was Oklahoma! (1943). Hart was present at the opening of the milestone musical and congratulated Rodgers on his success. But the show must have been a further blow to Hart’s already damaged self-esteem.
Rodgers felt a new project would help Hart straighten out his life and so agreed to a revival of A Connecticut Yankee. Hart did stop drinking but following the opening night performance on November 17, 1943, Hart disappeared. He remained missing for two days until he was found unconscious in a hotel room. He was taken to Doctors’ Hospital, where it was determined he had pneumonia. He died a few days later. (KB)
This 1940 song first became a hit in France under the title, “Perdu Dans un Reve Immense D’Amour.” Why in France? Because of the ASCAP broadcasting ban in the U.S. It wasn’t until 1950 that the song achieved widespread success in this country.Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
While out of town with the show On Your Toes, Lorenz Hart went down to the men’s room of New Haven’s Shubert Theatre and wrote the lyrics to “There’s a Small Hotel.”There’s a Small Hotel
Lorenz Hart: "Charles Cochran asked us to do a sophisticated show for London like the Garrick Gaieties. But first we went to Paris to rest for two weeks. On a drive from Paris to Versailles with two girls, we were nearly hit by a cab. One of the girls said: 'My God! My heart stood still!' I said to Dick, 'That’s a good title.' Before long, Dick came to me with 'My Heart Stood Still' for our new Cochran show, One Damn Thing after Another."My Heart Stood Still
Was it galling to Richard Rodgers that his most often performed song was the only pop song in his catalogue? It’s not that he and lyricist Lorenz Hart didn’t try to make it a production song. The tune started out as the music to “Prayer,” written for the 1933 musical film Hollywood Party. It was cut from the film and then given to Shirley Ross in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama under the title, “The Bad in Ev’ry Man.” The song didn’t catch on, and in 1934 Hart wrote yet another lyric, the last, and titled it “Blue Moon.” It wasn’t attached to any show or movie but became a hit anyway.Blue Moon
I’d been out of the Columbia School of Journalism for a year or two. Of course, we decided to write the college varsity show, Fly with Me—a great success. I had produced a play by Henry Myers, The First Fifty Years. There were two characters played by Clare Eames and Tom Powers. We took in so little money, we couldn’t afford to pay the players. It ran for six weeks. We’d have been worse off if it had run 12. Lost our money. Larry Hart
However, after our Columbia show, Dick met Herbert Fields, a son of Lew Fields of the famous Weber and Fields Minstrels. Lew Fields was putting on Poor Little Ritz Girl, so Herbert asked his father to use some of our songs. By the time the show opened all the songs were ours.
Poor Little Ritz Girl ran twenty-two weeks on Broadway. Rodgers was then only seventeen. Of course we felt that we had arrived. We expected the managers to make us some offers but no offers came. We put on amateur shows, benefits, and did anything we could to make a few dollars. Finally with Herbert Fields writing the book, Dick and I sat down and wrote a musical comedy. Then for months we made tours of auditions. Some managers liked the music and hated the lyrics, some loved the lyrics but couldn’t hear the melodies. Nobody took it. Then we all three wrote The Melody Man for Lew Fields. He took it on the road. Yes, it was a colossal—failure. We showed Dearest Enemy to Max Dreyfus. He liked it, and now signed us up on his staff. This was in the month of March. The show could not open until fall. We were unknown—and now very, very broke. Larry Hart
We wrote Garrick Gaieties in a week. We used two or three numbers that we had been peddling around. One of them was “Manhattan.” At the opening matinee, I stood in the back of the theatre with a young writer about town, Walter Winchell. Three boys came before the curtain and recited that polysyllabic lyric! I felt like the thing was doomed. But that matinee, because of the long applause, lasted until seven o’clock.Larry Hart
Larry Hart can rhyme anything… and does! Howard Dietz
Rodgers wrote the music first when writing with Hart. When he then collaborated with Hammerstein, the lyricist provided a lyric to be set to music. Rodgers, ever the businessman, always said in answer to the question, which came first the music or lyrics, “the advance.”Richard Rodgers