A look back at Bucks County’s ‘Genius Belt’

Between 1930 and 1950 Bucks County was such a hotbed of transplanted New York writers, playwrights, lyricists and humorists that the area with its already rich cultural history was described as “The Genius Belt”. Their common ground was a love of art and theater, their wit and their way of exploring the American experience, by mining the beauty and versatility of the English language.  The story of “The Genius Belt” and the birth of the Bucks County Playhouse was told in an audio documentary I produced in 1996. Narrated by Marty Moss-Coane, it was once broadcast on her WHYY show Radio Times.

Monday night, the once flourishing Bucks County Playhouse turns its lights up for the first time after 18 months of a dark stage due to financial difficulties and the old mill house theater in disrepair.  This audio documentary, takes a look back at Bucks County’s Cultural legacy and brings together interviews with some of the movers and players of the time when a golden age of theater, literature, and musical theater was born.

You’ll hear interviews with James Michener, actress and Broadway celebrity Kitty Carlisle Hart, New York Times celebrated illustrator Al Hirschfield, and a few others who have since then passed away.

As luck would have it, when producing the documentary, popular culture historian and curator David Leopold, managed to give me access to rare archival recordings that bring to life the witty atmosphere in which the likes of writer and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, humorist S.J. Perelman, writer Dorothy Parker and others, worked to create musicals, plays, novels and humorous texts.

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In part one of the segment of “Bucks County’s Cultural Legacy” we begin with one of the most famous songs in the American musical theater repertoire written and composed by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein based on stories of the South Pacific by James Michener, a Bucks County native.

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