Thursday, January 19, 2017
RODGERS AND HART: BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEDEVILED
This duel biography looks at the lives and careers of the great songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Together the two were responsible for numerous great songs, many now standards, in such shows as Babes in Arms, On Your Toes, I Married an Angel, The Boys from Syracuse, I Married an Angel, Pal Joey, and others, several of which were made into films. The book details how the two men met, their childhoods and early lives, the way they worked together, their sojourns to Hollywood and their work in the film industry, and the eventual discontent that settled in due to Rodger's exasperation with Hart's habit of getting drunk and/or disappearing for days. Written in a post-Stonewall period, Rodgers and Hart doesn't gloss over the probability that, despite his having proposed marriage once to a female friend (actress Vivienne Segal of Pal Joey and The Cat and the Fiddle) whom he'd never even kissed, he was essentially a gay man, although some of his intimates try to deny this. It is typical for people to describe gay men in a pre-Stonewall period as "tormented," but Hart seems to have enjoyed his life to the fullest even if he never found ideal love. (The authors do suggest that Hart would have been much better off if he had taken an insouciant, more positive attitude toward his sexuality a la Noel Coward.) Hart was the lovable prankster while the colder Rodgers was in comparison, a stern, more conventional taskmaster, although he was certainly not any kind of monster and was as kind and forbearing with Hart as he could be. Hart was devastated by being replaced as Rodgers' lyricist by Oscar Hammerstein and the success of Oklahoma, but Dick had not given up on Larry and worked with him on six new tunes for a revival of one of their earlier hits, but he died shortly after, probably due to cirrhosis of the liver. Rodgers and Hart is a good look at the team, but it isn't always well-edited, as instead of inserting comments from those they interviewed throughout the rambling manuscript in a more judicious approach, they simply let certain individuals drone on (often more about themselves than their subjects) for pages with no real context. Samuel Marx [Deadly Illusions: Jean Harlow and the Murder of Paul Bern] was a Broadway reporter and Jan Clayton [The Snake Pit] was in the original cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.
Verdict: Not the last word on the team, not always well put together, but a good enough introduction, and the authors' refusal to "straighten out" Hart is admirable. **1/2.