Roland Auctions of New York City will be selling the estate of legendary playwright, director, and screenwriter, Arthur Laurents on Saturday, June 2, 2012.
Mr. Laurents, whose credits include West Side Story, Gypsy, La Cage Aux Folles, Hallelujah, Baby and The Way We Were, amongst many others, had a long and distinguished career, both on Broadway and in Hollywood. He directed "I Can Get It For You Wholesale", launching the career of Barbra Streisand, and was hand-selected by Alfred Hitchcock to adapt his play "Rope" for the screen, starring Jimmy Stewart and Farley Granger.
In 1950, Arthur Laurents became a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee's witch hunts, resulting in being blacklisted for a brief period. Fortunately, he cleared his name and continued to become one of the great names in American theater and film history. Mr. Laurents was nominated six times for a Tony award, having won twice for Hallelujah, Baby, and La Cage Aux Folles. He also has been the recipient of the Drama Desk Award, Writers Guild of America Award, and the National Board of Review Award for Career Achievement. He received multiple nominations for the Academy Award and Golden Globe.
For those hoping to buy a small keepsake, there are dozens of engraved silver and crystal gifts from cast members and celebrities, as well as awards. Design sketches by Tony award-winning Theoni Aldredge, and Irene Sharaff, as well as set designs for many of his iconic plays and films will be available for purchase at auction.
"This is a rare opportunity to own a piece of theatrical history" said Bill Roland, who will be auctioning the collection on June 2nd. "We've had a tremendous amount of excitement from a community who clearly felt great fondness for Mr. Laurents."
It should be noted that, in addition to the wide array of memorabilia showcased in the Laurents estate, there is also a fine collection of American furniture and decorations. Mr. Laurents was a great collector of American antiques and the extensive collection of furniture, porcelain, crystal, Old World cartography, British equestrian horse paintings [including artists: W. Turner, J. Truman, J. Duvall], and American samplers that filled his West Village brownstone will be on view. In addition, a fine collection of modern art, much of which was collected by Mr. Laurents whilst abroad during his blacklisted period, is to be offered. Along with his many American modern paintings, these European works form a fine collection. Some highlights from the art collection include works by Yves Tanguy, Claude Venard, Ben Shahn, Bernard Perlin, Ernest Fiene, and Xiang Zhang.
The Estate of Arthur Laurents may be viewed at Roland Auctions, 80 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. Please see dates and times below. The catalog is available online at www.rolandantiques.com. They accept phone, online, and absentee bids.
Exhibition: Wednesday, May 30th through Friday, June 1st 10 am – 7 pm
Auction: Saturday, June 2nd, Promptly at 11 am
BWW Remembers Arthur Laurents
Arthur Laurents passed away on May 5, 2011 at the age of 93. He was best known for his work as librettist on Gypsy and West Side Story, but was also well known as a playwright, having won a Tony Award® for Hallelujah, Baby! in 1968. Later as a director, he was Tony-nominated for Gypsy in 1975 (and the 2008 revival) as well as the original 1984 La Cage Aux Folles. He made his Broadway debut in 1945 with Home of the Brave, but in the late 1940s Mr. Laurents successfully tried his luck as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Film credits include Hitchcock's "Rope," "Anastasia," with Ingrid Bergman, and "The Turning Point," with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine. His screenplay for "The Way We Were," with Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, was adapted from his novel by the same name.
In 2010, he established an award for emerging playwrights, to be funded through the Laurents-Hatcher Foundation, a tribute to his relationship with Tom Hatcher, an aspiring actor when they met. The couple remained together for 52 years until Hatcher's death in 2006. Mr. Laurents' play Two Lives was written about their relationship. The first recipient of the Laurents-Hatcher award was Jeff Talbott, an unproduced New York City playwright. His play, The Submission, was presented by Off-Broadway's MCC Theater last fall.
To mark the one year anniversary of his passing, BroadwayWorld spoke with his close friend and the literary executor of his estate, David Saint. Saint is currently directing the National tour of WEST SIDE STORY. He served as the Associate Director on the 2009 Broadway production, working side by side with his close friend and trusted mentor.
Mr. Laurents chose you to be the literary executor of his estate. I'm sure that is both a huge honor and a heavy responsibility.
Yes. It's a huge responsibility and a great privilege. And actually, the timing of your call is interesting because Arthur wrote a last memoir which he finished literally a week before he died. I am editing that as well and this past weekend I just finished the final edit and sent it off to the publishers. May 5th will be one year since he died and it was quite a busy year for me. And just reading the memoir very closely again the last few days with the final edit has really brought him back in so many ways. I still can't believe he's gone in a way.
How did you first become associated with him?
We met years ago, way back in the early 90's. We were in Seattle together, I was directing a play and he was doing a workshop of another play of his. We had met earlier than that through Ann Meara originally and so I knew him a little socially, but we really got to know each other in Seattle. A few months later he sent me a script and said he wanted me to direct it and that was of course thrilling, and then we continued to just become better and better friends and work together. I think I worked with him all together 11 or 12 times - a lot of plays, musicals. It was probably the most exciting relationship of my professional life. He was such a huge mentor to me and I learned a great deal from him.
Well that brings me to my next question which I'm sure is a difficult one to answer. What was the most important thing he taught you?
Oh boy. I could write a book. In fact I may! I think one of the big things was to find the honesty in the work and to find the honesty in yourself. He dealt remarkably honestly with people and sometimes in this business that is rare. A lot of people will say "Oh tell me what you think", but they really don't want to know what you think. They want to hear praise or they want to hear unvarnished rapport and Arthur never believed in that. He believed in telling the truth. If you asked him what he thought about something he would tell you. It was intimidating to a lot of people but what I found out was that after years of dealing with him and dealing with other folks, I much prefer dealing with him because I always knew where I stood.
I find even since he's gone that that policy always works the best because you don't have to worry about "Did I sugarcoat it? Should I really tell them what I thought? Should I temper it?" With Arthur, he really did keep it about the work. He could be very harsh and brutal with his criticism but it was always about the material. And he assumed everyone else thought that way too. So I learned early on with him that I could not take it so personally but take it more about his sharp observations. And for that he was invaluable. And he saw everything I directed. He was a great friend that way and a great support but he would tell me right off the bat "David, it's a piece of shit!" and that's hard to hear right off the bat. But then he would tell you why he thought that and in the process of him telling you, you always learned an enormous amount.
And I'm sure when you improved on it, it was even a greater feeling to get his praise.
Exactly! When he came down the aisle and said "David, I loved it," you felt on the top of the world because you knew that he genuinely loved it. That's rare.
You also serve as President of the Laurents-Hatcher Foundation.
Yes and that foundation is growing very rapidly. A year ago we started the Laurents-Hatcher Award which is given to a young playwright. It's a very substantial award. The winning playwright gets 50,000 and the theater that will produce the winning play gets $100,000 toward the production. So it's one of the largest awards given. And the only restrictions are that it's a new American play by an American writer that has some kind of social significance. Arthur felt even though he earned so much of his fame with his musicals, there would always be more people willing to produce a musical than a straight play so that's what he wanted this award to be. The foundation will grow and it's another great legacy that he's left. I'm also the executor of all of his literary properties, so anything to do with any major treatment of West Side Story or Gypsy or The Way We were, Turning Point, all those movies, I have to now deal with and try to act as the best as I know he would have. I can safely say that I think I am probably the closest individual to him that's alive that knows about his work. And Arthur felt that way and that' s why he chose to leave me in charge.
Regarding the current National touring production of West Side Story which you are directing, I understand he gave you the green light to re-imagine and re-stage the show to make it your own.
Yes, it was which was both thrilling and intimidating because I wanted to be faithful to the spirit of the recent Broadway revival and what was important to him. Because I was his Associate Director on that production, I was with him every second and really knew very well in depth what his intentions were with the production.
There were certain things that I asked him, "Can I fiddle with this? Can I chose this?" and certain things like 'Officer Krupke' and he would say "Oh please, I was never happy with the way that number ended up so do whatever you want." I knew what he was after. In fact it was interesting. He had spoken to the actors a lot about where that song was placed in the stage musical as opposed to the movie. It was purposely placed as a way for the gang members to vent their rage and their trauma at what had just happened, namely they had just seen their friend die and Tony was on the run. In order to cope with all this fear and rage and anger, they vented into a Vaudevillian number and that's what 'Officer Krupke' was about. Now when I was watching Arthur speak to these young actors in rehearsal, and they were young, 20, 21, 22 year old actors even a couple of 18 year olds and Vaudeville meant absolutely nothing to them. They nodded but it never really quite took off. When I started the tour in rehearsals, I was talking to the actors and I tried to translate more to my generation and hopefully their generation. I thought, "What is a current day type of vaudeville that deals with things irreverently and with shock value and makes comments on serious issues in a dark humorous way?" and I immediately thought "South Park." So I said "it's sort of like "South Park" and the minute I said "South Park" all of them lit up. They were like "ohh we get you!" and suddenly it just unlocked a lot of creative impulses in them. That was one example of a change that I made.
The Broadway revival caused a bit of controversy when the lyrics to some of the songs were translated and sung in Spanish.
Yes, that was an experiment that had been started at the very beginning with Arthur hoping to level the playing field but also to give it more a sense of what we are used to in contemporary theater. When we were in Washington we had a lot more songs in Spanish. We were toying with the idea of using subtitles and supertitles. And then of course we had the difficulty of translating Sondheim's lyrics because he wanted to keep the rhythms and he worked with Lin Manuel Miranda on making that happen. Of course the lyrics were not a literal translation of Sondheim's words but the spirit of them, while keeping the original musical rhythm. The more we used the Spanish lyrics, the more we basically found that the audience was pulling out because they didn't get the important information of the story and that was not good. So we started to mix it more with the English and the Spanish and that's what I continued with on the road as well.
What do you think keeps West Side Story so relevant today despite the fact that Laurents wrote it over a half a century ago?
Unfortunately, the theme of the piece has been a relevant theme for hundreds of years with Romeo and Julliet and even with the Italian plays before Shakespeare. This notion that love cannot thrive in a world of intolerance is unfortunately still with us very strongly today. That's what is so moving to me and makes it so very relevant.
And then in addition to that, let's face it, you had four geniuses of the American theater at the top of their game, in their 30's and even 20's, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. These were the best. The giants! This was the only collaboration where all four worked together - and it's magnificent. The music is some of the best ever written, Steve's lyrics - you can't get any better. And Arthur's book the best, the best. And Robbins great choreography. You have the incredible elements and I think they are still very powerful.
Now having said that, I will tell you that Arthur, made a lot of changes in the book for the revival that are subtle unless you really knew the piece. Everyone concentrates on the Spanish as the big change but he went through and literally cleaned out anything that was too sort of, musical comedy-dated from the 1950's. He felt that that was something you needed in the 50's to get by but now, you didn't need that. He felt it dated the piece and made it less powerful. So he did update the book. He didn't bring it into the 21st century or anything, but he did edit out some of the stuff that was no longer necessary.
I'm wondering who Mr. Laurents considered the current day or up and coming great creative artists.
You know, Arthur and I went to the theater three or four times a week. He saw everything - he loved theater. He would see the Broadway musicals as well as the works down in the East Village. I think he was a big fan of Adam Guettel, as am I. He was also a big fan of Bill T. Jones, the choreographer. Of course, Mike Nichols was one of his favorites. I think one of the reasons he loved Adam Guettel was that he was encouraged by his spirit. His music wasn't afraid to soar with emotion. Arthur felt that for quite a while now the composers in American musical theater had been afraid to really let loose with emotion and let the emotions soar. Songs like 'Tonight', 'I Have a Love' and 'Somewhere' were not afraid to really soar emotionally. I think that was something he was always on the look out for.
As the literary executor of the Laurent estate, I was wondering if you could give us any updates on the Hollywood version of 'Gypsy' starring Barbra Streisand.
Right now, it's still in development as they say. They've hired Julian Fellowes to adapt the screenplay, who is a wonderful writer and Arthur loved his work. He wrote 'Downtown Abbey' and so many things before that and Arthur loved him and thought he was a talented screenwriter. But as far as I know, they still don't have a director yet. They do have a producer, Joel Silver and Barbra and Julien Fellowes. That's all I know at the moment!