George Kaufman (YGtCTO #192)

You Can’t Take It With You

Stage play written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

You can’t make this stuff up. Our first home as a married couple was the second floor of a three family house in the distant suburbs of Boston. The place was large and the people nice enough, even with the first floor fire from smoking in bed.

We also learned the valuable lesson that timing is everything when seeking a place to live. We saw the railroad tracks on the other side of the backyard fence, but were too naive to foresee the implications. You’d think we would know better as we had turned down a place in Boston’s Back Bay when we heard the subway pass by just outside the walls on the first floor.

The tracks served the commuter rail, which proved convenient because I could walk a block and catch the train into work. Plus, we knew the commuter rail only ran during times when we would be awake. That did not take into account the leasing of the tracks to Amtrak or freight carriers overnight.

So, upon moving into our new abode, we happily unpacked our fragile items and put them up on shelves. I still remember waking suddenly to the entire building shaking as a loud rumble approached and subsided. My response at the time involved turning to my wife and saying something like, “It’s just like that scene in You Can’t Take It With You.” You know that you’ve married well when you can make a reference like that in the middle of the night and receive an agreeable nod in return.

Items teetered on the edge, but nothing broke. We probably shifted everything to the floor until morning.

George Kaufman

Studying theater
in college provided quite a few revelations, but the best may have been George S. Kaufman. First, the gratification of finding that the same genius had been involved in so many plays and movies that I loved- we’re talking smart comedy that relied as much on timing and word-smithing as performance- it made sense as a model for a career in ways that auteur‘s seemed created by luck more than by sweat. For that matter, humor required sweat and work if you wanted to be really good. Everything does, which is not a bad lesson to learn in college.

If you spend any time at all working in theater, amateur company through full blown Actors’ Equity production, you know that it is a collaboration. You also discover the full slate of human personality. Then, you get to see them under duress. It can be hard to find a model for quality behavior in the morass that ensues. Even when people say that someone behaved like a gentleman, they may be suggesting that he was a prig.

My favorite story is about how Kaufman gave notes to his cast individually, foregoing the usual group postmortem that torments so many casts and crews. Hearing stories about Kaufman as a director and a collaborator- he knew how to bend without breaking. He brought creative solutions to intractable problems. Most of all, he treated everyone with respect.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 108 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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