Winnipeg Free Press
Authors of Gypsy rebuff bids to remake film with Streisand
Monday, November 6,1989
“Not for all the money in the world will we let them make another film version of Gypsy,” said playwright Arthur Laurents.
The first time Hollywood filmed the Broadway mu s i c a l, it was “lousy,” said composer Jule Styne, referring to the 1962 Warner Bros, adaptation that starred Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood. Neither of the stars sang their roles in the Mervyn LeRoy-directed movie and critic Pauline Kael labeled the interpretation “extremely unpleasant.”
This time, Laurents and Styne were reacting to two recent proposals to f i lm the 1959 show they co-wrote with lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The original version, based on the autobiography of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, starred Ethel Merman.
Styne said he, Laurents and Sondheim last weekend nixed a proposal by the powerful Creative Artists Agency that would have cast Streisand as the domineering psychopathic Mama Rose and Madonna as the shy daughter-turned-stripper.
“We turned it down,” Styne said curtly. “We turned down a Midler version too,” referring to a proposal that he said was made by Walt Disney-Touchstone Pictures.
Turned down Streisand?
Turned down Midler?
Turned down two bigger-than-life actresses to play what is arguably one of the greatest female roles written for the musical theatre?
“Sure, it (the casting) is impressive, but we don’t want it … you don’t get the magic you get on the stage,” Styne said, calling the show and its string of hit songs “the most important thing I’ve ever written.”
“It’s almost unbelievable that they’re saying no to those names,” said one Hollywood-based film producer who asked that his name not be mentioned. “You rarely see this kind of regard for the integrity of a stage property.”
Styne made it clear the rejection had nothing to do with the stars. It is the concept of transferring the show from stage to film to which he objects. He said that after the 1962 film, “the show was dead in stock (touring productions). It took almost 30 years to offset that lousy picture.”
Styne was overlooking the 1974 revival that starred Angela Lansbury. Instead, his focus is on a new production, starring Tyne Daly, that will open Nov. 16 at New York’s St. James Theatre. The same 30th-anniversary production toured nationally earlier this year.
Echoing his fellow collaborator, Laurents said that after its successful run in Los Angeles last summer, the movie business was suddenly interested again. “It’s very Hollywood thinking,” he said of the casting concepts. “They think they’re doing us each a favor.
“No one seems to believe that you could turn down stars and money,” Laurents said. “Well, I don’t want it. . .. I like Gypsy the way it is.”
The way it is, in the current stage revival â€” which Laurents directed â€” is “the way it should be,” he said, adding that the show was conceived by Jerome Robbins for the stage and that the transition to f i lm would make it entirely a different piece.
That is a prospect he does not want to ponder, especially after the first go-round. Both Styne and L a u r e n tsÂ a re quintessential Broadway animals, both having written such other hit shows and films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Funny Girl for Styne and West Side Story, The Way We Were and The Turning Point for Laurents. Their teaming with the young Sondheim for Gypsy produced what has become a legendary show that many critics consider the finest book musical ever.
As one f i lm casting agent put it, “What’s so great about Rose is it’s visceral. It’s from the guts.”