Thank you Arthur Laurents
I have Arthur Laurents to thank for the genesis of my writing. I was in grad school telling my friend Ashok about a movie I really love, SUMMERTIME with Katherine Hepburn, written by Laurents. It’s about a spinster who, while on vacation in Venice, falls in love with a married man and has a short affair. She comes alive because she lets go of her old morals and learns to accept love as it comes. It’s a sweet piece. And I could relate. So, I said, “someone should rewrite it but with a gay man as the lead.” Ashok said, “Why don’t you?” And so I did. Only I made the lead character a gay man and instead of Venice, I placed it Paris, because Paris is the city of love. MISSING TONTO was my first play, which was produced by the CalArts New Plays Festival in 1998.
About 8 years later, I was living in New York with a couple more plays and one screenplay under my belt. I was invited to hear Laurents read from his soon to be published memoirs and then take questions from the audience. I brought a long a copy of MISSING TONTO to give to him if the moment should arise. During the Q&A, everyone was asking about GYPSY, WEST SIDE STORY and SONDHEIM. Finally, toward the end, I raised my hand. “What was the inspiration for SUMMERTIME?”
Laurents sat back in his seat, he was visibly moved. “I haven’t thought about that story in a long time.” He went on to tell of how he was in his twenties, lonely and alone in Paris. He thought it was ironic that here he was in the city of love and feeling lonely. So, he wrote TIME OF THE CUCKOO, a play that later became a musical (I HEAR A WALTZ) and then finally, the movie SUMMERTIME. He wrote about himself, but made the main character a woman, because no one would want to hear about a gay man in those days. And he set it in Venice because American film was having a love affair with Italy at the time. Funny how I picked up on the underlying truth about a gay man in Paris. No wonder the movie spoke to me.
As we went up to thank him after the reading, I gave him the copy of my script and thanked him for inspiring me. He was sweet. And I was honored.
Rest in Peace, Arthur Laurents.
July 14, 1917 – May 5, 2011