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Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood [Paperback]

Arthur Laurents
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Best known as the author of scripts for such hit musicals as West Side Story and Gypsy, Arthur Laurents began his career writing strong, socially conscious plays like Home of the Brave and Time of the Cuckoo; he also has impressive credits as a screenwriter (The Way We Were) and stage director (La Cage aux Folles). Such a varied professional life makes for absorbing reading in this lively autobiography stuffed with famous names, including George Cukor, Katharine Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, and Stephen Sondheim, all of whom emerge vividly in thumbnail portraits ranging from affectionately frank (Stella Adler) to frankly unflattering (Jerome Robbins). Laurents, born in 1917, was a Marxist during his college years at Cornell, and he retains strong political opinions to this day: he has no use for bigots of any kind, and his memoir displays no inclination to forgive people like Elia Kazan, who named names during the 1950s. Yet the author also has a marvelous sense of humor (after critic Frank Rich inadvertently made public reference to Laurents's homosexuality, Laurents introduced him at a charity lunch as "the man who outed me as a liberal") and a zest for life that shines particularly in a loving portrait of his longtime companion, Tom Hatcher. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

No one is going to accuse Laurents, author of such noted plays and films as Home of the Brave, Rope, West Side Story and The Way We Were, of writing a sentimental, evasive or mindlessly feel-good autobiography. In a jaunty, engrossing style, the 82-year-old discusses the highlights of his 60-year career as a writer, director and producer, the ins and outs of his love life, long-term psychoanalysis and friendships with almost everyone in Hollywood and on Broadway. Laurents is brutally honest about his personal life--his difficulty coming to terms with his gayness, his anger at colleagues like Elia Kazan who named names to HUAC and his even greater anger at himself for working with them--and he rarely holds back when he thinks that others deserve criticism. He can be surprisingly harsh--he attacks Hannah Arendt for being a "self-hating Jew" and for defending Eichmann--but his critical asides often reveal a new side of a public person and are never simply catty. For example, he tells of Katharine Hepburn making antigay remarks at a dinner party; Richard Rodgers's severe alcoholism in his later career; and George Cukor's calculated "rise above being an unattractive Jewish queer by becoming an elegant silver-and-china queen and a Republican." But for all his candor, Laurents comes across as a highly intelligent, loving, politically involved, generous and gracious man--as evidenced by his commitment to social justice, his artistic vision and his long-term relationships with Farley Granger and with Tom Hatcher, who has been his life partner since 1955. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Laurents, the author of plays and films that are household names (e.g., Gypsy, West Side Story, and The Turning Point), takes us from his Flatbush childhood to the world of the theater and film industries following World War II. His engrossing, unsentimental prose is, in some cases, angry, particularly when he writes of his work with colleagues Elia Kazan and Jerome Robbins, both of whom named names (including Laurents's) to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Laurents also provides clever descriptions of his methods for writing plays in his early career in radio: he linked plot twists from unpopular movies. Laurents had romantic relationships with men and women but desperately wanted to be cured of his homosexuality, even going into Freudian analysis during his long relationship with actor Farley Granger, which he hid from Hollywood. In 1955, he met Tom Hatcher, who is still his life partner. His account of Broadway and Hollywood, stripped of glamour, and his candor about his struggles with his sexuality and his successful career make this memoir an engaging read. Recommended for academic libraries with film and theater collections and large public libraries.
-Lisa N. Johnston, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Laurents wrote dozens of successful plays and hit musicals, but what makes his memoir of 50-plus years on Broadway and in Hollywood outstanding isn't his tales of pounding out high-quality, and sometimes not-so-high-quality, work under trying circumstances. Rather, what makes it so delicious is his love of well-told "dish." He has a funny, embarrassing, or revealing story about every famous person he worked with, from Harold Clurman and Sanford Meisner to Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, and he eagerly tells them all. Still, he has a more serious purpose than entertainment, however entertaining his book is (very). For years, he smothered his feelings under layers of shame and guilt before accepting, thanks to a good psychiatrist, that he was gay. For all its diverting tales of closeted affairs and alcoholic artists, this is a powerful chronicle of one talented man's journey from sexually confused adolescence to a man strong and whole and sure of his sexuality. Jack Helbig --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A veteran of stage and screen tells all in this sometimes enjoyable but often exasperating autobiography. A distinguished director, playwright, and screenwriter, Laurents's many credits include stage productions such as Gypsy, West Side Story, and La Cage Aux Folles, and the movie Rope. He has worked with most of the leading talents of Broadway and Hollywood, including Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Jerome Robbins, and Stephen Sondheim, to name a few. When he takes us backstage to witness the dramas that attend the production of some show or other, Laurents spins entertaining yarns and can be scathingly funny and clever (``It was a good story with only three characters. One and a half of them, alas, were lesbians, which sent the Catholic Church foaming at the font.''). Of his Hollywood experience, Laurents writes, ``Life in the movies was based on the life of the people who made movies who based their lives on the life they saw in the movies.'' From his collaborators, unfortunately, Laurents has suffered a great many injustices, and he spills much ink settling scores with them, whether the perpetrators are alive or (mostly) dead. Potshots at celebrities are always enjoyable and mostly well-deserved, but Laurents doesn't know when to stop. Salvo follows salvo until we wish we could shove a saucer of milk his way and tell him to stop. Laurents also writes extensively on being gay, Jewish, left-wing, and atheistic in the show business community of postwar New York and Hollywood. He was hardly the odd man out in either town and, by the year 2000, this territory is well-trod turf indeed. By relentlessly trashing colleagues, outing the usual suspects, and venting spleen at those who informed to the House Un-American Activities Committee half a century ago, Laurents (despite occasional lapses into charm and wit) quickly becomes a wearisome old bore.-- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

"The distinguished 82-year-old playwright-director-screenwriter turns his clear, cold eye on everybody he has been close to. Famous for being uncompromising as well as brutally honest, he lives up to his reputation... He has drawn a group portrait of some exceptional people who have now vanished. His book ends up being a tribute to them, and, whether it was his intention or not, it is a tribute to Arthur Laurents as well."
-- New York Times Book Review

"A terrific read...a unique document from one of the last of a generation of Broadway greats...Laurents fills his memoir with great dish...But Laurents the man is the enduring star of this story, which makes it a page-turner."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"Wickedly frank." -- Los Angeles Times

"An authentic, told-from-the-inside document of what it meant to be a writer, an artist, a lover, and a citizen in the America of the latter half of the last century...Laurents has a dangerously good memory ...By virtue of his relentless clarity and unflinching self-effacement, [he] paints a radiant picture of the kind of life nobody gets to live anymore."
-- Vanity Fair

"No one is going to accuse Laurents ... of writing a sentimental, evasive or mindlessly feel-good autobiography. In a jaunty, engrossing style, the 82-year-old discusses the highlights of his 60-year career as a writer, director and producer, the ins and outs of his love life, long-term psychoanalysis and friendships with almost everyone in Hollywood and on Broadway. Laurents is brutally honest about his personal life...and he rarely holds back when he thinks that others deserve criticism.... But for all his candor, Laurents comes across as a highly intelligent, loving, politically involved, generous and gracious man--as evidenced by his commitment to social justice, his artistic vision and his long-term relationships with Farley Granger and with Tom Hatcher, who has been his life partner since 1955."
-- Publishers Weekly --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Director, playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents -- author of Gypsy, West Side Story, Anastasia, The Turning Point, and other plays and films -- takes us into his life, and into the dazzling world in which he worked, among the artists, directors, actors and personalities who came of age in the theatre and in Hollywood after the Second World War.

He takes us into his boyhood in Flatbush and his days at Cornell, where he learned to write plays, learned he was homosexual, learned what his politics would be as he organized support for the Spanish Civil War and protests against campus witch hunts (these undergraduate years became the basis for The Way We Were). He takes us into his days in the Army as a sergeant (in Astoria, Queens), writing training films with Irwin Shaw, William Saroyan, John Cheever, sunbathing with Bill Holden and competing to see which of them could outdrink the other.

Laurents describes a wartime New York City that was vibrant, eager and sexually alive, where he wrote for radio (The Man Behind the Gun; Lux Radio Theater). He confesses his methods for devising plots: make a list of twists and turns from successful movies, number them from one to fifteen, choose at random and link them up. He describes the writing of his first successful play, Home of the Brave, about anti-Semitism (later made into a movie about racism by Stanley Kramer), and writes about getting on with pals -- among them Jerome Robbins (an imp who loved to play parlour games, the sillier the better; later he testified before the House Committee of Un-American Activities and named names), Leonard Bernstein and Nora Kaye, later Laurent's lover and beloved friend, then a new star in Antony Tudor's Ballet Theatre.

In and out of bed with men as well as women, in and out of success with his work, Laurents describes his Freudian analysis with Theodore Reik, who insisted he could "cure" Laurents of his homosexuality, and cure him of what Reik diagnosed as Laurents's "selfishness" by being paid "ten percent of vot you make." Laurents gave; Reik took.

We see Laurents going off to Hollywood, reporting for duty at MGM, then a "feudal domain, a prisonlike fortress behind stone walls" . . . driving up to Irene Mayer Selznick's house for the first time and having a sense of deja vu (he had seen it all before in MGM pictures of tastefully grand English country houses -- "No bulter but yards of maids") . . . writing the script for The Snake Pit . . . Laurnets playing volleyball and charades at Gene Kelly's with lots of liberal talk and pot-luck meals . . . playing in Charlie Chaplin's round-robin "Cockamamie Tennis Tournaments" . . . going for a Memorial Day weekend sail with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy on a 125-foot yacht, Hepburn changing into identical spotless white ducks and shirts every hour on the hour with Tracy lolling in a chair, crocked the whole trip, and Hepburn patting pillows behind his neck . . . Laurents writing the script for Rope, a movie with three homosexual men at its center, just as he is beginning a long affair with one of the picture's stars, Farley Granger, as well as an intense, complicated but happy collaboration with the picture's director, Alfred Hitchcock . . . and being propelled out of Hollywood for a life in Paris when his agent, Swifty Lazar, tells him, "You're blacklisted, dear boy . . . the studio said you're too expensive before I mentioned money."

Laurents writes about his return to New York and his smash hit play, The Time of the Cuckoo, with Shirley Booth, later made into a movie called Summertime with Katharine Hepburn, then into a musical (Do I Hear a Waltz?, with music by Richard Rogers, words by Stephen Sondheim). He writes about jump-starting Barbra Streisand's career by casting her in her first Broadway show, I Can Get It for You Wholesale ("There was one part available -- a fifty-year-old spinster. Streisand was nineteen. She came in with her bird's nest of scraggly hair and her gawky disorganized body, clumped across the stage, took her wad of gum out of her mouth, stuck it under the chair and began to sing; eight bars into the song, I knew she had to be in the show. I checked later, no gum"). He writes about the creation of Gypsy with Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim (Laurents to Ethel Merman: "Rose is a monster. How far are you willing to go?" Merman to Laurents: "I'll do anything you want.") . . . about the directing of La Cage aux Folles . . . and about coming together in a complex, fraught collaboration with his three old pals Robbins, Bernstein and Sondheim for West Side Story

Funny, fierce, honest -- a life richly lived and told.

(With 80 photographs) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Arthur Laurents has been the recipient of awards from the American Institute of Arts and Letters, the Writers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, the Drama Desk, and the National Board of Review, and is an emeritus member of the Council of the Dramatists Guild. He lives in New York City and Long Island. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Beginnings

Home of the Brave

It's the stuff of dreams. The audience is on its feet calling "Author! Author!" my mother is calling "Arthur! Arthur!" my father's eyes are wet and a handsome young actor has flown in from the Coast to share the night with me. My father wouldn't want me to see the tears any more than I'd want him to see the actor.

The producer, all smiles, is Humpty-Dumpty in a brown suit. By now, I know it's his good suit. He motions me forward to the stage. My feet tell me I am walking down the aisle; I feel a fireman boost me up on the stage. I can see the actors behind me applauding but can't hear them. I'm unsure whether the moon is out or not but I know it has to be. I turn from the actors and look out front. I don't see anyone. Not my father, not my mother, not my actor. I hear no cheering, I see no audience, just a big black hole of silence. I turn to the wings and say to the stage manager, "Bring in the curtain, Jimmy."

It was Jimmy Gelb who told me about the moon the day of our first preview and he was a Marxist like the producer, the director and half the cast. Stop worrying whether my play was good enough to be a hit, he commanded. Success in the theatre had little to do with merit; what it really depended on was the moon. If the moon was out, we were in; if it wasn't, we weren't.

That was December 1945. It was the first play I'd ever written, it had gotten produced and there it and I were on Broadway. More specifically, east of Broadway on Forty-fourth Street in a theatre with a marquee and lights and boards that creaked when someone walked down the aisle. The theatre was the Belasco, the lights said the play was Home of the Brave, and I was twenty-eight years old.

A decade later, I had another play at the Belasco, A Clearing in the Woods, and the boards still creaked. That play starred Kim Stanley whose brilliant acting talent was almost matched by her talent for self-extinction. She spent the first matinee of Clearing sleeping off a massive hangover in her dressing room. I was devoted to her anyway. She was capable of other things, maddening things that reduced me to tears but I never lost that affection for her. Her heart was as big and full as her laugh; she just had to be reminded.

Kim was the Goddess of the Actors Studio where, under Lee Strasberg, neurotics and alcoholics were mistaken for geniuses. From its inception, the Studio lacked a sense of humor. At one of Lee's scene classes for professional actors, I drew attention to that by pointing out that Arthur Kennedy had complimented Ben Piazza by saying, "I thought Ben made great progress. I could understand 50 percent of what he said. And," I added, "no one laughed."

Then Lee spoke. When he spoke and only when he spoke, a recording machine was turned on. When he finished, it was turned off. Moses, he was, and he looked at me with disdain from his Mount. "A sensitive playwright," he said to his worshippers, "and all he can do is accuse us like everyone else of mumbling." They did indeed mumble, so I couldn't back down. Well, I could have but I wouldn't and in fact, went further and faulted them for their lack of respect for the word, for their misconception that reality came from paraphrasing and inserting uhs and you knows until Strasberg turned on the machine, struck back, and we went at it while the acolytes wailed: Anne Bancroft, Madeleine Sherwood and Jane Fonda in real tears.

Ironically, Kim, the Goddess herself, had immaculate diction and an ear so perfect, she could do any accent. She identified heavily with her role in A Clearing in the Woods -- a psychologically crippled woman who finds and accepts herself. The central character of Home of the Brave becomes psychologically crippled because of bigotry, then finds and accepts himself. When I read the play again the other day, there was no identification; the character was a stranger to me. Where was I in him? The theme of discovery and acceptance, that was familiar; it informs much of my work, but so do prejudice and betrayal. Anti-Semitism crops up now and then but peripherally; it's central to Home of the Brave, but how central was it to me when I was writing the play? My concentration appears to have been more on the dramaturgy: how to use anti-Semitism as a dramatic element to propel the story and to justify the conflict in the central character, a Jewish GI trapped in a South Pacific jungle in World War II.

Nineteen forty-four was the year I wrote that play. I was a sergeant in the Army but I found a producer who had to find the money. By 1945, I was still waiting for the producer to find the money and I was still in the Army. I'd been in the Army since 1941 but had never been out of the country; five years in uniform but never overseas, never even near the South Pacific I wrote about. If I should have felt guilty, I didn't. I had new, apparently healthy young friends like Jerome Robbins, Harold Lang, Montgomery Clift and Oliver Smith who weren't in uniform. I didn't ask why they weren't -- I supposed it was their sexuality -- and I didn't wonder if they felt guilty.

Not that I was a gung ho patriot. I didn't want to be inducted -- I was drafted before we were at war -- but it was unthinkable for me to admit my sexuality to anyone except a friend in the same leaky boat and I didn't have such a friend until after I was in the Army. My first year and a half in uniform, I went protectively numb. Then I was put on detached service in New York and went hurling out into orbit.

The city was unhinged in wartime. I wallowed and whirled like a Born-Again Hedonist, drinking my head off, fucking my brains out, looking for romance, hoping to find where I belonged. What kept me together was being a writer with a writer's discipline that came automatically with the yellow legal tablets and the Blackwing pencils. In the center of homemade chaos, in the eye of my hurricane, week in, week out for most weeks in more than three years, I wrote an original radio propaganda play for the Army of the United States of America until I hit a bad bottom with a wallop and had to get psychiatric help.

Hedonism was booming when I sublet a series of apartments, the first from Katrina Wallingford, a grain elevator heiress from Kansas City who lived on Sutton Place. She was going overseas to play the squeeze box, as she called it, for the USO. A piece of her life turns up in The Way We Were interwoven with pieces of mine. Fiction can mingle genders with impunity. The apartment in the movie bore no relationship to Katrina's; hers was in a small, squat building on the wrong side of that fancy street just off the East River. It had no view of the river, the rooms were small but unbelievably, this enlisted soldier, this GI born and bred in Brooklyn, was living on Sutton Place.

The journey to Manhattan is easier from Texas than from Brooklyn. Lots easier than from Flatbush and middle-middle class in a middle-class house with a bedroom for my parents, one for me and another for the maid until my sister came. Then she and the maid shared the third bedroom and secrets from me, or so I suspected.

The house had a yard that was exceptionally deep in back and very wide on one side. There was a rabbit hutch for me against the back fence, and a fertile vegetable-and-herb garden; outside the kitchen door, a cool grape arbor under which we often had meals in warm weather; and along the side, my mother's rose garden. Flowers were hardly enough for her, though.

My parents were popular, the attractive leaders of their group. My father, courteous and witty, was a lawyer in private practice in the City -- meaning across the river in far-off Manhattan. His office was near Times Square, not far from the theatres. Until Hitler, he went to Germany regularly for some of his clients, doing what, I don't know. The only cases he ever discussed involved the husband of one of my mother's sisters in Florida: my Uncle Henry who was chronically crooked. He had been a silent movie actor, an airplane pilot, the inventor-manufacturer of a urinal disinfectant that someone else had invented (my father to the rescue), a bootlegger (my father to the rescue several times), and now a Citrus King of Florida (my father to the rescue constantly). No one in Miami had a Southern accent like Uncle Henry's except his wife and children. They were family and he had to be kept out of the clink. Even though he was in love with law, my father obliged. He once took me to Washington to see the Supreme Court and introduced me to Justice Brandeis whom he revered but didn't know. He didn't pretend to know Brandeis, he simply wanted me to know that justice existed in a man as real and as necessary as the building he worked in.

And my mother? Energy and guile, an emancipated woman too early. At fourteen she got a Saturday job as a saleslady at the A&S department store in downtown Brooklyn, a job she didn't need because her father owned a prosperous shirt factory. A pretty strawberry blonde with very good legs, she brought a wooden box with her to stand on behind her counter much the way J. Edgar Hoover stood on one behind his desk. Her parents, Jewish by Hitler's standards, were Socialist atheists. My father's parents were Orthodox Jews; his mother didn't approve of my mother and the marriage. My mother was determined: she kept a kosher house for my father but it took a year before his mother would come to dinner. When she did, she asked for a boiled egg in a glass. Mother threw the dishes out the window. Grandma wouldn't come to my Bar Mitzvah, either. Why should she? It was in a Reformed temple, my Hebrew was learned phonetically, and it was held on a Saturday, a day that had to have been chosen by my mother because she knew Grandma wouldn't drive on a Saturday. Before the ceremony, we went to pay our respects. Grandma gave me the customary gold watch and then asked why my mother hadn't taken me to co... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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