In memoriam: Arthur Laurents, 1917-2011

Just a few words in memory of the great Arthur Laurents, who died yesterday at the age of 92. 

To me, he will be remembered not only as the Broadway icon who wrote the books for such classic musicals as West Side Story and Gypsy but also as a brave and indomitable Hollywood screenwriter who penned (among other things) Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rope (1948), and who in doing so served as a formidable queer voice in pre-Stonewall cinema.  Not only did he dare to live as openly gay as was possible in the 1940s and 1950s (he and his partner Tom Hatcher had been together since the mid ’50s), he dared to address issues of homosexuality in his work and always spoke insightfully, eloquently, and humorously about homosexuality in the movies (see, for example, The Celluloid Closet [dir. Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, 1996], pictured above, or the retrospective interviews on the Rope DVD, conducted in 2001, in which Laurents is the only figure to even make mention of homosexuality in the film!).  Only a few weeks ago, teaching Rope in an undergraduate course, I played excerpts of these interviews with Laurents, to whose anecdotes I could listen endlessly.  He was famously outspoken and could get to the heart of what was wrong with a particular film or play or actor in the matter of a few sentences (on Tom Ford's A Single Man, from a 2010 interview with Out magazine: "The book has a man sitting on a toilet ruminating. The film has a man sitting on a toilet that is a shot for Vanity Fair. That sums it up, to me.")  These interviews showcase his wit, his strong opinions, and his keen eye for the details of dialogue, narrative, and character, and (as absurd as this sounds) they made me feel like I knew him personally—and so in hearing about his death I feel like someone for whom I’ve felt real affection has passed away.


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