Marmorstein bolsters the story of Hart's rocketlike career with a wealth of factual detail. Where he bogs down, terribly, is in trying to parse the lyrics for their poetic value and their place in the multiple traditions on which the well-read Hart gleefully drew. But his biographer's sense, his dogged researches, and his fair-mindedness constantly lead him in good directions. His account of Rodgers's controversial involvement in Hart's business affairs at his death is the best-balanced I've encountered.

Impish wordplay, plus booze binges: Rodgers and Hart, 1936
Courtesy Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Impish wordplay, plus booze binges: Rodgers and Hart, 1936


A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart
By Gary Marmorstein
Simon & Schuster, 576 pp., $30

Rodgers's deep misgivings about his collaboration with Hart are summed up in the startling remark he made decades later, in an oral-history narrative: "There is a statute of limitations on gratitude." Is there really? To know, you would have to be one of the colleagues who were obliged to carry Hart home in a drunken stupor and then stare in amazement while he poured out matchlessly hilarious, perfectly shaped, encore stanzas.

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