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Mr. Show Business; Going Home

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Mr. Show Business

Moss Hart was a dazzler. The man who directed "My Fair Lady" on Broadway knew show business from the footlights to the catwalks, from the chorus boys to the stars. Most important, he knew audiences.

"Dazzler" (Knopf, $29.95) is an appropriate title for the book by Stephen Bach about the man who was ranked right up there with Cole Porter and Noel Coward for urbanity and grace. The wunderkind co-wrote Broadway smashes like "You Can't Take It With You" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner" — now staples of little theater companies around the English-speaking world. "Dazzler" is also the right name for a book about the screenwriter for "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Hans Christian Andersen."

Hart was in, of and all about show business. He was also what we now call bipolar, and although the ups fueled the creativity that dazzled audiences, the downs that left him dysfunctional inevitably followed.

In "Act One," his 1959 autobiography, Hart glossed over much of the down times. Plus, he ended the book at the start of his career, when he was just 25.

Steven Bach's thorough new biography of Hart goes where "Act One" didn't and reveals the demons the writer/director/producer battled all of his life: confusion over his sexual identity, bitterness about his impoverished beginnings and the curse of debilitating and exhilarating mood swings. It's a good read for those intent on discovering Hart's underpinnings.

But Bach is occasionally overly thorough in his writing, picking at nits when his reader is ready to move on. And that's just fine for the most part. Casual readers can skip ahead. And students of the theater will find Bach's detail valuable. — Don Dale

Going Home

Rick Bragg is a reporter for the New York Times who has been blessed with the fabled Southern gift of storytelling. Thus, he is called upon when there is a particularly colorful story to be covered. He wrote the Times' account of Susan Smith, who was convicted of drowning her two little boys, and he interviewed survivors of the Oklahoma bombing.

In an earlier book, "All Over But the Shoutin'," Bragg paid tribute to his mother, who raised him in a poverty most of us can only imagine. In his new story, "Ava's Man," (Knopf, $25.00) he continues the family story by compiling an oral history of the grandfather he never knew but who lives intensely in the family's memory.

With his talent for carrying the reader along, Bragg gives up a picture of a vanishing Southern hero: one who could not read and who supplemented his family's tiny income by making bootleg whiskey, but one who lived by a code of honor and a love for his family that has left his children and grandchildren in awe. Bragg has also given us all a chance to remember the conditions during the Great Depression when those at the bottom were often hungry and who welcomed the Roosevelt administration's distribution of cheese and peanut butter as real lifesavers.

For a good story, and a chance to admire a family's courage and love, read this book. — Rozanne Epps

Heads Up:

LSU Press has published "Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H. Twitchell" ($24.46) by Ted Tunnell, associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. Twitchell, a Vermonter, fought for the North in the Civil War, then moved south to Louisiana where he entered politics and where he and his family suffered from the White League's hostility. This well-researched book should be a good read for Civil War and Southern-history buffs. — R.E.

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