|(Arthur Laurents, who died May 12 at age 93, wrote two the books for two of Broadway's most indelible musicals, "West Side Story" and Gypsy.")|
Last week, Arthur Laurents, one of Broadway and Hollywood's most ferocious and erratic craftsman, expired of pneumonia at the age of 93. For any normal human, this would be the expected conclusion of a long life. However, for a man who had a genius for making collaborators into foes and shaping the mundane detritus of existence into blazing confrontation, this is a yawning disappointment. If Laurents had managed to succumb under mysterious circumstances, his long line of show-biz enemies would have made for a whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie.
His output included screenplays for Hitchcock, an Oscar-winning vehicle for Ingrid Bergman and one of Olivia de Havilland's juiciest roles. Alas, they linger in the twilight of semi-oblivion. The Streisand-Redford "The Way We Were" endures mainly due to its title song, plus Laurents claims it as a bastardization of his original political intentions.
|(The gym scene from the touring production of "West Side Story" now at PlayhouseSquare.)|
The key to the firebrand's immortality is the pact he made with song and dance in the '50s. With two titanic musicals, "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," he formed a holy trinity with Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins, with inspired music by Leonard Bernstein on the first and Jule Styne on the latter. These are the works that will forever keep his name in crossword puzzles.
If there were no Jet-Shark rumbles, macho men would find snapping their fingers to be a hollow gesture. If Laurents had not had the inspiration to turn Gypsy Rose Lee's mother into a Shakespearean gorgon, torturing her offspring to "sing out" and performing musical monologues of filial betrayal, anguished homosexuals would have no role model on which to pin their mishegas.
|(A scene from the movie version of "West Side Story.")|
|(Rosalind Russell showing off those fatal pumps in the 1962 film version of "Gypsy.")|
The ultimate irony is that, at the end of Laurents' life, he was the real Mama Rose, unable to leave his brilliant offspring to flourish on their own.