Everybody’s having his or her say about Arthur Laurents, who wrote the books for Gypsy and West Side Story and who died the other day at the age of ninety-three. Much of what’s being said about him is a bit on the sanctimonious side, which is mildly amusing. The truth is that Laurents was one of the most detested people in the theater business, a genuinely nasty man about whom more than a few of his famous ex-friends had nothing good to say, just as he had nothing good to say about them. I suspect that his nastiness was rooted in the fact that he never succeeded in writing anything of lasting interest other than Gypsy and West Side Story, and resented his better-known collaborators for having made possible his own success, such as it was.
For my part, I wrote nothing about Laurents’ death because I’d already said my piece about him in a Wall Street Journal review of Original Story By, his 2000 autobiography. Laurents spewed venom all over a long list of people, Jerome Robbins in particular, in Original Story By, which explains the last paragraph of my review:
Jerome Robbins was one of the twentieth century’s greatest choreographers, while Arthur Laurents will in the not-so-long run be remembered solely for having collaborated with his artistic betters, Robbins very much included. Small wonder, then, that Original Story By leaves a rancid taste in the mouth. For all its irresistible readability, too much of it stinks of smugness and spite–and envy.
So it did, and does.