The best books set in the world of the theater

Robert Kaplow Author Of Me and Orson Welles
By Robert Kaplow

Who am I?

Since adolescence I’ve written scripts, stories, and songs. For ten years I wrote songs and sketches for NPR’s Morning Edition  as “Moe Moskowitz and the Punsters.” Among my young-adult novels, my favorite remains Alex Icicle: A Romance in Ten Torrid Chapters, a literate howl of romantic obsession by an over-educated and under-loved madman. I think my funniest comedy novel is Who’s Killing the Great Writers of America? that not only kills off some famous writers, but simultaneously parodies their style. And, of course, Stephen King ends up solving the whole crazy conspiracy. I taught writing for many years, and I’m pleased to report that my students taught me more than anything I ever taught them.


I wrote...

Me and Orson Welles

By Robert Kaplow,

Book cover of Me and Orson Welles

What is my book about?

This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles’s pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love. And it was the week I changed my middle name—twice.

Set against the background of Orson Welles’s debut production of the Mercury Theatre on Broadway, Me and Orson Welles is the tale of Richard Samuels, a stage-struck kid from New Jersey who, miraculously, ends up with a small role in Caesar, Welles’s brash and brilliant modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s play. Richard finds himself at the center of an exhilarating vortex of celebrity, ego, art, and love.  The novel was filmed by Richard Linklater starring Zac Efron, Christian McKay, and Claire Danes.

The books I picked & why

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Josh: My Up and Down, In and Out Life

By Joshua Logan,

Book cover of Josh: My Up and Down, In and Out Life

Why this book?

The cover of this biography is J-O-S-H spelled out in huge theatrical lights—and Logan really was a Broadway legend as a director/producer/writer.  The book chronicles his successes and failures, and he analyzes each show he worked on with an unsentimental and critical eye. He astutely argues for what audiences want to see, and what they reject. Particularly compelling are his personal portraits of Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Josh: My Up and Down, In and Out Life

By Joshua Logan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Josh as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Well kept and the book is in great shape to read and collect. Sturdy spine, all pages intact. Solid cover.

Act One: An Autobiography

By Moss Hart,

Book cover of Act One: An Autobiography

Why this book?

While the prose style of Act One is a little fussy, florid, and overly eager to impress, this is still a moving, funny, and emotional biography of a talented, ambitious young man who is determined to make his mark as a Broadway playwright. And, at the end, when he single-handedly turns his out-of-town failure (co-written with George S. Kaufman) into a hit, you want to stand up and cheer.

Act One: An Autobiography

By Moss Hart,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Act One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moss Hart's Act One, which Lincoln Center Theater presented in 2014 as a play written and directed by James Lapine, is one of the great American memoirs, a glorious memorial to a bygone age filled with all the wonder, drama, and heartbreak that surrounded Broadway in the early twentieth century. Hart's story inspired a generation of theatergoers, dramatists, and readers everywhere as he eloquently chronicled his impoverished childhood and his long, determined struggle to reach the opening night of his first Broadway hit. Act One is the quintessential American success story.

The Good Companions

By J.B. Priestley,

Book cover of The Good Companions

Why this book?

The Good Companions by J.B. Priestley is a long novel from 1929—and it’s one of the few long novels I have eagerly returned to more than once. Three Britons (a young man, young woman, and older man) are dissatisfied with their lives, and they take to the open road. Along the way they create a travelling musical-comedy troupe, The Good Companions, and we travel along with them for the tryouts, the opening nights, the standing ovations, the missed opportunities, the lucky breaks: and the glories of friendship. The novel offers readers the delicious chance to live entirely in a world now completely vanished.

The Good Companions

By J.B. Priestley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Companions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three unhappy characters, flee from their old lives to seek adventure on the open road. Fate brings them together and into the presence of a broken-down theatrical touring company. Throwing caution to the winds they save the group and set off on an unforgettable tour of the pavillions and provincial theatres of England. First published in 1929.

The Seesaw Log: A Chronicle of the Stage Production, with the Text, of Two for the Seesaw

By William Gibson,

Book cover of The Seesaw Log: A Chronicle of the Stage Production, with the Text, of Two for the Seesaw

Why this book?

Gibson wrote a hit two-character play called Two for the Seesaw in 1958. It starred Henry Fonda and Ann Bancroft. The following year, Gibson published The Seesaw Log, which reprints the play, but, more interestingly, is prefaced with a diary that runs longer than the play. The diary is the hair-raising, exhausting, and terrifying chronicle of what it took to get that play to Broadway and to make it a hit. It’s about the compromises between art and commerce, and it’s a cry from the heart of an artist trying desperately to preserve his vision.

The Seesaw Log: A Chronicle of the Stage Production, with the Text, of Two for the Seesaw

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Seesaw Log as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

(Limelight). A day-by-day candid account of the creativity, conflict, and compromise involved in the making of a smash-hit Broadway play.

Run-Through: A Memoir

By John Houseman,

Book cover of Run-Through: A Memoir

Why this book?

I read this biography in 1972 when it was first published; I was in high school. Twenty-two years later I would write my novel that was clearly inspired by Houseman’s detailed and absorbing account of his theatrical career—particularly his collaboration with the 21-year-old Orson Welles whom Houseman immediately recognized as a dangerous firestorm of talent. Their years together and the eventual destructive splintering of their partnership make for a story that will stay with you. It made this young person feel that with sufficient nerve, talent, and vision, I might accomplish anything—which is exactly what you should feel when you’re young.

Run-Through: A Memoir

By John Houseman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Run-Through as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Houseman describes with extraordinary self-knowledge and grace a life full of fantastic episodes that took him from a bizarre childhood to a seemingly hopeless and conventional business career to his brilliant debut in the world of the theater.

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