Cambria Press Book Excerpts: “The Works of Arthur Laurents” by John Clum

Arthur Laurents Cambria Press academic publisher

The Works of Arthur Laurents: Politics, Love, and Betrayal

Arthur Laurents fans will want to get a copy of “The Works of Arthur Laurents” by John Clum (Duke University).

Brenda Murphy, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut, praises it as “the first substantial study of the work of Arthur Laurents, and it was worth waiting for. In this authoritative and engaging book, John Clum draws on an unparalleled fund of knowledge about the musical theatre and the history of LGBT theatre in America to chronicle Laurents’s importance as a gay playwright writing about gay issues during the twentieth century. He elegantly demonstrates the ways in which Laurents’s writings parallel the momentous changes in the social, cultural, and political status of LGBT people during the period of his long life, from 1917 to 2011.”

Below are some excerpts from the book:

Laurents and Gay History

Though it is ostensibly about anti-Semitism in the military, there is a homoerotic subtext to Arthur Laurents’s first play, Home of the Brave (1945), one of the few plays about soldiers written during World War II. One of Laurents’s first Hollywood assignments was the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film, Rope (1948), an adaptation of the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton. Based loosely on the famous Leopold-Loeb murder of young Bobby Franks in the 1920s, Rope depicts the cold-blooded murder of a young man by a gay couple. Neither the play nor the film overtly states that the two men are gay, but there are obvious hints and strong echoes of the homosexual relationship of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Despite the Production Code’s restrictions on the representation of gay men, Laurents, with director Alfred Hitchcock’s support, wrote as gay a film as could be written in 1947, starring two gay actors, John Dall and Farley Granger (who was Laurents’s lover at the time).

Women, Politics, and Marriage

As Laurents’s work reflects the evolving history of gay men in America from World War II to the present, so it can be seen to trace the history of women during that period. Laurents was not consciously offering a feminist critique of women’s limited roles in the American upper middle class in the second half of the twentieth century, but one can easily read such a critique into his work. The female protagonists of his Broadway plays in the 1950s, Leona in The Time of the Cuckoo and Virginia in A Clearing in the Woods, are both “fancy secretaries” who, given the limitations on women in the workplace at the time, have risen as high as they can in their places of employment. Both are single. Virginia, like many women of her generation, has to project her own ambition onto the men in her life, as the fiercely ambitious Madame Rose in Gypsy projects her ambition onto her children. The questions asked in these plays are: What is the effect on women of limited life choices? What is the role of men in these women’s lives? Can women be complete without a man? In 1960, in Invitation to a March, Laurents created Camilla, a single mother who happily leads her life outside of conventional middle-class values. In the play Camilla is pitted against two unhappy paragons of respectability in a battle for the soul of a young woman who must choose between conventionality and freedom. Most of the plays Laurents wrote between 1973 and 2000 center on prosperous, urban nuclear families, but the focus is often on the wife’s realization that she has the moral authority and that she is free to make choices and assert her will within the marriage.

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See also the Cambria Contemporary Global Performing Arts Series, which is headed by Dr. Clum.

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