"Writers are the chosen people. I am happiest when sitting alone & putting my daydreams & fantasies down on paper.”
As the story goes... late for his place on a panel discussion, Arthur Laurents burst on to the stage draped in mink & announced: "Behold, a living legend!". Stephen Sondheim, also on the panel, looked up & said: "Wrong on both counts".
I just ate up his pair of memoirs- Original Story By & Mainly On Directing, chock full of great dishy theatre & Hollywood stories. He is important to me in the many ways. I admire him & his work, but most especially because he wrote the book for my favorite musical- Gypsy, which I find to be a near perfect piece of theatre. He directed 3 revivals of Gypsy, including my favorite version with my good close personal friend Angela Lansbury in 1974, & Tyne Daley in 1989 & 2009’s Patti Lupone outing.
In 2010, at 92, he directed a revival of West Side Story, a classic for which he wrote the original lean & strong book. In this production, it was Laurents's conceit to have most of the the Sharks & their girls, who are from Puerto Rico, speak & sing in Spanish & the cast would all be young & if not Puerto Rican, at least Hispanic. Laurents has explained that the idea came from his partner of 52 years- Tom Hatcher (Laurents & Farley Granger were lovers in the late 1940s), who saw & loved a production of the musical in South America. It was also Hatcher that urged Laurents to revive Gypsy! with Patti LuPone, so that the Sam Mendes directed production with Bernadette Peters would not be the last Gypsy in Laurents's lifetime.
Laurents has won 4 Tony Awards & been nominated for 6 Oscars, winning for the screenplay of The Turning Point. He was by all accounts, a real son of a bitch... but, what a talent.
His career had barely started when he was drafted into the Army in 1941. Laurents spent the war years writing training films & radio propaganda shows. He had also had come to terms with his homosexuality, & he soon lost count of the sexual experiences he had while in the Army. In Original Story By, he speaks of his lifetime of gay encounters, referring to his partners as “those unremembered hundreds.”
As a gay man living as openly as possible during some of this country's most dangerous times, Laurents was a role model of discretion & living the way he wanted to, despite public opinion & cruelty against homosexuals everywhere.
The last line of Laurents's memoir- Original Story By, speaks of Tom Hatcher, who was Laurents' partner for more than 50 years: "As long as he lives, I will." But, Hatcher died in 2006 & Laurents, in his 93rd year, adjusting to life without him. When they first became a couple, Laurents claims his mother was more disturbed that Hatcher was a gentile than that her son was gay.
Laurents led a wild life: "I drank an awful lot, I drugged an awful lot. But I think I have a built-in governor, because at any point I would say OK, I've had enough, & I'd go home to bed. I assumed everybody could do that. I was never one for going to bars, that kind of thing. I was a hopeless romantic. Well, no one could have that much sex & be entirely romantic, but the dangerous side never appealed to me."
But Hatcher was the great love of his life & their life together is one of the great love affairs. Laurents: "Tom & theatre, that's what my life has been. & that's what my book is - an effort to say thank you by doing what I can to make the theatre indestructible & to keep Tom alive."
"From Tom's pool, you can see into the heart of his garden. In summer, we swim laps every day. Often, we walk through the park, then sit on that bench, looking at the view. Yesterday, we sat there a little longer than usual, just looking at the changing light, not saying anything. But Tom reads my mind: 'You're going to live 20 more years,' he assured me."
Laurents worked in many genres. The stage was his first love, & he wrote for it for 65 years, creating comedies, romances, & serious dramas that explored questions of ethics, social pressures & personal integrity.
Laurents made his exit, upstage center, in May 2011. This is a partial list of his contribution to popular culture:
Librettos: Gypsy, Nick & Nora, West Side Story, The Madwoman of Central Park West, Hallelujah, Baby! Do I Hear a Waltz?, & Anyone Can Whistle
Direction: Anyone Can Whistle, La Cage aux Follies, The Madwoman of Central Park West, Gypsy (1974, 1989 & 2008), I Can Get It for You Wholesale (with a very young Barbra Streisand) & Invitation to a March
Plays: Invitation to a March, A Clearing in the Woods, The Time of the Cuckoo, The Bird Cage, Home of the Brave, & Jolson Sings!
Screenplays: Anastasia, The Turning Point, The Way We Were, Gypsy, West Side Story, Bonjour Tristesse, Summertime (from his play The Time Of The Cuckoo), Anna Lucasta, Home of the Brave, Rope, Caught, &The Snake Pit
Has your life been touched by any of his work? I would be interested to know. If you are a fan, what is your favorite version of Gypsy?
This still gets to me every time... good-byes & regrets.