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Arthur Laurents (born July 14, 1918) is an award-winning Americanmarker playwright, librettist, stage director, and screenwriter. His credits include the stage musicals West Side Story and Gypsy and the film The Way We Were.

Early life

Laurents, the son of a lawyer and a former schoolteacher who gave up her career when she married, was born and raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklynmarker, the elder of two children, and attended Erasmus Hall High Schoolmarker. His sister Edith suffered from chorea as a child, and as a result Laurents always felt protective towards her. His paternal grandparents were Orthodox Jews and his mother's parents, although born Jewish, were atheists. His mother kept a Kosher home for her husband's sake, but was lax about attending temple and observing the Jewish holidays. His Bar Mitzvah marked the end of Laurents' religious education and the beginning of his rejection of all fundamentalist religions, although he continued to identify himself as Jewish.

After graduating from Cornell Universitymarker, Laurents took an evening class in radio writing at New York Universitymarker. His instructor, a CBS Radio director/producer, submitted his script Now Playing Tomorrow, a comedic fantasy about clairvoyance, to the network, and it was produced with Shirley Booth in the lead role. It was Laurents' first professional credit. The show's success led to his being hired to write scripts for various radio shows, among them Lux Radio Theater.

Military career

Laurents' career came to a halt when he was drafted into the United States Army in the middle of World War II. Through a series of clerical errors, he never saw battle, but instead was assigned to a base located in a former film studio in Astoria, Queensmarker, where he wrote training films and met, among others, George Cukor and William Holden. He later was reassigned to write plays for Armed Service Force Presents, a radio show that dramatized the contributions of all branches of the armed forces.

Theatrical career

Soon after being discharged from the Army, Laurents met ballerina Nora Kaye, and the two became involved in an on-again, off-again romantic relationship. While Kaye was on tour with Fancy Free, Laurents continued to write for the radio but was becoming discontented with the medium. At the urging of Martin Gabel, he spent nine consecutive nights writing a play inspired by a photograph of GIs in a South Pacific jungle. The result was Home of the Brave, a drama about anti-semitism in the military, which opened on Broadwaymarker on December 27, 1945 and ran for 69 performances. Five years later, his second Broadway production, The Bird Cage, was even less successful, running for only 21 performances. In 1952, The Time of the Cuckoo reunited him with Shirley Booth and ran for 263 performances. (Laurents later would adapt it for the 1965 musical Do I Hear a Waltz?) Other successes in the 1950s included the books for West Side Story and Gypsy.

In 1962, Laurents directed I Can Get It for You Wholesale, which turned then-unknown Barbra Streisand into a star. His next project was Anyone Can Whistle, which he directed and for which he wrote the book. It proved to be an infamous flop. He later redeemed himself with Hallelujah, Baby! (written for Lena Horne but ultimately starring Leslie Uggams) and La Cage Aux Folles, but stumbled again with Nick & Nora.

In 2008, Laurents directed a Broadway revival of Gypsy starring Patti LuPone, and in 2009, he tackled a bilingual revival of West Side Story, with Spanish translations to some dialogue and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. While preparing the show, he noted, "The musical theatre and cultural conventions of 1957 made it next to impossible for the characters to have authenticity." Following the production's March 19 opening at the Palace Theatre, Ben Brantley of the New York Times called the translations "an only partly successful experiment" and added, "Mr. Laurents has exchanged insolence for innocence and, as with most such bargains, there are dividends and losses."

Film career

Laurents' first Hollywood experience proved to be a frustrating disappointment. Unhappy with the script for The Snake Pit submitted by Frank Partos and Millen Brand, director Anatole Litvak hired Laurents to rewrite it. Partos and Brand later insisted the bulk of the shooting script was theirs, and produced carbon copies of many of the pages Laurents actually had written to bolster their claim. Having destroyed the original script and all his notes and rewritten pages after completing the project, Laurents had no way to prove most of the work was his, and the Writers Guild of America denied him screen credit. Brand later confessed he and Partos had copied scenes written by Laurents and apologized for his role in the deception. Four decades later, Laurents learned he was ineligible for WGA health benefits because he had failed to accumulate enough credits to qualify. He was short by one, the one he failed to get for The Snake Pit.

Upon hearing 20th Century Fox executives were pleased with Laurents' work on The Snake Pit, Alfred Hitchcock hired him to Americanize the British play Rope for the screen. With his then-lover Farley Granger set to star, Laurents was happy to accept the assignment. His dilemma was how to make the audience aware of the fact the three main characters were homosexual without blatantly saying so. The Hays Office kept close tabs on his work, and the final script was so discreet that Laurents was unsure whether co-star James Stewart ever realized that his character was gay.In later years, Hitchcock asked him to script both Torn Curtain and Topaz but, unenthused by the material, Laurents declined the offers.

Laurents also scripted Anastasia and Bonjour Tristesse. The Way We Were, in which he incorporated many of his own experiences, particularly those with the HUAC, reunited him with Barbra Streisand, and The Turning Point, inspired in part by his love for Nora Kaye, was directed by her husband Herbert Ross.


Because of a casual remark made by Russel Crouse, Laurents was called to Washington, DCmarker to account for his political views. He explained himself to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his appearance had no obvious impact on his career, which at the time was primarily in the theatre.

When the McCarran Internal Security Act, which prohibited individuals suspected of engaging in subversive activities from obtaining a passport, was passed in 1950, Laurents and Granger immediately applied for and received passports and departed for Parismarker with Harold Clurman and his wife Stella Adler. Laurents and Granger remained abroad, traveling throughout Europe and northern Africa, for about eighteen months.

Years earlier, Laurents and Jerome Robbins had developed Look Ma, I'm Dancing!, a stage musical about the world of ballet that never was produced. Robbins approached Paramount Pictures about directing a screen version, and the studio agreed as long as Laurents was not part of the package. It wasn't until then that Laurents learned he officially had been blacklisted, primarily because a review of Home of the Brave had been published in the Daily Worker. He decided to return to Paris, but the State Departmentmarker refused to renew his passport. Laurents spent three months trying to clear his name, and after submitting a lengthy letter explaining his political beliefs in detail, it was determined they were so idiosyncratic he couldn't have been a member of any subversive groups. Within a week his passport was renewed, and the following day he sailed for Europe on the Ile de France. While on board, he received a cable from MGM offering him a screenwriting assignment. The blacklist had ended.


In 2000, Laurents published Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. In it, he discusses his lengthy career and his many gay affairs and long-term relationships, including those with Farley Granger and Tom Hatcher, an aspiring actor whom Gore Vidal suggested Laurents seek out at the men's clothing store in Beverly Hillsmarker Hatcher was managing at the time. The couple remained together for 52 years until Hatcher's death on October 26, 2006.

In 2009, Laurents published Mainly on Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story and Other Musicals, in which he discusses musicals he directed and the works of other directors he admires.

Additional credits

  • Anna Lucasta (screenwriter)
  • A Clearing in the Woods (playwright)
  • Invitation to a March (playwright, director)
  • The Madwoman of Central Park West (playwright, director)
  • My Good Name (playwright)
  • Jolson Sings Again (playwright)
  • The Enclave (playwright, director)
  • Radical Mystique (playwright, director)
  • Big Potato (playwright)
  • Two Lives (playwright)
  • My Good Name (playwright)
  • Claudia Lazlo (playwright)
  • Attacks on the Heart (playwright)
  • 2 Lives (playwright)
  • New Year's Eve (playwright)
  • Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are (playwright, director)

Theatre awards and nominations

Film awards and nominations

Further Reading

  • Laurents, Arthur, Original Story by Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. New York: Knopf 2000. ISBN 0-375-40055-9
  • Laurents, Arthur, Mainly on Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story, and Other Musicals. New York: Knopf 2009. ISBN 0-307-27088-2


External links

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