(Emma Brockes interviewed appeared in The Guardian, August 1, 2009.)

A life in musicals: Arthur Laurents

'Somebody said to me, if you don't stop going to parties, you'll never write a play. So I wrote a play'

The last line of Arthur Laurents's memoir, Original Story By, refers to his partner Tom Hatcher, with whom the author lived for more than 50 years. "As long as he lives," he wrote in 2000, "I will." Hatcher died in 2006 and the writer, director and librettist is, in his 93rd year, adjusting to life without him. "Busy keeping busy," he says drily and it is a stunning workload; last year he revived Gypsy on Broadway, published a book about directing and rehearsed the current Broadway production of West Side Story, for which he wrote the original book. He is now working on a new play, Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are. "The title will tell you what it's about."

Looked at in aggregate, Laurents's life has an improbable Forrest Gump air of having encompassed great swaths of history and the famous figures within it. As a young soldier in the second world war he was saved from overseas duty by being put in a propaganda film unit with Private (George) Cukor. He was a screenwriter in Hollywood during its most glamorous era and then black-listed during the communist witch-hunt, when his passport was confiscated. In the 1940s a disciple of Freud's tried to "cure" him of homosexuality and at one time he was in, of all things, a Marxist study group with Shelley Winters. Laurents slipped by all this more or less unscathed, saved, he says, from the worst fate of his peers – alcoholism, chiefly – by a sense of proportion he assumes is innate. His life and work boil down to two things: "It's about people and about love." The rest is just gossip.


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