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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 13, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 19
Gay theater legend Arthur Laurents dies at 93
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Gay theater legend Arthur Laurents dies at 93

Blacklisted in 1950s, he won Tony Awards ?in 1968 and 1984 by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Playwright, librettist, and director Arthur Laurents died on May 5 from complications of pneumonia. He was 93.

The next day, marquees of theaters in New York were dimmed for one minute in the traditional tribute to the memory of a giant Broadway figure.

Blacklisted during the McCarthy period, Laurents bounced back to win Tony Awards for the book to Hallelujah, Baby! in 1968, and for his direction of La Cage Aux Folles in 1984.

While never a member of the Communist Party, Laurents was what was known to post-war rightists as a 'fellow traveler' - someone who was sympathetic to world peace, organized labor, and civil rights for African Americans.

Called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), he explained his political views without 'naming names' - in other words, without implicating others in suspect activities.

In 1949, a review of the film Home of the Brave, based on a 1946 play by Laurents, was published in the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker.

Later that year, Paramount Studios contracted to do a film version of Laurents' play Look Ma, I'm Dancin'!, but only on the condition that Laurents was not involved in the production. At that point, Laurents realized he had been blacklisted.

Deciding to move to Paris, he found that his passport had been cancelled by the State Department. He wrote the State Department a long letter outlining his political views, which officials found so idiosyncratic they were, at last, convinced he could not have been a member of any organized subversive group.

Laurents was perhaps best known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim, including West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959) - earning Tony nominations for both - Anyone Can Whistle (1964), and Do I Hear a Waltz (1965).

Laurents directed the 1975, 1989, and 2008 revivals of Gypsy, each of which earned Tony Awards for its respective leading ladies, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, and Patti LuPone.

He also directed the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story.

Besides his Broadway shows, Laurents worked on many film classics.

In 1948 he worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Rope, which starred his then-boyfriend Farley Granger.

Later Hitchcock asked him to script both Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), but Laurents declined, because he was unenthusiastic about the material.

Laurents also scripted The Way We Were (1973), in which he incorporated many of his own experiences, particularly those with HUAC.

In 1977 Laurents earned an Oscar nomination for the screenplay to The Turning Point, starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine.

In 1954 Gore Vidal introduced Laurents to aspiring actor Tom Hatcher. The two hit it off, and remained together for 52 years. Hatcher died in 2006, and Laurents later said he intended his 2008 revival of Gypsy and his 2009 revival of West Side Story as tributes to his longtime companion.

Granger died in March of this year.

Laurents left a memoir, Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood, published in 2000. In it, he discusses his lengthy career and his many Gay relationships, including those with Granger and Hatcher.

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