Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood by Arthur Laurents
Biographies & Memoris | Arts & Literature
Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood
Knopf; 1st edition (March 28, 2000)
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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)