Recalling the way he really was

Everyone in the theater has a story about why Arthur Laurents stopped talking to him at some time or other. Here’s mine.

I was researching my Allan Carr bio, “Party Animals,” and phoned Laurents to ask him about his firing Robert Stack from the Broadway production of “La Cage aux Folles.” In his second autobiography, “Mainly on Directing,” Laurents wrote that it was an amicable parting. A few sources close to the production told another story — that at a rehearsal in the Palace Theater, Laurents tore into Stack in front of the cast, telling the actor, “You can’t act. You can’t sing. You can’t dance. What is it you do?”

Laurents didn’t like hearing this story over the phone. “You journalists are all alike. You just want the dirt,” he said.

I reminded him that he, too, was a journalist. If writing two autobiographies and working on a third wasn’t journalism, I didn’t know what was.

“I know what you’ll do,” he told me. “You’ll tell my version in your book and then you’ll print this other scurrilous version, too.”

Which is exactly what I did.

I had a few other moments that irritated him, none of which detracts from the fact that the prolific Laurents wrote the greatest book ever for a musical, “Gypsy.” His screenplays for “Rope,” “The Turning Point” and “The Way We Were” are also pretty amazing.

When we were still speaking, I asked Laurents about “The Way We Were” being based on his 50-year relationship with actor Tom Hatcher, who died in 2006. Like the Robert Redford character, Hatcher was blond, beautiful and wasp-ish.

He demurred, “Well, I was like the Streisand character in college — the leftist politics.” And later, those politics got Laurents blacklisted in Hollywood.

I asked why he didn’t write a book about his relationship with Hatcher. “It’s in a play I’m working on,” he replied.

I’d interviewed Hatcher for another book, “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson,” since he’d been an actor client in the 1950s of the book’s subject, agent Henry Willson. Laurents and Hatcher were one of the great untold love stories, one that I wanted to turn into a book. I even had a good title for it, “The Way They Really Were,” but soon came to the realization that publishers don’t want gay-themed books, especially gay-themed theater books. I gave up on the project. I’m sure Laurents would be grateful for that.

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