Friday, 6 May 2011

Farewell Mr Laurents

And so we bid another sad farewell, this time to stage writer and producer Arthur Laurents, who has died in New York aged 93.

Mr Laurents was not just any old theatrical, you know! He was the man who, with those other great luminaries Bernstein and Sondheim, created some of my all-time favourite classic stage musicals including West Side Story and Gypsy.

The "West Side Story" gang in 1957: Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, Robert Griffith (a co-producer, seated), Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins.

He worked with everyone who is everyone in theatre, including Jerry Herman (for whom he wrote the "book" for La Cage Aux Folles), Kander and Ebb, Betty Walberg, Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne. He ventured into movies, worked with Hitchcock, and wrote the movie The Way We Were for Barbra Streisand.

Born into a radical family who had turned their backs on Orthodox Judaism, the young Arthur was taken by his father to see the musical No, No Nanette, and he was smitten. "All the girls were twirling their parasols and I thought that was just wonderful. That's when I got hooked. My dream was that some day I would walk down the aisle of a musical I had written, while the orchestra was playing. And I did, and it was Gypsy. That was the high spot of my life."

Equally fascinating is the story of how those three great gay men of theatre - Laurents, Sondheim and Bernstein - first met. Read my blog about it over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle from back in 2009.

Always waspish about actors and acting methods, Arthur Laurents once famously criticised Ethel Merman's acting and was attacked on the street in the gay West Village by a man who recognised him and shouted "Outrage! Outrage!" He described Lee Strasberg's sacred Actors' Studio - home of the controversial "method acting" style - as a place where "neurotics and alcoholics were mistaken for geniuses".

Even contemporary stars were not outside the reach of his acid tongue. He described Graham Norton, in his recent role in the West End production of La Cage Aux Folles, as "a sweet queen, who's totally earnest, totally untalented and unskilled. I thought oh, you poor man".

Facts about Arthur Laurents:
  • In the 1940s a disciple of Freud's tried to "cure" him of homosexuality.
  • At one time he was in, of all things, a Marxist study group with Shelley Winters; he was black-listed during the communist witch-hunt of the 1950s, when his passport was confiscated.
  • He was a lifelong friend of Gore Vidal, and had affairs with stars such as Farley Granger before settling down with long-term partner Tom Hatcher.

The last line of Arthur Laurents's memoir, Original Story By, refers to Tom Hatcher, with whom the author lived for more than 50 years. "As long as he lives," he wrote in 2000, "I will."

Hatcher died in 2006. Mr Laurents outlived him by five years.

RIP another of the backbones of musical theatre.

Here is a fascinating interview with Mr Laurents from Out at the Center, a TV show of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of New York City:

Arthur Laurents obituary in the LA Times

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