Hart, Lorenz (Milton)
Hart, Lorenz (Milton)
Hart, Lorenz (Milton), urbane American lyricist and librettist; b. N.Y., May 2, 1895; d. there, Nov. 22, 1943. Working almost exclusively with composer Richard Rodgers, Hart was the primary lyricist for songs in 29 Broadway and West End musicals and 9 original movie musicals between 1920 and 1942. His frequently bittersweet sentiments were expressed with remarkable wit in inventive rhymes in such popular songs as “Manhattan,” “Blue Moon,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and “Where or When.” Along with Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin, he helped set the standard for sophisticated songwriting in the interwar period.
Hart was the son of German immigrants Max Meyer Hart (formerly Hertz), a private businessman, and Frieda Eisenberg Hart. He was writing verse by the age of six or seven. In 1915 he entered the Columbia Univ. School of Journalism and wrote a skit for the Columbia Varsity Show On Your Way. His first lyrics to be heard on the professional stage came with German translations he did for Die Tolle Dolly (N.Y, Oct. 23, 1916). In 1917 he quit Columbia and took a job for United Plays translating German plays into English.
Hart met the 16-year-old Rodgers in the spring of 1919, and the two immediately formed a songwriting partnership. Their first published song was “Any Old Place with You,” interpolated into comic Lew Fields’s musical A Lonely Romeo (N.Y, June 10, 1919) in August 1919. After writing two amateur musicals, You’d Be Surprised (N.Y, March 6, 1920) for the Akron Club, and Fly with Me (N.Y, March 24, 1920), the 1920 Columbia Varsity Show, the team was hired by Fields to write the songs for his next Broadway production, Poor Little Ritz Girl. But Fields replaced half of the score with interpolations by Sigmund Romberg and Alex Gerber by opening night; the show ran 93 performances.
Hart and Rodgers struggled for the next five years, writing material for a variety of amateur productions while Hart continued to do translations and Rodgers attended school. Their professional work was sparse: Hart produced the play The First Fifty Years (N.Y, March 13, 1922), which ran 46 performances, and they combined with Lew Fields’s son Herbert Fields under the pseudonym Herbert Richard Lorenz as authors, composers, and lyricists of the play The Melody Man, which contained two songs and ran 61 performances. Rodgers was preparing to take a job selling babies’ underwear when they took on yet another amateur production, writing songs for what was intended to be a two-performance benefit revue for the Theatre Guild at the Garrick Theatre called The Garrick Gaieties. The show ended up running 161 performances and generated two hits, “Manhattan” and “Sentimental Me,” both of which were given their most successful recordings in instrumental versions by Ben Selvin and His Orch. in the fall of 1926. By then, their first book musical, Dearest Enemy, had opened for its 286-performance run, including the hit song “Here in My Arms,” which was given its most popular recording, also as an instrumental, by Leo Reisman and His Orch. in May 1926.
Perhaps making up for their long apprenticeship, Rodgers and Hart staged five musicals in 1926, four of which were hits. The Girl Friend ran 409 performances and featured hits in the title song, recorded by George Olsen and His Orch. in August, and “The Blue Room,” given its most popular recording by the Revelers in October. The second edition of The Garrick Gaieties ran 174 performances and featured “Mountain Greenery,” a rural counterpart to “Manhattan,” which became a hit for Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orch. in September in an instrumental recording. Lido Lady, a British show that used “Here in My Arms” and a few interpolations by other songwriters as well as some new Rodgers-and-Hart songs, had a healthy run of 259 performances. Peggy-Ann ran an even better 333 performances on Broadway, and two of its songs became hits: “Where’s That Rainbow?” for Olsen in May 1927, and “A Tree in the Park” for Helen Morgan in September.
Rodgers and Hart also had hits in London and N.Y. in 1927, as the revue One Dam Thing After Another ran for 237 performances in the West End and the musical A Connecticut Yankee gave 418 performances on Broadway. Both shows featured “My Heart Stood Still,” a hit for several recording artists in early 1928, especially George Olsen, while “Thou Swell,” a clever combination of Medieval diction and contemporary slang that set the tone for A Connecticut Yankee, was a hit for Ben Selvin.
A Connecticut Yankee was Rodgers and Hart’s last big success on Broadway for more than eight years, though they continued to work regularly and to enjoy individual hit songs from their shows. Present Arms ran a modest 155 performances but produced “You Took Advantage of Me,” a hit for Paul Whiteman and His Orch. in August 1928. Spring Is Here ran only 104 performances, but its score featured “With a Song in My Heart,” a hit for Leo Reisman in May 1929 and later the signature song of Jane Froman, whose 1952 film biography bore that title. Simple Simon ran 135 performances and remains memorable for “Ten Cents a Dance,” performed onstage by Ruth Etting, who made a hit of it in May 1930. “Dancing on the Ceiling” was cut from Simple Simon before it opened, then was used in Ever Green; it became a hit for Jack Hylton and His Orch. in February 1932.
Rodgers and Hart began working in film shortly after the dawn of the sound era in 1928; in the spring of 1929 they were featured as themselves in a Paramount short, Makers of Melody, performing several of their songs and explaining how they wrote. In September the film adaptation of the De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson musical Follow Thru used one of the four songs Rodgers and Hart wrote for it. Hollywood was also filming Rodgers and Hart’s own shows, retaining only two or three songs from the stage versions of Spring Is Here, Present Arms (retitled Leathernecking by RKO), and Heads Up!, all of which were released in 1930. That year, the team signed their first contract to write an original musical for the movies, earning $50, 000 in five weeks while working on The Hot Heiress for Warner Bros.-First National. Their initial experiences in Hollywood helped form the basis for the musical satire America’s Sweetheart, which ran 135 performances and featured “I’ve Got Five Dollars,” a hit for Emil Coleman and His Orch. in February 1931. But those experiences did not prevent them from returning to Calif.; indeed, it was nearly five years before they wrote another show for Broadway.
In 1931, Rodgers and Hart signed a deal with Paramount resulting in Love Me Tonight, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. Of the eight Rodgers-and-Hart songs used in the film, four became popular: “Lover,” recorded in advance of the movie’s release by Whiteman and a hit in April 1932; “Isn’t It Romantic?,” a hit for Harold Stern and His Orch.; the title song, recorded by George Olsen; and “Mimi,” recorded by Chevalier. Rodgers and Hart moved to United Artists in 1932 for Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, starring Al Jolson. The film was not a success, but Jolson’s recording of the title song become a minor hit in March 1933, and “You Are Too Beautiful,” though not a hit on records at the time, became a standard. Rodgers and Hart joined MGM in 1933, writing incidental songs for several of the company’s films in release in 1934.
Their biggest hit of the period was a song that was bounced from one film to another, acquiring three different sets of lyrics in the process. As “Prayer,” it was intended for Jean Harlow in what became Hollywood Party, but it was not used. As “The Bad in Every Man” it was used in Manhattan Melodrama. But it was under the title “Blue Moon” that it was published independently and became a best- seller for Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orch. in January 1935. Rodgers and Hart’s most unusual project at MGM was a film adaptation of the operetta The Merry Widow, released in October 1934, for which they collaborated with lyricist Gus Kahn and composer Herbert Stothart, though in its finished form the film contained only Franz Lehár’s original music, with the original German lyrics of Victor Leon and Leo Stein translated and adapted by Hart. Rodgers and Hart ended their sojourn in Hollywood back at Paramount for Mississippi, starring Bing Crosby and W. C. Fields, for which they wrote “Soon,” the first song to top the newly established hit parade in April 1935, and another hit parade entry, “It’s Easy to Remember,” both recorded by Crosby.
Rodgers and Hart returned to Broadway in the fall of 1935 with Billy Rose’s circus extravaganza Jumbo, which ran 233 performances but failed to make money because of its expense. The score featured such later Rodgers-and-Hart favorites as “Little Girl Blue” and “My Romance.” The team’s real return to prominence came with On Your Toes. They cowrote the libretto for the show with George Abbott and contributed a score that included “There’s a Small Hotel,” which reached the hit parade for Hal Kemp and His Orch., and “Glad to Be Unhappy,” which was not a hit at the time but become one of Rodgers and Hart’s best-remembered songs. The show ran 315 performances, making it the biggest box office success of the 1935-36 season.
Rodgers and Hart had their most memorable score with Babes in Arms, which ran 289 performances and featured “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Johnny One Note,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Where or When.” Though each of these songs earned its share of recordings, none were substantial hits upon publication, yet all became standards. Rodgers and Hart’s other show of 1937 was the political satire I’d Rather Be Right, which ran 290 performances and included another song that became a standard without ever being a hit, “Have You Met Miss Jones?”
In 1938 came I Married an Angel, for which Rodgers and Hart wrote the book as well as the songs, the most successful of which was the title song, on the hit parade in the summer for Larry Clinton and His Orch. The score also included “I’ll Tell the Man on the Street” and “Spring Is Here”; the show ran 338 performances. Before the year was out, Rodgers and Hart were back with a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, The Boys from Syracuse, which ran 235 performances and featured “This Can’t Be Love,” a hit parade entry for Benny Goodman and His Orch. in the winter of 1938-39, as well as “Falling in Love with Love.”
By 1939, Hart’s bohemian lifestyle, which included alcoholism and, apparently, homosexuality, began to make him an unreliable songwriting partner for Rodgers, who was sometimes forced to complete song lyrics himself. Nevertheless, the duo continued to produce musicals at the rate of two per season. In the 1939-0 season those shows were Too Many Girls, which ran 249 performances and featured the Benny Goodman hit “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” and Higher and Higher, which had a short 1 (--performance run but featured the standard “It Never Entered My Mind.” And the duo’s show for the 194CM1 season, the hard-edged Pal Joey, had one of their longest runs at 374 performances and was arguably their most influential work. Because of the ASCAP radio ban that began in early 1941, the songs were prevented from becoming hits initially, but they included “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book,” both of which achieved success over time.
Rodgers and Hart did some film work in the early 1940s, contributing new songs to the film versions of The Boys from Syracuse and Too Many Girls in 1940 and writing the score for RKO’s They Met in Argentina in 1941. They were back on Broadway in 1942 with the longest running show of their career, By Jupiter, which had 427 performances. It was also their last new show together, however. Rodgers turned to Oscar Hammer stein II when Hart declined to work on the show that became Oklahoma! in the spring of 1943. Rodgers then produced a revised version of A Connecticut Yankee (N.Y., Nov. 17, 1943), for which he and Hart wrote several new songs, notably the caustic “To Keep My Love Alive,” but this was Hart’s final work. Taken ill at the show’s premiere, he contracted pneumonia and died within days.
A revival of interest in the songs of Rodgers and Hart began with the December 1948 release of MGM’s film biography Words and Music, with the unlikely casting of Mickey Rooney as Hart. Perry Corno, who sang “The Blue Room” in the film, had a hit with it in February 1949, and Mel Torme, who sang “Blue Moon” also had a hit recording. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” its title abbreviated to “Bewitched,” became an enormous hit in the spring of 1950, with chart versions by several performers, Bill Snyder and His Orch.’s Top Ten recording the most successful. This led to Columbia Records’ decision to record a studio cast LP of Pal Joey featuring Vivienne Segal from the original cast. That, in turn, led to a stage revival of Pal Joey (N.Y., Jan. 3, 1952), which, at 542 performances, became the longest running Rodgers- and-Hart show ever and the longest running revival up to that time. (When a film version starring Frank Sinatra was released in 1957, the soundtrack album became a Top Ten hit.)
Rodgers-and-Hart songs enjoyed periodic revivals in the 1950s and 1960s: Peggy Lee’s revamped arrangement of “Lover” was a Top Ten hit in 1952; Elvis Presley scored one of his earliest chart records with “Blue Moon” in 1956; Dion and the Belmonts took “Where or When” into the Top Ten in early 1960; The Marcels’ doo-wop version of “Blue Moon” was a #1 hit in the spring of 1961; and the Mamas and the Papas had a Top 40 hit with “Glad to Be Unhappy” in the fall of 1967. In addition to these pop renditions, Hart’s sophisticated lyrics and Rodgers’s intricate melodies have made their songs perennial favorites for jazz and nightclub performers since their heyday.
(only works for which Hart was the primary, credited lyricist are listed):musicals/revues (all dates refer to N.Y. openings unless otherwise noted): Poor Little Ritz Girl (July 28, 1920); The Melody Man (May 13, 1924); The Garrick Gaieties (May 17, 1925); Dearest Enemy (Sept. 18, 1925); The Girl Friend (March 17, 1926); The Garrick Gaieties (May 10, 1926); Lido Lady (London, Dec. 1, 1926); Peggy-Ann (Dec. 27, 1926); Betsy (Dec. 28, 1926); One Dam Thing After Another (London, May 20, 1927); A Connecticut Yankee (Nov. 3, 1927); She’s My Baby (Jan. 3, 1928); Present Arms (April 26, 1928); Chee-Chee (Sept. 15, 1928); Spring Is Here (March 11, 1929); Heads Up! (Nov. 11, 1929); Simple Simon (Feb. 18, 1930); Ever Green (London, Dec. 3, 1930); America’s Sweetheart (Feb. 10, 1931); Jumbo (Nov. 16, 1935); On Your Toes (April 11, 1936); Babes in Arms (April 14, 1937); I’d Rather Be Right (Nov. 2, 1937); I Married an Angel (May 11, 1938); The Boys from Syracuse (Nov. 23, 1938); Too Many Girls (Oct. 18, 1939); Higher and Higher (April 4, 1940); Pal Joey (Dec. 25, 1940); By Jupiter (June 2, 1942). films:Spring Is Here (1930); Heads Up! (1930); The Hot Heiress (1931); Love Me Tonight (1932); The Phantom President (1932); Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933); Hollywood Party (1934); The Merry Widow (1934); Mississippi (1935); Dancing Pirate (1936); Fools for Scandal (1938); Babes in Arms (1939); The Boys from Syracuse (1940); Too Many Girls (1940); They Met inArgentina (1941); Pal Joey (1957); Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1963).
R. Rodgers and O. Hammerstein II, eds., The Rodgers and H. Song Book (N.Y, 1951); S. Marx and J. Clayton, Rodgers and H.: Bewitched, Bothered and Bedevilled (N.Y, 1976); D. Hart (his sister-in- law), Thou Swell, Thou Witty: The Life and Lyrics of L. H. (N.Y., 1976); R. Kimball and D. Hart, eds., The Complete Lyrics of L. H. (N.Y, 1987); F. Nolan, L. H.: A Poet on Broadway (N.Y, 1994).