Arthur Laurents, Famed Broadway Playwright, Dies at 93

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Arthur Laurents in 2009

Last night Broadway dimmed its lights in honor of Arthur Laurents, the famed writer, director, and nonagenarian who died in Manhattan Thursday.

He wrote the books of two of musical theatre’s most celebrated shows: Gypsy and West Side Story, while his film credits include such successes as The Way We Were and Anastasia. NewsFeed takes a look at Arthur Laurents’ storied career, during which he collaborated with some of the biggest names in show biz.

Jerome Robbins directed Ethel Merman in the original 1959 production of Gypsy, for which Laurents wrote the book, Jule Styne the music, and a very young Stephen Sondheim the lyrics. Laurents himself eventually directed three more Broadway Roses: Angela Lansbury in 1974, Tyne Daly in 1989, and Patti LuPone in 2008. Bernadette Peters took on the role in the 2003 B’way revival; Bette Midler in the 1993 TV movie; and Rosalind Russell in the 1962 film. Here LuPone performs at the 2008 Tony Awards — watch for Laurents at the end of the clip.


(More on Q&A with Patti LuPone).

West Side Story
Laurents also wrote the book for West Side Story, turning Romeo into Tony and Maria into Juliet, giving lines to the Jets and the Sharks instead of Montagues and Capulets. The show, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, premiered on Broadway in 1957. More than half a century later (long after the 1961 film version), Laurents directed its bilingual revival, the cast of which performed at the 2009 Tonys:


(More on 10 Questions for Stephen Sondheim).

La Cage Aux Folles
Though they’re classics, neither Gypsy nor West Side Story earned Laurents a Tony. He won his first for 1968’s Hallelujah, Baby! And he won another for his direction of the original Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, Jerry Herman the music and lyrics. The cast performed at the 1984 Tony Awards — long before Lady Gaga released Born This Way.


The Way We Were
Laurents, who directed Barbra Streisand in her first Broadway role in 1962’s I Can Get It For You Wholesale, wrote the screenplay for The Way We Were, which Streisand starred in along with Robert Redford. Laurents also wrote the novel of the same name, but Sydney Pollack directed the 1973 film.


Laurents’ screenplay for Anastasia was adapted from Marcelle Maurette’s play. (Guy Bolton had written the English adaptation of Maurette’s work). The 1956 film marked Ingrid Bergman’s triumphant comeback. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of, as the trailer says, “the woman called Anastasia.”


The Turning Point
Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine starred in The Turning Point — Mikhail Baryshnikov’s movie debut. The 1977 film received 11 Oscar nominations, including one for Laurents’ screenplay.


Of course, when you’re in the biz for more than sixty-five years, you’re bound to have some unfortunate productions. Laurents called the infamous Nick & Nora — the musical lasted one week on Broadway — “the biggest and most public flop of my career.” But it wasn’t the end of his career, for Arthur Laurents never retired. According to Playbill , “In recent weeks, Mr. Laurents had finished work on a new play, and had concluded negotiations with a major studio for a new feature film version of Gypsy.”