Thursday, March 13, 2014

Act One by Moss Hart

Hearing about Tim and N.'s ongoing autobiography curriculum last year, a friend recommended the playwright Moss Hart's Act One (1959).  Tim is now reading it to N. and they both love it.  Every night at supper I get to hear about the latest episodes in Hart's rise from office boy to playwright.  Who could resist this timeless story of grit and luck in bygone New York?

But its appeal is not only the story of an unknown making it on Broadway against the odds.  Hart's account of his mother was especially resonant for us:
"With my mother the gulf that parted us was even wider, and it remained so forever.  I felt sorrow for her, I admired her, but I did not like her.  If this seems like a heartless impertinence I do not mean it so.  It is said in terms of compassion and not of complaint.  Within her limitations she was a woman of decent instincts and exemplary behavior, and her lot was a hard one.  The days of her life were spent in a constant battle of keeping peace between her father and her sister, and later on, after my grandfather died, between her sister and her husband.  The struggle robbed her of her children -- people who spend their lives in appeasing others have little left to give in the way of love.  It was her tragedy, as well as my brother's and my own.  At a certain age, sometimes early, sometimes late, children make up their minds about their parents.  They decide, not always justly, the kind of people their mothers and fathers are, and the judgment can be a stern one; as cruel, perhaps, as mine was, for it was maintained through the years and was not lessened by the fact that to the end of her days my mother showed not the faintest sign of understanding either the man she had married or the sons she had produced" (25-6). 
Tim recognized in this much of his relationship with his mother, who died in late February.  Reading this passage shortly after we attended her funeral gave Tim and N. an additional way of thinking through our mourning of N.'s grandmother, a feisty woman who didn't understand her son but who warmly embraced her youngest grandchild.


Melissa Wiley said...

What a moving passage!

I wonder if N. might enjoy Helene Hanff's Underfoot in the Theater (or parts of it)—seems it would have a lot of common ground with Hart's account. The scrambles and struggles of a would-be playwright whose plays never quite got produced.

Fanny Harville said...

Thanks for this suggestion -- we'll take a look at it!