Arthur Laurents’ name might not resonate with the general public, but the films, plays and musicals he helped create do. Over the course of a career that spanned decades and historical eras, Laurents distinguished himself as a Librettist, director, playwright and screenwriter.
Born Arthur Levine to Jewish parents in New York, Laurents’ eviscerating wit and impressive work ethic served him well as he maneuvered easily between radio, theater and film. Laurents is perhaps best known as part of the murderer’s row of creative talent (the others being Stephen Soundheim, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein) behind West Side Story, the smash-hit musical and movie adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.
Laurents directed a young Barbra Streisand in I Can Get It For You Wholesale, the play that launched her and co-star Elliott Gould to stardom. Later Laurents wrote one of Streisand’s signature cinematic hits in The Way We Were. Laurents picked up a Tony award for best direction for La Cage Aux Folles, the musical Mike Nichols would eventually film as The Birdcage.
In 2000, Laurents published the memoir, Original Story by Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood that chronicled with wry wit Laurents’ adventures in the film and screen trade and his political and social travails as a gay Jewish leftist during eras that weren't terribly understanding or tolerant of any part of that equation.
A principled disgust at the idiocy of studio heads and the cowardice of politicians pervades the book, especially in regards to Laurent’s experiences with the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Laurents was a smart, talented and fundamentally sensible man in fields where those virtues are generally in short supply. The world will be a less civil, elegant place in his absence.
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