'Act One' was written by Hart in 1959, and does not provide an account of his entire career. It begins in his childhood and concludes with the success of 'Once In A Lifetime', his first play with Kaufman. Since he titled the book 'Act One', Hart no doubt intended to write a follow-up, but unfortunately he died of a heart attack in 1961. One of the great things about reading an autobiography by a Pulitzer prize winning playwright is the quality of the writing... I've picked up one or two autobiographies "written" by famous people, and quickly put them down again, unable to get past the terrible writing style. There's no danger of that here: Hart's book is expertly written and a completely engrossing read. I'm not alone in thinking this, of course- in the theatrical world, 'Act One' is considered the definitive insider's take on the rocky road to Broadway success. And there can't be many autobiographies that have been made into plays themselves, as 'Act One' was (also a movie).
What is less funny is the agony they suffer over the writing of 'Once In A Lifetime'. After months of writing, they believe the script is ready, audition actors, and go to work staging and producing the play. Unfortunately, it fails with audiences and critics, so they frantically write and rewrite, and still it's a failure. Finally, having hit a brick wall, Kaufman is ready to throw in the towel. Unwilling to give up, Hart studies his beloved play critically and realizes that more than repair work is needed: the entire last act of the play will have to be ripped out and a new one written. The drastic cut done, inspiration starts to flow once again, and he and Kaufman finish 'Once In A Lifetime', which becomes a critical and commercial success, as does their partnership. 'Act One' ends on a high note, with Hart moving his family out of their dingy apartment into a luxurious home, full of hopes and dreams for the successes to come.
It is also true that Hart wasn't always as upbeat and positive about Broadway and success as his book would have you believe. There is a diary that he wrote in the last few years of his life which chronicled his depression and disenchantment with all of it. His wife, Kitty Carlisle, refused to release it to the public until after her death, probably because of the biting things he said about some of their acquaintances. This would seem to contradict a lot of what he wrote in 'Act One', but it should be pointed out that at the time he was struggling with bouts of what has now been diagnosed as bipolar disorder, characterized by periods of deep depression alternating with times of extreme energy, punctuated by extravagant shopping sprees. To combat this, he was seeing a quack doctor who was giving him weekly electric shock treatments. The wonder of it is not that he was writing dark thoughts in his diary, but that he could function at all, let alone maintain a successful career.
However the final act of his life played out, 'Act One' is the touching and inspiring account of a young boy who dared to dream big, and then made that dream become a reality.