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Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein Hardcover – August 18, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Interview with Julie Salamon, author of the new book, Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein.

Julie Salamon

Q: Why did you title the book Wendy and the Lost Boys?

Julie Salamon: As the research progressed, I noticed that the classic story, Peter Pan, became a recurrent motif. Wendy was one of the many Baby Boom babies named for Wendy Darling, Peter’s beloved friend, after the book became a popular Broadway musical starring Mary Martin. Wendy performed in the play as a girl, choreographed a dance for an avant-garde version in college, and named her daughter Lucy Jane (Jane was the name chosen by Peter’s Wendy for her little girl). For Wendy’s peers, Peter Pan became emblematic of a generation that tried to retain eternal youth, and then had to contend with the realities of aging and responsibility.

Moreover, Wendy’s life was filled with “lost boys,” including a brother who was mentally disabled (and who was pretty much dropped from conversation within the family and who was separated from the family at an early age). Her “lost boys” included the gay men of the theater who became her closest circle, even as they all lived through vast changes in their lives and personal relationships.

Q: Wendy came from an extremely successful family; can you describe what shaped her as a young girl growing up?

Salamon: Wendy was born in 1950, to immigrant parents, just five years after the end of World War II; her family was caught up in the postwar desire to achieve the success that would make them safe. Her mother Lola, in particular, had a fierce personality and powerful ambition. Lola instilled the paradox that would become a recurrent theme in Wendy’s life and her work, the feeling of being better than everyone else but also not quite good enough. In The Heidi Chronicles, Wendy refers to the phenomenon of being “superior-inferior.”

The playwright was also profoundly shaped by the times she lived in. In her youth, the 60s roared through New York, calling everything into question. The world was changing fast, creating a charged and exciting atmosphere of provocation and creativity: Civil rights, pop art, the Beatles, feminism, pacifism and protest. It was a pivotal moment, the line of demarcation between conformity and rebellion, stability and chaos.

Q: Wendy's story reflects the accomplishments--as well as the fear and anxiety--of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. How was she affected by the changing roles and attitudes of women, and how did her work reflect those changes?

Salamon: Her work--plays, essays and a final novel--reflected her life and her life reflected the times she lived in. Uncommon Women and Others deals with the youthful dreams of young women who came of age as society’s demands and expectations were undergoing a vast transformation. In subsequent plays, notably Isn’t It Romantic and The Heidi Chronicles, she dealt with the complex choices women confronted as they faced competing desires for home and family and successful careers. In essays dealing with her family and her decision to have a baby as a single mother, she acknowledged the longing for home, while struggling to find her place in society that hadn’t found a way to satisfy competing desire. Her final play, Third, contends with the disillusionment and reflection of a woman in middle age, contending with children, career, and aging parents.

Q: You characterize Wendy as at once extremely social and yet mystifyingly private--can you elaborate?

Salamon: After Wendy died, her close friend, the former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, wrote, “How could the most public artist in New York keep so much locked up? I don’t think I was the only friend who felt I had somehow failed to see Wendy whole.” She gave the illusion, in her writing and in her relationships, that she made her life an open book. It was only after she died that people began to realize how much she kept hidden.

As with so much in her life, the source of her secrecy was her mother. Lola Wasserstein suffered many losses, and survived by forging ahead, not “dwelling” on past wounds. The family joked that, when people died, it was said “They went to Europe.” Wendy’s reaction to her upbringing was to hide in plain sight--giving the illusion of revelation, while keeping the most crucial information locked inside.

Q: Your portrait of Wendy reveals a remarkable driven yet remarkably insecure woman--what do you think accounts for that insecurity?

Salamon: One of Wendy’s friends once said: “Wendy was a very driven person, and yet she was a very warm person. Sometimes those things came into conflict.” Much of her insecurity derived from the ambition that led her into the highly competitive world of theater. The “vicious dumpling” as one friend called her, wasn’t really very vicious but she had inherited her mother’s urge for self-preservation. Balancing her wish to be loved with her lofty goals was a high wire act.

A more profound source of her insecurity was the absence of her mentally-disabled brother Abner, who she didn’t meet until she was almost fifty years old. The family’s secrecy about him and other matters kept Wendy off-balance, unable to fully trust her own sense of reality.

And then there was Lola, always quick to remind her daughter that she wasn’t svelte enough, she wasn’t married, and she didn’t have children (until late in the game). Wendy often told the story of Lola’s response to her daughter winning the Pulitzer Prize: “I’d be just as happy if she brought home a husband.”

Q: Bruce Wasserstein was a famous character in his own right, a Wall Street titan--what was her relationship with her brother?

Salamon: While I was working on the book, a Wall Street guy cornered me at a party and said: “I want you to find out how the same DNA produced Bruce and Wendy.” This was a frequent refrain. He became a billionaire, known as a pugnacious investment banker with little regard for social (or business) niceties. She was beloved as both playwright and person, considered a best friend even by people who barely knew her. Yet they were more alike than different in their ambition, their willingness to disregard convention, their extreme desire for privacy. They were very close, though their separate orbits often led to fractiousness. “I can’t help wondering whether what I say has any relevance for him at all,” she once wrote. In the end, though, when she was dying, Wendy turned to her brother and his wife to care for Lucy Jane.

Q: What drove Wendy, at age 48, to give birth to her daughter, and how did motherhood affect her?

Salamon: Throughout her life Wendy expressed yearning for a family. In a little-known play called "Miami," about her childhood, the adolescent character based on Wendy discusses the conflict she feels, between wanting to be a star and wanting children. She was quite close to her nieces and nephews and discussed having children with various men in her life. On the other hand, her actions often contradicted this desire. She repeatedly fell in love with unavailable men, many of them gay. For years she underwent in-vitro fertilization, but never engaged wholeheartedly in the process. By the time her daughter was born, Wendy was 48 years-old and already showing signs of the illness that eventually killed her. Much as she loved Lucy Jane, Wendy was often too ill or too preoccupied with her writing to enjoy being a mother as much as she had hoped.

Q: What was the theatrical scene like in the 70s and 80s when Wendy came of age as a playwright?

Salamon: Wendy came of age as a playwright as the nonprofit theater world hugely expanded. She became one of the original group of playwrights at Playwrights Horizons who brought a Baby Boom mentality to theater, and help create a sense of excitement and relevance for a new generation of theater-goers. In telling Wendy’s story, Wendy and the Lost Boys also recalls the formative years of Wendy’s group, which included James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim’s longtime collaborator; Andre Bishop, who became artistic director of Lincoln Center after putting Playwrights Horizons on the map; playwrights Christopher Durang and William Finn. Frank Rich, then the New York Times drama critic (and who became known as the Butcher of Broadway) was a dear friend of Wendy, a friendship often looked at with raised eyebrows by her theater friends, many of whom were on the receiving end of Rich’s lacerating prose.

Q: What do you think her legacy will be in the theater? Will her plays pass the test of time?

Salamon: Her plays were, in many ways, bright sociological commentaries on her times, though "Uncommon Women and Others," and "The Sisters Rosensweig," contain enduring themes about friendship and families. Certainly her success as a woman playwright continues to be an inspiration, considering how much less notably women have progressed in the theater world compared with other professions, including the arts.

Julie Salamon is available for further interviews. Please contact: Elisabeth Calamari at 212-366-2857 or

(Photo of Julie Salamon © Sara Krulwich)


“[Salamon’s] fresh reporting . . . gives the book a live, romping air, very much keeping with its subject . . . Wendy and the Lost Boys reads more like a novel than a biography.” 

“Excellent…Salamon’s voice is like that of a Wasserstein character, a late-night girlfriend who tells you the truth, but confidentially, and sideways.” — THE NEW YORKER

“Top-notch…a penetrating biography. The book, less a literary reckoning with Wasserstein’s legacy than a frank character study, is superbly paced. [T]he work unfolds with an alacrity that had me fearing the end not just because it was such a tartly compelling read but because it's still so hard to accept a theatrical world without Wasserstein around to make it seem so much more magical.”  — THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

“Intriguing” — PEOPLE Magazine

“Engaging new biographyTHE ECONOMIST

Julie Salamon is a helluva journalist and her Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein is a helluva story.” — NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

“Perceptive and empathetic, but also gently unsparing—a superbly nuanced portrait”       — KIRKUS (starred review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Printing edition (August 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202982
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202988
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #829,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By garden street reader on August 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book because I'm a woman in her mid-fifties who grew up passionate about New York, about the arts and theatre in New York, and about the "uncommonly" brave, witty theatrical voice, spirit and personage that was Wendy Wasserstein. I loved it as a Jewish woman--a working mother--raised, like Ms. Wasserstein, by a driven, secretive mother in a family that included a developmentally disabled brother. And I loved it because it made sense of the intersection of politics, psychology, business, journalism, culture, sexuality and even medicine in post World War II America. Julie Salamon does a masterful job of making not just the life of Ms. Wasserstein, but also her family, friends and the world in which she lived, vibrant and accessible. In this unfortunate age of excessive "dumbed down" exposure to insignificant celebrities' ridiculous antics, how utterly refreshing and gratifying to read about one actually worthy of attention, and in such an intelligent, well-researched, expansively and sensitively written format.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Jim Cavanaugh on August 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Wendy I knew, in her student days and throughout her amazing but too-short career, appears in all her rumpled, talented, giggling and ultra-loyal best in Ms. Salamon's well-researched and beautifully-written bio. But it's the insecure, self-doubting, loved-but-unloved, overwhelmingly secretive Wendy about whom I knew nothing - Nothing - whom I'm meeting in this clear-cut, frank yet compassionate, brilliant character study. Wendy's unbelievable family, her lifelong and career-long Best Friends (but no husband, or acknowledged father to her daughter), and the blue-ribbon assemblage of the late 20th-century American theatre's movers and shakers, stars, producers and playwrights, are all brought fully dimensionally to life in Ms. Salamon's easy-to-read but highly literate prose. No Pulitzer-and-Tony-Award Winner ever had a life filled with more highs and lows, nor hid it so well, nor was fortunate enough to have had that life warmly gathered into the understanding hands of an author of this calibre. Wendy complained through her plays that women had been lied to, that they could Not "have it all." But here in "Wendy and the Lost Boys," WE have the opportunity to "have it all," all about Wendy's sad and happy, always intriguing life.
- - - - - Jim Cavanaugh, Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts, Mount Holyoke College
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50 of 62 people found the following review helpful By NYC Mom on August 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Wasserstein's multiple plays and essays were among the first to give voice to the generation who entered college wearing dresses and graduated wearing jeans; who were sent to college to marry lawyers and graduated to become lawyers. Against this backdrop of Wasserstein's art and times, Ms. Salamon portrays a complex individual, who was the product of a complicated and achieving family. This is a significant work--sure to be a beach blanket staple in affluent summer communities this month and certain to be required reading for college students who want to understand women's history and their mothers' lives.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A.R.N. on October 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a fan of WW, I wanted to like this book, but I couldn't. Salamon was approached to do the biography --- Wendy wasn't a natural interest of hers and I felt it showed. I had a chance to tell Ms. Salamon during a reading that she gave that I wasn't sure if she even liked WW. She readily agreed there were times she did and times she didn't, and if I had to guess which she did more I would say didn't. The early pages of the book read perfunctorily at times. I thought the theme of "secrecy" was overdone, overall -- everybody keeps secrets and Wendy's seemed reasonable given the times and more, given her parents and their immigration to the US. And finally, I thought the illness was poorly explored (and that may have been partly due to medical privacy laws). At times it felt like Wendy was battling cancer and other, unnamed diseases. I was surprised to be reading and stumble onto a reference to leg braces -- they weren't introduced, they were just suddenly on her, and I've never heard of leg braces being used when cancer weakens. When she finally went to the Mayo, she received what Salamon made seem like a full diagnosis for the first time -- yet there were plenty of doctor appointments in NYC. Were the NY doctors unable to diagnose her? There were times that Salamon slanted the facts to fit her themes. Her treatment of Mount Holyoke was one of those times. If you believe Salamon, the college went from being a social/marriage prep school to a hotbed of politics in a short two years, and it's ridiculous to think such a transformation was possible or that such a prestigious school was populated by sheep waiting for the right husband, until the times suddenly flipped a switch and empowered them.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bluesette on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Always a Calhoun Girl
By Barbara Lois Fullard
I just stayed up until 2:30 A. M. taking a journey with a Calhoun Alumna named Wendy Wasserstein. Instead of frequent flier miles, I had store up 460 Wendy Wasserstein pages. My flight attendant was Julie Salamon. I boarded the vehicle, Wendy and the Lost Boys, for the most incredible ride I have had in a long biographical time.

No matter the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for The Heidi Chronicles, or the literary bouquets of excellence showered on Wendy for Uncommon Women and Others, Sisters Rosensweig, Isn't it Romantic?, or Third, between the lines in my mind, Wendy was always a Calhoun girl from that Brownstone at 309 West 92nd Street and West End Avenue in New York who made good. She reflected the angst, the excitement, the feelings of entitlement, and the joys my generation in the sixties and seventies through her works and in her life.

At first, she didn't know what she wanted to do when she graduated from Calhoun, but once she networked and caught her stride, there was no stopping this force of Jewish drive. She maintained a girlish enthusiasm in her art that pushed her to refuse the obstacles that came her way in sickness and in health. As a single woman, she had many "husbands" who were unattainable in the traditional sense, but who were devoted to her throughout her life. She was truly married to her passion as a writer, speaker, and creative ball of relentless energy that not even death could terminate. For Wendy Wasserstein lives on in all aspects of the media in a variety of literary genre, thanks to film, television, writings from the New York Times and other periodicals and on YouTube with technology at the helm of the Internet.
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