New York Times
Laurents Left Book, Play and Plan for ”˜Gypsy’ Film
By PATRICK HEALY
In the month before his death, on May 5, the Tony Award-winning writer and director Arthur Laurents gave his blessing to a plan for a new film version of “Gypsy,” starring Barbra Streisand, and also finished a full-length play as well as his third memoir, Laurents’s agent and several associates said this week.
Joel Silver, the Hollywood producer who is developing the film based on the celebrated 1959 Broadway musical, said in an interview on Wednesday that he has made a deal with Universal Pictures to finance the picture, and that Laurents had signed off on the project. (Laurents’s agent, Jonathan Lomma, confirmed this in a separate interview.)
The “Gypsy” contracts call for the movie to be “substantially similar” to the stage musical, according to Mr. Silver and Mr. Lomma. “Gypsy” had been adapted into a 1962 film (which Laurents openly loathed), starring Rosalind Russell, and a 1993 television movie with Bette Midler. Mr. Silver is now concluding a deal with Ms. Streisand to star as Momma Rose; it would be her first on-screen singing-starring role since “Yentl” in 1983. A director, screenwriter and actors for the other lead roles of Herbie and Louise, still need to be chosen, Mr. Silver said, but he was hopeful that production could begin next spring.
Laurents, who wrote the book for “Gypsy” and another acclaimed musical, “West Side Story,” said in interviews this spring that he would be at peace if the “Gypsy” movie did not work out. Those statements were made when Mr. Silver, Warner Brothers and the “Gypsy” rights holders were struggling to reach a deal. Mr. Silver has since taken the project to Universal, he said, with Warner having the option to help finance it once all of the deals are in place.
In the weeks before his death, at 93, Laurents was still sharp minded and characteristically impatient about finishing projects and starting new ones, Mr. Silver and others said.
“I last spoke to Arthur in April, brought him up to speed on everything, and then I think I surprised him a little by asking him to make the movie with me,” Mr. Silver said. “I felt that he understood ”˜Gypsy’ better than anyone, and that he understood Barbra, since he cast her in her first big musical, ”˜I Can Get It for You Wholesale.’ And he said yes. We were talking about him coming out to L.A. in May.”
Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for “Gypsy,” remains a part of the film development discussions, Mr. Silver said. Jule Styne, who died in 1994, wrote the music for “Gypsy,” which includes the songs “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Together Wherever We Go.”
In mid-April Laurents finished his play “The Last Time We Saw Paris,” about a group of old friends “who live in a kind of self-imposed state of delusion because it’s easier than coping with real life,” Mr. Lomma said. Laurents wrote several plays, including “The Time of the Cuckoo,” which ran on Broadway during the 1952-53 season, as well as screenplays for “Rope” and the Streisand picture “The Way We Were.”
David Saint, Laurents’s literary executor and artistic director of the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., said in an interview that he had been able to read only the first three scenes of the play so far; he described them as “full of Arthur’s voice and a lovely piece of writing.” He said he hoped to mount the play at George Street or somewhere in New York, as early as 2012. Mr. Saint added that Laurents was in the very early stages of working with a young composer on a new musical, about a love affair.
Ten days before he died Laurents sent the manuscript for his third memoir, “The Rest of the Story,” to Mr. Lomma, who said it would be published next year by Applause Theater and Cinema Books. His previous memoir, “Mainly on Directing,” generated buzz in the theater world (mainly) for Laurents’ trademark bite, wit and naming of names.
“The book doesn’t simply cover his final years, but rather people, relationships and productions during his life that he has come to re-evaluate or offer new insights about,” Mr. Lomma said. “A remarkable thing about Arthur is, he was not an old man precious about his masterpieces or memories. He was constantly rethinking everything.”