Act One (1963)

110 mins | Biography | 26 December 1963

Director:

Dore Schary

Writer:

Dore Schary

Producer:

Dore Schary

Cinematographer:

Arthur J. Ornitz

Editor:

Mort Fallick

Production Company:

Dore Schary Productions
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HISTORY

The 7 Sep 1962 DV announced Dore Schary as writer and producer of a screen adaptation of Act One, the 1958 autobiography of the late playwright, Moss Hart. Although Schary and Hart had been friends for more than thirty-five years, the filmmaker did not plan to include himself as a character. Rights to the property had been owned for several years by Warner Bros. Pictures, which was financing the production. In the 7 Jul 1960 LAT, columnist Hedda Hopper claimed that Hart chose actor George Hamilton to portray him if his memoir was ever adapted to the screen. Hamilton was later confirmed for the role, as stated in the 11 Feb 1963 DV.
       The 9 Jan 1963 DV reported that Schary spent five weeks in Los Angeles, CA, completing the screenplay and conferring with studio president Jack L. Warner. Location filming was planned for New York City. A news item in the 17 Apr 1963 Var noted that Schary chose to exclude Hart’s unpleasant experiences on the “Borscht Circuit” of the late 1920s, which was comprised of resorts in upstate New York, frequented by a predominantly Jewish clientele. Schary explained that the interlude was “not germane to the main story,” and as chairmen of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, he would be expected to protest the unflattering portrayal of his people. The 26 Apr 1963 DV stated that filming was planned for the Production Center in New York City over a two-month period. Exterior and interior locations throughout the metropolitan area would also be included. ... More Less

The 7 Sep 1962 DV announced Dore Schary as writer and producer of a screen adaptation of Act One, the 1958 autobiography of the late playwright, Moss Hart. Although Schary and Hart had been friends for more than thirty-five years, the filmmaker did not plan to include himself as a character. Rights to the property had been owned for several years by Warner Bros. Pictures, which was financing the production. In the 7 Jul 1960 LAT, columnist Hedda Hopper claimed that Hart chose actor George Hamilton to portray him if his memoir was ever adapted to the screen. Hamilton was later confirmed for the role, as stated in the 11 Feb 1963 DV.
       The 9 Jan 1963 DV reported that Schary spent five weeks in Los Angeles, CA, completing the screenplay and conferring with studio president Jack L. Warner. Location filming was planned for New York City. A news item in the 17 Apr 1963 Var noted that Schary chose to exclude Hart’s unpleasant experiences on the “Borscht Circuit” of the late 1920s, which was comprised of resorts in upstate New York, frequented by a predominantly Jewish clientele. Schary explained that the interlude was “not germane to the main story,” and as chairmen of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, he would be expected to protest the unflattering portrayal of his people. The 26 Apr 1963 DV stated that filming was planned for the Production Center in New York City over a two-month period. Exterior and interior locations throughout the metropolitan area would also be included. Principal photography began 30 Apr 1963, according to 3 May 1963 DV production charts.
       An item in the 14 Jun 1963 DV listed Carolyn Lasater, Gretchen Walther and Linda Robertson among the cast. The 17 Apr 1963 edition identified Irving Drutman as unit publicist.
       The 30 Apr 1963 NYT reported a budget of less than $1 million, with a cast comprised of mostly stage and television actors, and a crew of “local technicians.” To create the illusion of 1920s New York City, exterior scenes were limited, with an emphasis on interiors, filmed primarily at Gold Medal Studios, also known as Biograph Studios. Locations included the Booth and Longacre Theatres, Central Park, and Pennsylvania Station. Unlike the book, Schary’s screenplay focused only on two years in Moss Hart’s life, chronicling his ascent from obscurity to fame, and his resulting frustrations and disappointments. An article in the 26 Jun 1963 Var identified another location as the Music Box Theatre, which hosted several of Hart’s productions. Because the play, Dear Me, The Sky Is Falling, was running at the time, only the exterior and lobby were photographed. The interior was filmed at the Longacre Theatre, with 168 background actors dressed in period “evening clothes.” Among them was a woman wearing the same floor-length ermine cape she had worn at the actual event, more than thirty years earlier. While directing audience reactions to a stage performance, Schary instructed those actors playing critics to react differently than the rest of the crowd. Other locations included the Cort and Lyceum Theatres.
       For a cocktail party scene, Tom Ward Enterprises supplied look-alikes of entertainment and literary figures such as Alexander Woollcott, Fanny Brice, Ethel Barrymore, George Gershwin, and Katharine Cornell. Writer Edna Ferber was portrayed by her niece, Janet Fox, and humorist Robert Benchley was played by his son, Nathaniel Benchley. The 8 May 1963 DV stated that Schary discovered Joe Demar in New York City’s garment district, and cast him as journalist Heywood Broun. Despite his earlier statement, the 15 May 1963 DV noted that Schary created the character “David Starr” as his cinematic counterpart, played by Sam Groom. According to an item in the 11 Jun 1963 DV, actor Cary Grant sent “good wishes” to Bert Convy, who portrayed the elder actor as “Archie Leach,” Grant’s real name. The 14 May 1963 DV announced Richard Conte for the character “Warren Stone.” Nearly four weeks later, the 11 Jun 1963 DV reported that Conte’s footage was lost in a “freak cutting room fire.” Because Conte was on location for The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, see entry), Eli Wallach was hired as his replacement. The thirty-two-day production ended in late Jun 1963. On 15 Nov 1963, DV reported that composer Skitch Henderson had nearly completed scoring the film.
       The 29 Nov 1963 DV announced the 26 Dec 1963 world premiere at the Trans-Lux East Theatre in New York City. Proceeds benefited the Dramatists Guild Fund, of which Dore Schary was president. Moss Hart was also a former president of the Dramatists Guild, and of the Authors League of America.
       Act One opened to lukewarm to negative reviews, although several critics praised Jason Robards, Jr., for his portrayal of playwright George S. Kaufman. Delayed until late Mar 1965, the picture opened in Los Angeles on a double bill with Dear Heart (1964, see entry), earning $89,000 from twenty-three locations in its opening week. Years later, Moss Hart’s widow, Kitty Carlisle, expressed her disapproval in the 5 Apr 1997 NYT, saying that she attempted to buy the film “to get it off the market.”
       According to the 6 Feb 1964 DV, Sam Groom was named best new actor by All American Press Associates.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1962
p. 1.
Daily Variety
9 Jan 1963
p. 6.
Daily Variety
11 Feb 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Apr 1963
p. 8.
Daily Variety
26 Apr 1963
p. 5.
Daily Variety
3 May 1963
p. 7.
Daily Variety
8 May 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
14 May 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 May 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
11 Jun 1963
p. 1, 2.
Daily Variety
14 Jun 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
15 Nov 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
29 Nov 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
17 Dec 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
6 Feb 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
30 Mar 1965
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
7 Jul 1960
Section C, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
27 Mar 1965
Section B, p. 9.
New York Times
30 Apr 1963
p. 26.
New York Times
27 Dec 1963
p. 17.
New York Times
5 Apr 1997
p. 1.13, 1.18.
Variety
17 Apr 1963
p. 3.
Variety
26 Jun 1963
p. 2, 78.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Dore Schary Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st & 2nd asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec & prod des
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Act One by Moss Hart (New York, 1959).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 December 1963
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 26 December 1963
Los Angeles opening: late March 1965
Production Date:
30 April--August 1963
Copyright Claimant:
Dore Schary Productions
Copyright Date:
25 April 1964
Copyright Number:
LP29468
Duration(in mins):
110
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In 1929 young Brooklynite Moss Hart, influenced by the great playwrights, devotes his leisure time to writing for the theater. Failing in his aspirations, however, he accepts a job as social director in the Catskills and then stages plays at the YMHA in Newark. Eventually he takes the advice of agent Richard Maxwell and writes a comedy, Once in a Lifetime , which deals with the early days of Hollywood films, despite the fact that his knowledge of the movie industry is derived from the pages of Variety . After being subsidized by a friend, Joe Hyman, he sends the manuscript to producer Warren Stone, who promises a decision within a week. When months pass without any word, Hart's friends sneak a copy of the play to Sam Harris, who agrees to produce it if George Kaufman will collaborate on the script and also direct. Although Kaufman consents, the Atlantic City opening is a failure, and he considers quitting until Hart comes up with an idea that both men feel will turn the play into a hit. It finally opens to rave reviews in New York City in September 1930, thus beginning the longlasting Kaufman-Hart ... +


In 1929 young Brooklynite Moss Hart, influenced by the great playwrights, devotes his leisure time to writing for the theater. Failing in his aspirations, however, he accepts a job as social director in the Catskills and then stages plays at the YMHA in Newark. Eventually he takes the advice of agent Richard Maxwell and writes a comedy, Once in a Lifetime , which deals with the early days of Hollywood films, despite the fact that his knowledge of the movie industry is derived from the pages of Variety . After being subsidized by a friend, Joe Hyman, he sends the manuscript to producer Warren Stone, who promises a decision within a week. When months pass without any word, Hart's friends sneak a copy of the play to Sam Harris, who agrees to produce it if George Kaufman will collaborate on the script and also direct. Although Kaufman consents, the Atlantic City opening is a failure, and he considers quitting until Hart comes up with an idea that both men feel will turn the play into a hit. It finally opens to rave reviews in New York City in September 1930, thus beginning the longlasting Kaufman-Hart collaboration. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.