Remembering Arthur Laurents: Friends and Colleagues Share Their Thoughts
By Kenneth Jones
and Adam Hetrick
May 9, 2011
UPDATED! Arthur Laurents, the playwright, director, screenwriter and librettist whose best known works were the musicals West Side Story and Gypsy and the films "The Turning Point" and "The Way We Were," died May 5 at the age of 93. His friends are speaking out.
Playbill.com is reaching out to friends and colleagues for their reflections on the life and career of Laurents, who was predeceased by Tom Hatcher, his partner of 52 years. Read the Playbill.com obituary here.
Stuart Howard, New York City casting director, of SH Entertainment:
"Arthur directed the original production of La Cage aux Folles which was our first casting job: Five years on Broadway, two national tours and the London production. Heaven! We cast seven shows with Arthur after that one, right through the latest Broadway revival of West Side Story. What he taught me as a director and as a friend is invaluable."
Terrence McNally, the Tony Award-winning playwright of Master Class and Love, Valour Compassion:
"Arthur always told you what he thought, whether you wanted to hear it or not. This made being his friend challenging. When Arthur liked something, which was not often, his praise was genuine, generous and loud. When he didn't, his disapproval was equally rampant. I wonder if he ever said anything about anyone behind their back. I shall miss his passion, his honesty and his commitment to the next generations of theatre artists. I shall miss his friendship as well."
Patti LuPone, who won the 2008 Best Actress Tony Award for playing Mama Rose in Gypsy:
"Arthur had a full life. He's with Tom now. The entire cast of Gypsy and I were very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Arthur and experience his passion and love of the theatre. We were awed by his energy and grateful for all the knowledge and insight we gained from him. An era has passed."
Harvey Fierstein, librettist of La Cage aux Folles, whose original Broadway production was directed by Laurents:
"Arthur Laurents was a true American original. Brilliant, frightened, fierce and determined, he recreated the world around him to make himself comfortable. As his works attest, he captured human behavior with laser accuracy. Cruel and loving and funny he was a singular friend."
Jack Viertel, artistic director of City Center Encores!, which presented a concert of Laurents and Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle, and produced a full staging of Gypsy as a summer venture that eventually moved to Broadway:
"Arthur was dynamic, exacting, demanding and generous. He scared the pants off the Gypsy company on day one, and by day two-and-a-half, everyone in that rehearsal room was in love with him. For those of us at Encores!, who deal in old shows every day, he showed us a window on what the creative process in the '40s, '50s and '60s must have been like, but he also delivered a show with sparkling 21st-century values. That's because he stayed energetically engaged in the contemporary world even as he understood and admired the past."
Freddie Gershon, a longtime friend and the CEO of Music Theatre International, which licenses the Laurents properties West Side Story and Anyone Can Whistle:
"I felt privileged to spend time with Arthur and have him call me his trusted friend, share heated badinage and listen to stories of worlds gone by.....of Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes and the origins and making of 'Anastasia,' 'The Snake Pit,' 'The Way We Were,' 'The Turning Point' and more — and who the characters really were based on. He had great stories of tennis with Charlie Chaplin, life with Farley Granger and mostly Tom Hatcher. He had a disdain of phonies and an ability to out-Machiavelli the most manipulative of stars, producers and studio executives. His economy of words cut to the chase in plays, musicals, and in life. He could be brutal, venomous and unforgiving if necessary and nurturing, seductive and compassionate when necessary. He was a complex talent who told me the greatest compliment of his life [occurred at] the run-through at City Center for Gypsy. He walked out to give the traditional pre-apology speech of 'we may have to stop and start again, etc.' But he couldn't. The audience of over 2,000 stood and just applauded wildly. He said his knees shook and tears welled up. He felt public recognition at last from his theatre community, and he drank it in. Reluctantly, he held his hands up to motion the crowd to be seated and then said loudly, 'HELLO EVERYONE. MY NAME IS ARTHUR. WHAT'S YOURS?' The crowd stood again. Arthur loved the moment so much."
David Saint, artistic director of New Jersey's George Street Playhouse, where many of Laurents' later works have been produced:
"The theatre has lost a magnificent talent and I have lost my best friend. George Street Playhouse and I will miss him terribly."