Playwright-screenwriter Arthur Laurents died in his sleep on May 5 in New York City. He was 93.
Best known for writing the book for the Broadway smashes West Side Story and Gypsy, the New York-born Laurents (July 14, 1918) also penned several screenplays, among them those for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958), and Herbert Ross’ The Turning Point (1977).
Despite his personal experience as a victim of the anti-Red hysteria that overtook Hollywood in the late ’40s and early ’50s, Laurents’ screenplay for Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were (1973), partly set during that time, was considered by many a disappointing mess. Laurents blamed Streisand and others involved in the production for the final result.
Also for the Broadway stage, Laurents wrote The Time of the Cuckoo, which starred Shirley Booth as an American spinster abroad. Katharine Hepburn played – a much-changed version of – that character in David Lean’s Summertime (1955).
In early March, Laurents made headlines when he announced that he would not allow Barbra Streisand, whose career took off following her appearance in the Laurents-directed 1962 musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale, to play Mama Rose in a new film version of Gypsy. (Rosalind Russell played the character in Mervyn LeRoy’s 1962 version; a box office hit that Laurents abhorred.)
Laurents’ rambling autobiography, Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood, a mixture of self-glorification and finger-pointing, was published in 2001. In the book, he not only – unkindly – discussed his affair with Rope star Farley Granger, but also denounced in some way or another, Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Shelley Winters, Herbert Ross, Jerome Robbins, Robert Beatty (without actually naming him), and others.
Granger, who died last March 28, took Laurents to task in his own autobiography published three years ago.
Maybe this is a good time to recommend Arthur Laurents autobiography, “Original Story By”. Yes, he does come off as sort of grouchy, but he presents an irreplaceable insight into some highly successful stage productions and their subsequent films. His personal life, with Farley Granger (RIP) and others is also an interesting read for those of us who are voyeurs at heart.