SEPTEMBER 2013

ACT ONE
Moss Hart
1959

Post contributed by Michael Pollack of New York

Before Glee, before Smash, before A Chorus Line, theatre geeks seeking an insider’s peek behind the Broadway curtain made one legendary memoir a hit that continues to dominate its genre decades later.  Moss Hart’s Act One is an autobiographical account by the storied American playwright and director born in New York and raised in the Bronx and Brooklyn, who spent summers as an entertainment director in the Catskills and ultimately towered over the Great White Way.

His backstage tour takes the reader to the parties and penthouses where no ticket could secure admission.  And the firsthand accounts of his longtime collaboration with George S. Kaufman – studded with guest appearances by creative luminaries such as Cole Porter, Noel Coward and George Gershwin – fill the pages with music and drama.

This classic, originally published in 1959, was returned to print in a 30th anniversary edition released in tandem with Kitty: An Autobiography, the complementary volume penned by Hart’s wife, famed socialite Kitty Carlisle, best known to many as the oddly, elegant panelist on the TV game show To Tell The Truth.  Coming from vastly different backgrounds of poverty and wealth, their parallel stories paint a picture of lives peppered with opening nights and martini days.

While the era portrayed in Act One is from a past century, and the Hart plays so celebrated in their day have now yellowed with age, the sharp wit and keen observation put forth by the author remain as entertaining and informative today, as evident by the sustained popularity of this book generation after generation.

Related Articles
The Man Who Came to Broadway, Vanity Fair

About the Author
Born October 24, 1904, Moss Hart began by directing amateur theater at Catskills resorts. In the 1930s he teamed up with George S. Kaufman to pen stage hits "You Can't Take It With You" (which won the Pulitzer Prize) and "The Man Who Came to Dinner." Hart also directed the original productions of "My Fair Lady" (1956) and "Camelot" (1960). His screenplays include "Gentleman's Agreement" and "A Star is Born."

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    A Personal History
    Katharine Graham
    1998

    Katharine Graham died in 2001, having lived a remarkable and long life.  Her Pulitzer-Prize winning autobiography remains resonant today with stories of great privilege and as a witness to history.  She dealt with tragedy and loss that would finish many, but instead some of the greatest personal accomplishments came after the sudden death of husband.  Katharine Graham lived in Philip Graham's shadow, especially as he took over the publisher job from her father at The Washington Post. But she came into her own after Graham's suicide -- taking over as publisher and thriving.

    Her early years give one a glimpse of Washington, D.C. as it came into itself.  Her life bridged the old world of Roosevelt (both) and two world wars and then the Kennedy's and Watergate.

    Many reviews have commented on the honesty and simple voice of the memoir.  Her direct look at her own life is a remarkable tribute to the best journalistic instincts.

    As the Post moves to a new era under the ownership of Jeff Bezos, this look back and personal history is timely.

    Katherine Graham led The Washington Post for 20 years, overseeing the pursuit of the Watergate story that led to Richard Nixon's resignation. She spent her early childhood in New York, but formative years in Washington, D.C. She has won numerous honors and awards, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2002. 

    Same shelf: 
    This Town: Two Parties and A Funeral-Plus Plenty of Valet Parking, In America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich

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    Einstein: His Life and Universe;
    Steve Jobs
    both by Walter Isaacson

    Two biographies about quirky, creative geniuses with signature looks written by one man. If you read select passages aloud it's hard to be sure who is being referenced.

    "He was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by a faith in the harmony of nature's handiwork."

    "...his nonconformist personality, his instincts as a rebel, his curiosity, his passions and detachments - intertwined with his political side and his scientific side. ...Character and imagination and creative genius were all related, as if part of some unified field."

    Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs are strikingly similar.  No wonder Jobs, when shown by his ad agency the now legendary  Apple "Think Different" featuring Einstein, he was delighted.  It captured his essence (by the way both quotes are from Einstein's biography).

    Walter Isaacson's Einstein His Life and Universe and Steve Jobs  are elegantly written and accessible biographies.   "As a biographer of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Isaacson knows how to explicate and celebrate genius: revered, long-dead genius. But he wrote “Steve Jobs” as its subject was mortally ill, and that is a more painful and delicate challenge," Janet Maslin of The New York Times surmises.

    Reading these books is to have a glimpse at how great things happen organically.  To appreciate them you don't have be an Apple enthusiast or science geek - of which I am neither.  What these books do is give the reader a sense of the individual and why they did what they did in life, in boardroom and in the lab. Einstein and Jobs both were both rock stars and larger than life characters that teach and inspire.

    What they Listened to:
    Bob Dylan - Steve Jobs
    At the famous Apple Shareholder Meeting event where the original Macintosh was introduced, here we see Steve Jobs kicking off the event with a quote from one of his favorite musical artists, Bob Dylan.

    Mozart - Albert Einstein
    Einstein once said that while Beethoven created his music, Mozart's "was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master." Einstein believed much the same of physics, that beyond observations and theory lay the music of the spheres — which, he wrote, revealed a "pre-established harmony" exhibiting stunning symmetries. The laws of nature, such as those of relativity theory, were waiting to be plucked out of the cosmos by someone with a sympathetic ear.

    About the Author
    Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time Magazine.  He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Kissenger: A Biography and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and daughter.

     

    Recommended Read.

    Same Shelf
    Tuesday's with Morrie by Mitch Alborn

    Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

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