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Posts Tagged ‘Depression’

“After his first Broadway smash, Hart’s life morphed from the grim black-and-white of poverty to Technicolor.”
Meryl Gordon

I don’t recall the stock market crash of 1929 getting get mentioned in playwright/screenwriter Moss Hart’s autobiography Act One.. Perhaps because in 1929 he was in his 20s and had never had money in the first place. That was also the year when he was working on a play with established playwright George S. Kaufman in the daytime and directing small theatre plays at night.

Even though he and Kaufman’s play Once in a Lifetime debuted on Broadway in 1930, the Great Depression didn’t seem to have an effect on ticket sales of that show. Other shows didn’t fair as well and ticket prices drop to stay running.

As the Depression deepened, there were other ‘angels from within’ who fought to ease some of the suffering of the ailing system. Playwright Rachel Crothers helped to organize the Stage Relief Fund to assist actors in paying for food, rent, medical necessities and utilities. Dramatic actress Selena Royle helped to initiate and run the Actor’s Dinner Club, where hot meals were served nightly at $1.00 each to those who could afford it and free to those who could not. It is reported that during the leanest season of Broadway, over 120,000 free meals were served.”
Robert Rusie
Broadway 101

The Great Depression lasted until 1939. But for Hart the ’30s were incredibly productive and profitable.  Hart and Kaufman wrote the Broadway hits You Can’t Take It with You (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939).  In 1937 Hart and Kaufman were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for You Can’t Take it With You, and the following year the movie version based on their play won an Best Picture Oscar and and Frank Capra won the Best Director Oscar.

In the ’40s Hart also wrote screenplays including Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) for which he earned an Oscar nomination. In the ’50s he worked on the screenplay for A Star is Born (1954). There were many other plays and movies he worked on (including musicals with Cole Porter and Irving Berlin) but his last big production was directing My Fair Lady for which he won a Tony Award.

His autobiography was published in 1959 and since it’s titled Act One and only went up to 1930, you sense that he eventually planed to write the books Act Two, and Act Three down the road. But he died in 1961 at age 57 of a heart attack.

Something else he doesn’t mention in his book is is struggle with depression.

“He had terrible depressions. But I find that most creative people have creative depressions. . . . And he would go into these declines and it would sometimes be two weeks before he’d come out. But he never imposed that sort of thing on other people.”
Kitty Carlisle, Moss Hart’s wife
YouTube video 

Hart’s letter are keep in the Wisconsin Historic Society in Madison. There were off limit many years after his death. But according to a Vanity Fair article he does talk more openly about his depression and bouts of writer’s block.

Scott W. Smith 

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“[Robin Williams] was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
President Obama on the death of Williams whose first starring role was as an alien on the TV show Mork & Mindy

“Robin signing on definitely was the linchpin for [Good Will Hunting] getting made.”
Producer Chris Moore
Good Will Hunting: An Oral History
Boston Magazine article by Janelle Nanos, January 2013

“We are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die…Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989)
Screenplay by Tom Schulman

Related posts:

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013)
Where Do Ideas Come From (A+B=C) Whenever I give a talk on creativity I always mention Robin Williams.
“The Greatest Gift” How the much loved movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a story rooted in depression, disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. 
Don’t Waste Your Life Screenwriting (2.0)

P.S. When comedian and actor Freddie Prinze (Chico and the Man) shot and killed himself at age 22 in 1977 I started to understand a connection between creative talent and depression, and sometimes depression mixed substance abuse.  And that even comedic ability didn’t not make one immune to suffering from depression and/or substance abuse problems. Johnny Carson, Jim Carrey, and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody have all talked about their struggles with depression. Not all who suffer from depression take their lives as Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, or (apparently) Robin Williams—but I really believe there is something going on in the brains of some (many, all?) artists that helps them reach great heights, but also causes them to experience tremendous— even debilitating— lows.

Final thought: “All humor is rooted in pain.” —Commedian Richard Pryor

Scott W. Smith

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