Honest Arthur

With his latest production of West Side Story currently on Broadway and a new memoir just published, legendary writer-producer Arthur Laurents tells his good friend Charles Kaiser why he's never been able to tell a lie.

BY Charles Kaiser

May 06 2009 12:00 AM ET

ARTHUR LAURENTS 02 X390 (DAVID BARTOLOMI) | ADVOCATE.COM

Laurents was also unusually comfortable with his sexuality, partly because of a remarkable psychiatrist named Judd Marmor, whom he had started seeing in 1947. He recounted for me his first meeting with the doctor:

"Why are you here?" Marmor asked.

"I'm afraid I'm a homosexual," Laurents replied.

"So?"

"What do you mean, 'So?' You know it's dirty and disgusting."

"I don't know anything about it," Marmor said. "All I know is whoever or whatever you are, if you lead your life with pride and dignity, that's all that matters."

"I was terribly moved," Laurents says today, "because it went deeper than just being gay -- what he said about living your life with pride and dignity." By the time he and Hatcher moved in together, Marmor "had done such a good job" on Laurents that he already felt more comfortable with himself than most of his gay contemporaries did.

"Tom was 12 years younger and about a hundred years smarter and wiser," Laurents says. "Because he came from Oklahoma, he wasn't encumbered by all this big-city smartass wisdom. People don't believe this, but what attracted me to him was the thing that is always the most attractive thing about people to me: It's what I consider the pure in heart. And he was."

Nevertheless, he and Hatcher "didn't go around wearing tutus," and Laurents wasn't publicly identified as gay until Frank Rich accidentally outed him in 1995, when he described him in The New York Times as "the liberal, gay Mr. Laurents" after Rich had interviewed him onstage at a theater in Seattle.

"During the interview, Frank talked about Tom as my 'partner,'È‚f;" Laurents says. "I'd never heard that word before. And I said, 'Oh, is that what he is?' I thought and still think it's a very odd word. To me, it's someone who sits on the other side of a desk, not in your bed."

But Laurents didn't care in the least that his nonsecret had finally appeared in print. In fact, he says, he can only remember two occasions in his whole life when anyone said anything homophobic in his presence. The first time was when the writer Paddy Chayefsky asked him to go for a walk with him in the '60s.

"I remember we walked through Central Park chatting, and he said he wanted to do a play about the [Communist] witch hunt in Hollywood. He knew I'd survived it and he wanted to know how it had affected 'all the fags.' And I'm walking there saying, 'Uh-huh. So I'm a fag, thank you.' Then he said, 'I wanted to know how much pressure you were in from the witch hunt because you were a fag.' So I said, 'Well, actually, none.' And it's true; I never felt any pressure for being gay."

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