Arthur Laurents

Distinguished stage director, author and screenwriter who enjoyed equal success in both the musical and legitimate theatre.
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Artist Biography

b. 14 July 1918, New York, USA. A distinguished stage director, author and screenwriter, Laurents has enjoyed equal success in both the musical and legitimate theatre. His parents did not approve of his early ambitions to be a playwright, and young Laurents went alone to New York theatres in the Depression-hit early 30s. He made his name as the author of plays such as Home Of The Brave (1945) and The Time Of The Cuckoo (1952), before writing the libretto for the landmark musical West Side Story (1957). The 50s were troubled times for Laurents: blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunts, he was nearly bankrupted by the lawyers fees incurred in securing the return of his passport. He and composer Leonard Bernstein auditioned Stephen Sondheim as lyricist for West Side Story, enabling him to make his Broadway debut. Laurents and Sondheim collaborated again in 1959 on Gypsy (music: Jule Styne), Anyone Can Whistle (1964, Laurents also directed) and Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965). Laurents made his debut as the director of a musical in 1962 with I Can Get It For You Wholesale, in which Barbra Streisand made an enormous impact, stopping the show every night with the comic ‘Miss Marmelstein’. Since then, Laurents has experienced mixed fortunes. Hallelujah, Baby! (1967), with his libretto and a score by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, was considered a failure in New York, but the first West End production of Gypsy in 1973, starring Angela Lansbury, which Laurents directed, was acclaimed, and subsequently transferred to Broadway. Laurents also directed another New York revival of his favourite musical in 1989, with Tyne Daly. In 1979, The Madwoman Of Central Park West, a one-woman entertainment that Laurents wrote with and for Phyllis Newman, played off-Broadway at the 22 Steps Theatre. After being nominated for a Tony Award for his direction of the original Gypsy, Laurents’ staging of La Cage Aux Folles finally won him an Award in 1983. However, there were no Tonys awarded to Nick And Nora (1991); Laurents was associated with this colossal flop as author and director, but ironically, for him personally, some good came from it. Disillusioned with musical productions, he immediately launched into the creation of a series of plays, their content spanning four decades: Jolson Sings Again, a piece about politics and principles set in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, a comedy of manners entitled The Radical Mystique, My Good Name, and Two Lives. He also settled on two venues sympathetic to his work, Seattle Rep and the Manhattan Theatre Club. Laurents’ other notable contributions to the straight theatre over the years have included Invitation To A March (1960), which had incidental music by Sondheim, The Way We Were, Scream, A Clearing In The Woods, and the homosexual-themed The Enclave (1973). One of his earliest efforts, The Time Of The Cuckoo, had already provided the basis for the musical Do I Hear A Waltz?, before it was filmed in 1955 as Summertime, starring Katharine Hepburn, while The Way We Were came to the big screen in 1973, with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in the leading roles. Laurents wrote the screenplay for the latter, and he also scripted The Snake Pit (1948), Rope (1948), Caught (1948), Anna Lucasta (1949, with Philip Yordan), Anastasia (1956), Bonjour Tristesse (1958) and The Turning Point (1977). In 1995, the York Theatre Company presented Laurents with its sixth annual Oscar Hammerstein II Award, and his many other honours have included Golden Globe, Drama Desk, National Board of Review, Writers Guild of America, National Institute of Arts and Letters, Screen Writers Guild, Sydney Drama Critics awards. He has been inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.