Connelly, Kaufman, Ryskind and Hart Collaborate

Marc Connelly (1890-1980), George S. Kaufman (1889-1961), Morrie Ryskind (1895-1985) and later, Moss Hart (1904-1961), fit the definition of being primarily a playwright.  Thus, they brought with them a higher level of script writing; however, their depth of character exploration was still in its early stages.  At this point, the authors were still more interested in raising questions than answering them.  In short, the librettos never created situations for the characters to find resolution through action.  

These people had more sting in their wit than Guy Bolton or Fred Thompson, but they still had not reached the point where the characters traveled through time.  The characters seemed content to be sent to a pre-arranged destination, with a lot of talk along the way.

Marc Connelly Photo, American Playwright

Marc Connelly

Perhaps the one exception to this generalization is the dramatic play that Connelly wrote, with the Bible as his guide—Green Pastures (1930.10).  It is included in Norton’s Chronology of American Musical Theatre because Green Pastures uses existing Gospel music to help tell its stories.  For the same reason, Green Grow the Lilacs (1931.02) is included, because the play uses existing folk melodies.

Teaming up with George Kaufman, Connelly wrote five comedies during their four-year collaboration:  Dulcy (1921), To the Ladies (1922), Merton of the Movies (1922), The Deep Tangled Wildwood (1923) and Beggar on Horseback (1924).

Their first contribution to the musical theatre is found in sketches for the revue, The‘49ers (1922.42).  Among the authors writing sketches, besides Kaufman and Connelly, were Ring Lardner,  Ryskind, Dorothy Parker, Howard Dietz and Robert Benchley.  The two composers were Arthur Samuels and Lewis E. Gensler.  Kaufman and Connelly next wrote the book for the Burt Kalmar and Harry Ruby musical, Helen of Troy, New York (1923.19).  The two writers wrote their last libretto as a team for the show, Be Yourself (1924.30).

George S. Kaufman picture from Columbia University c.1915

George S. Kaufman

Kaufman wrote only one play alone, The Butter and Egg Man (1925); otherwise, he chose to write with a collaborator.  

He wrote June Moon (1929) with Lardner, two plays with Alexander Woollcott and a series of plays with Edna Ferber, including Minick (1924), Stage Door (1926), The Royal Family (1927), Dinner at Eight (1932), The Land Is Bright (1941) and Bravo (1948).

He and John P. Marquand adapted Marquand’s novel, The Late George Apley, into a play of the same name.  He worked with Howard Teichmann to write The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953).

However, it is said that he wrote “some of the American theater’s most enduring comedies” with Moss Hart, including Once in a Lifetime (1930), Merrily We Roll Along (1934), You Can’t Take It with You (Pulitzer Prize, 1937), The Fabulous Invalid (1938), The American Way (1939), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) and George Washington Slept Here (1940).

Ryskind followed up his work on The ‘49ers with a sketch for The Garrick Gaieties (1925.17), with music by Rodgers and Hart.

George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Ira and George Gershwin, Ryskind Librettist

Morrie Ryskind (lower right)

In that same year, Ryskind started his collaboration with Kaufman; the two men wrote librettos for two Marx Brothers comedies: The Cocoanuts (1925.45), with music by Irving Berlin, and Animal Crackers (1928.38), with music by Kalmar and Ruby.  They then worked with George Gershwin on three shows, Strike Up the Band (1930.02), Of Thee I Sing (1931.48) and Let ‘Em Eat Cake (1933.25).

Kaufman worked on sketches with Dietz on the Arthur Schwartz and Dietz revue, The Band Wagon (1931.16).  Probably, one of the greatest dance routines ever to be captured on film is the Fred Astaire/Cyd Charisse routine to the Schwartz and Dietz song, “Dancing in the Dark,” for the MGM movie, entitled The Band Wagon (1953).  The Conrad Salinger orchestration has been called “sensuous and dramatic.”  And in our opinion, that is an understatement.

Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote the book for the Rodgers and Hart musical satire I’d Rather Be Right (1937.13).  Kaufman and Ben Hecht wrote the sketches for the Cole Porter revue Seven Lively Arts (1944.29), except for Beatrice Lillie’s sketches, which were written by Moss Hart.

Ryskind went on to write the book for Berlin’s Louisiana Purchase (1940.08), based on a story by Buddy DeSylva.

Hart, working alone, wrote the sketches for two Berlin revues: Face the Music (1932.05) and As Thousands Cheer (1933.22).  He wrote the book for The Great Waltz (1934.29), using the music of Johann Strauss, Sr. and Johann Strauss, Jr.

Hart wrote the book for Porter’s Jubilee (1935.14) and for Kurt Weill’s Lady in the Dark (1941.04).  Jubilee gave us the unforgettable, “Begin the Beguine.”  We do not have an original orchestration that we can share; instead, let us share with you the Artie Shaw swing arrangement of the same song.  There are two times that Shaw seems ready to take over the song from the brass; each time, the clarinet backs away.  Until the end.  What a finish.