R.I.P.: Arthur Laurents, Broadway Legend

Gather ’round, young gaylings, it’s time for a bit of Gay History 101. Today we will learn about the passing of a community legend: Broadway queens everywhere are broken-hearted at the news that Arthur Laurents, the legendary writer/director of stage and screen, has died.

Laurents helped create some of the greatest musicals to be performed on Broadway, having helped write such shows as “Gypsy” and “West Side Story.” He also wrote film scripts–including “The Way We Were,” which solidified Barbra Streisand as a star, as well as the lesser-known but brilliant film “The Turning Point” starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, who younger generations may be surprised to know had an acting career before he was Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend in “Sex And The City.”

Laurents was known as being gay long before being “out” was a professional possibility in Hollywood. He dated Farley Granger, an actor best known at the time for starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, before settling down for 52 years with his beau, Tom Hatcher. Although his sexuality didn’t cause much of a scandal in the New York theater world, in the 1950’s Laurents was “blacklisted” in Hollywood thanks to the anti-Communist witchhunts led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Many Hollywood careers were ended by the blacklists; luckily Laurents proved he had little political interest in any way, communism or otherwise, and convinced the U.S. government to remove his name and allow him to go back to work.

Laurents launched the Broadway career of Barbra Streisand, when he directed her in a musical called “I Can Get If For You Wholesale.” The role was Streisand’s first on Broadway, and although the show has proven to be unmemorable, Streisand earned herself a Tony nomination.

According to CNN, Streisand recently made news with her planned return to the world of movie musicals, with interest in starring in (yet another?) screen adaptation of “Gypsy,”  saying she wanted to work with Laurents one more time (how morbid!) and that she has dreamed of playing the role of “Rose” for decades.  Athough Laurents originally agreed to making the film, Stephen Sondheim eventually killed the idea, saying the world does not need another film version of “Gypsy” to be made. Sondheim wrote the music lyrics for the show.

According to Hollywood blog Deadline.com, Laurents died in his sleep.  He was 93.

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  • Oren

    Just a minor correction: Sondheim wrote the lyrics for Gypsy. It was Jule Styne who composed the beautiful music.

  • Abel

    Sondheim should back off. A lot of us would LIKE to see Streisand tackle Rose on the screen. I love the show and never tire of it, and it needs a definitive movie version. Midler was terrific. Now let Streisand have her shot.

  • edfu

    Oh, Christ, this putrid, ignorant reporting will do nothing to promote the “resurrection” of Queerty. Look, Mr. Renzi, you know nothing about Broadway. Mr. Bull, get an authentic theater queen to report about such items. This is an embarrassment beyond measure to the long history of gays and musicals.

    Laurents never wrote a note of music in his long life. He wrote the book for “West Side Story,” and the great Leonard Bernstein wrote the music. Stephen Sondheim did the lyrics.

    As has already been pointed out, he did not write the music for “Gypsy.” He wrote the book, and he was the director. This is not just a “minor” correction; it’s major stupidity.

  • declanto

    @edfu: Don’t you just hate it when the noobs get it so totally wrong? Hold their feet to the fire!

  • blatherer

    I guess that MTV haze has never quite worn off.

  • rghenson

    Another correction (do you do ANY research?) The film version of Gypsy with Streisand is still in development and Sondheim DID NOT put an end to it going forward. You are quoting an out of date comment made by Laurents that was discredited by Sondheim. Rest in peace.

  • Dick

    A definitive movie version is impossible until they figure out how to bring Merman back from the afterlife.

  • alan brickman

    Nice to see the haters back…..Great Job Queerty!!!!

  • alan brickman

    Arthur..you will be missed….

  • Michael in Toronto

    Sorry, Babs, but you’re TOO OLD! (Much as I love ya.) Almost 70. At the start of the show, Rose has two kids under the age of 10. I mean, c’mon…

  • Cam

    @Michael in Toronto:

    Brings to mind that line from “In and Out”…

    She was TOO OLD for YENTLE!

  • edfu

    I’m glad to see that the original post has been corrected to read “having helped write such shows as ‘Gypsy’ and ‘West Side Story’.” It originally stated that Laurents had “written the music” to “Gypsy” and “West Side Story.” Without knowing about that preposterous statement, my comment and others above make no sense.

    I didn’t originally want to cause confusion with too many details in my original comment, so I should point out that the director of the original production of “Gypsy” was Jerome Robbins, as he was for “West Side Story.” (The latter masterpiece, of course, was created by four gay men: Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins.) However, Arthur Laurents went on to direct the four Broadway revivals of “Gypsy,” in 1974, 1989, 2003, and 2008 (starring, respectively, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, and Patti LuPone). Laurents also directed the 2009 Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”

    Another major Gay 101 factoid worth mentioning is that Laurents was the director of the original production of the musical “La Cage aux Folles,” created by three gay men: Harvey Fierstein (book), Jerry Herman (music and lyrics), and Laurents.

  • scottg

    @edfu: Thanks for the corrections and the context. He was an amazing talent for the musical theater.

  • BillCooney

    “Sing out Louise!” is a phrase I use constantly. Maybe this is how Karaoke got started!

  • Vince

    Barbra is a great enough actress to pull off Mama Rose. She doesn’t look her age and that voice is still something to be reckoned with. Sing out Barbra! You’ll be swell! You’ll be great!

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