May is Jewish American Heritage Month! On May 2, 1895, Lorenz Milton Hart was born in Manhattan to Max Meyer Hart and Frieda Hart (whose great-uncle was German poet Heinrich Heine). We lost Mr. Hart to pneumonia at age 48, on November 22, 1943. Between those dates, Mr. Hart made quite a splash as a lyricist. As we continue to shelter in our homes, it seems appropriate to find interesting music for us all to sample. (Yes, young’uns, you may sample away.)
Working with his usual partner, composer Richard Rodgers, Mr. Hart created lyrics for many musicals. The two had been introduced in 1919, when Mr. Hart was attending Columbia University School of Journalism, and they proceeded to compose songs for a series of amateur and student productions. At that time, though, Mr. Hart had already been dabbling in theatre, working for the Shubert brothers translating German plays into English. When Hart & Rodgers’ song “Any Old Place With You” was included in the Broadway musical A Lonely Romeo in 1919, it was a springboard to infamy. In 1920, six of their songs found their way to Broadway, and in 1925 they were hired to write the score for The Garrick Gaieties. It was a major hit. Fame was theirs! And Mr. Hart only attended those two years of college.
They went on to write a couple dozen Broadway musicals over more than 20 years together, including Babes In Arms, The Boys From Syracuse, Pal Joey, and On Your Toes. Singers today are still covering their songs, the more famous of which include “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Blue Moon,” “Manhattan,” “My Funny Valentine,” “With A Song In My Heart,” “I Could Write a Book,” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” They also composed music and lyrics for several films (we shall have to search for some of these!), including Love Me Tonight (1932), The Phantom President (1932), Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933), and Mississippi (1935).
Their final musical together was By Jupiter, released in 1942. Mr. Hart had been engaged to work with Mr. Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II on a musical version of Green Grow the Lilacs, which would become Oklahoma! (1943), but he bowed out before working on it. They worked once more in the fall of 1943 on a revival of A Connecticut Yankee, writing six new songs. Mr. Hart bowed out of the opening, and was found suffering in a hotel room days later. A few days in the hospital did not save him.
Some say that having a salary of $60,000 a year during the depression was Mr. Hart’s undoing; he tended to be imprudent in his behavior. He lived with his mother, who passed away in that fateful spring of 1943; he had become an alcoholic, smoked cigars, and was reportedly generally unhappy, especially as an under-five-feet-tall gay man in an intolerant era. Yet Lorenz Hart created ingenious lyrics. PBS.org describes his work as “slick, breezy, and yet mordant, even morbid.” “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable, yet you’re my favorite work of art…” (“My Funny Valentine”).
Touting escape from the city on the first of May to a romantic mountain home, “Mountain Greenery” says, “Beans could get no keener reception in a beanery, Bless our mountain greenery home!”