Arthur Laurents Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although primarily a playwright and author of librettos for several musicals, Arthur Laurents has also written for both radio and the movies. Shortly after his first Broadway success, he began writing screenplays as well, producing eight over the next thirty years: The Snake Pit (1948, with Frank Partos and Millen Brand), Rope (1948, with Hume Cronyn), Caught (1949), Anna Lucasta (1949, with Philip Yordan), Anastasia (1956), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), The Way We Were (1973), and The Turning Point (1977). Because of their wide popularity with moviegoers, Laurents wrote novelizations of both The Way We Were and The Turning Point. His foray into work for television came in 1967, with the script for The Light Fantastic: How to Tell Your Past, Present, and Future Through Social Dancing. In 2000, Laurents published Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Among American dramatists of his generation, Arthur Laurents certainly stands out as one of the more versatile: He is the author of plays that have received New York productions as well as of Broadway musicals, several radio plays and one-act plays, Hollywood screenplays, novels based on screenplays, and a teleplay. Other plays or musicals have been given minor productions—all this while Laurents himself has become involved in directing, both his own works and those of others, and even in coproducing a film. A few of his radio plays, including Western Electric Communicade (1944) and The Face (1945), have been selected for inclusion in collections of “best” one-act plays. His first Broadway success, Home of the Brave, won for him the Sidney Howard Memorial Award in 1946; this was followed in the next decade by three additional Broadway productions: The Bird Cage, The Time of the Cuckoo, and A Clearing in the Woods.

In the mid-1950’s, Laurents began his collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, writing the librettos for a series of musicals—an association that would last a decade and result in two of the most important works in the genre, West Side Story and Gypsy. The libretto for the latter work is so strong that it could almost stand on its own, without the songs, as a serious play, making it both the culmination and the epitome of a long line of book musicals. Little wonder...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barnes, Clive. “Bad Idea Kills Nick and Nora.” Review of Nick and Nora. Post (New York), December 9, 1991. According to Barnes, “a bad idea turned sour.” He points at Laurents’s multiple contribution as the main reason for the show’s failure: “This is not a musical. It is a ‘bookical’—a book with songs rather than a songbook.”

“Decades Later, Naming Names Still Matters.” The New York Times, March 14, 1999, Section 2, p. 7. Frank Rich interviews Laurents about Jolson Sings Again. Laurents describes his reasons for writing the play and explains his dislike for people whose testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee in the 1940’s and 1950’s destroyed the careers of their friends.

Guernsey, Otis L., Jr., ed. “An Ad Lib for Four Playwrights.” In Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers on Theater. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1974. A conversation among Laurents, Sidney “Paddy” Chayefsky, Israel Horovitz, and Leonard Melfi, in which Laurents proves the most insightful regarding playwright expectations of directors and actors in production.

Gypsy Stripped of Spirit.” Review of Gypsy. Post (New York), November 17, 1989. This revival of Gypsy, with Tyne Daly in the role of Gypsy Rose Lee, was the second (a 1974 revival starred Angela Lansbury, and the original 1959 production starred Ethel Merman). Laurents directed this version and is here credited, with some reservations, for its success.

Kaufman, David. “When the Author Insists on Directing the Play, Too.” The New York Times, February 11, 2001, Section 2, p. 5. Laurents explains how his dissatisfaction with other directors led him to undertake the task and discusses difficulties he discovered when directing his own plays.