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.




In fact, he says, "the only time it really came up was when I wrote The Way We Were. " That's when, he says, the movie's director, Sydney Pollack, told him that "everybody in Hollywood is just so surprised." Then, as Laurents remembers:

I asked, "Why?"

"This is the best love story anybody has written in years," Pollack said, "and you wrote it."

"Why are they surprised?"

"Because you're a homosexual."

Laurents was too shocked to respond. "I just thought, You're such an asshole. What can I say? "

Broadway, of course, has long been one of the most gay-friendly places to work in America, and it's there where Laurents is most completely at home. He says he never felt the need to conceal his sexuality from his colleagues, and today, he doesn't think anyone else needs to either -- with one exception. "The only [reasonable] argument I've heard" against coming out is that it could "harm a young leading man," Laurents says. "And my personal opinion is yes, certainly with films, I think it does matter. It's the culture. To me, times have changed most for the Jews. Next for the blacks -- Obama's in the White House, but don't think there isn't an enormous amount of racial prejudice. And finally comes the gays, and I think that will be the hardest. Everybody needs somebody to look down on. And the blacks really look down on gays."

His new book, Mainly on Directing, is very specific about the surprisingly simple secret that made the recent revivals of Gypsy and West Side Story more powerful than all the previous productions of these plays: He decided to put just as much emphasis on acting as all of his predecessors had on singing and dancing.

His first book, Original Story by Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood, published in 2000, was equally revealing -- for instance, discussing his affairs with actors like Farley Granger. Mainly on Directing focuses on his love affair with the theater, his love affair with Tom, and the platonic affairs he seems to have had with nearly all of the actors he's ever worked with.

In his latest book Laurents praises Matt Cavenaugh, the actor who plays Tony in the new West Side Story, for "a depth and passion I suspect he didn't know he had, that exploded during rehearsals." Laurents also tells me, "Matt hits notes Larry Kert couldn't," referring to the actor who originated the role of Tony 50 years ago. "I really love him," Laurents says. "He's a lovely guy. I had to unlock him. You know, he comes from Arkansas, and he's basically very conventional. I had to get him to break through himself."

Tags: Theater