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I began reading plays while I was at Cornell; in fact, that's almost all I did one whole year. If you had a certain average, the university allowed you to invent a course not covered in the curriculum, provided an assistant professor or better would agree to teach it. The course I invented was in the socially conscious drama since 1848. The assistant professor who agreed to "teach" the course and I had two common causes: the theatre and prejudice. He didn't love the theatre quite as much as I did, though, and his anger at prejudice was less than mine. But then, his anger came from having been the only Protestant in a Catholic school. I was grateful he had experienced that much. The course we took together -- I read the plays and reviewed them for him -- was one of the pathetically few I took at Cornell that I enjoyed or from which I learned anything. We both learned it was much easier to be a critic than a playwright. Or a teacher.
I took a playwriting course from the noted Prof. A. M. Drummond, a huge man on crutches who right off the bat delivered a ukase never to begin a play with the telephone ringing. I immediately wrote a one-act play that began with a telephone ringing. If it hadn't, there wouldn't have been a play. It wasn't just rebelliousness that prompted that play; Drummond was a casually overt anti-Semite. He had no compunction about beginning a sentence with "You Jews" -- there were two others in the class -- and I was declaring war. I didn't win, not while I was at Cornell anyway. He advised me to give up playwriting.
It wasn't until I was writing professionally for radio that I did happen on a good teacher: Ned Warren, who wasBill Robson's story editor. Also best friend and maker of Prairie Oysters for hangovers. Bald and rosy-cheeked, Ned looked as though he got his clothes in London (he wore ascots). He sat me down one day to discuss the scripts I had been writing. He was so wry and sardonic that I was completely unprepared when he told me I had talent. Just that, in those words: I had talent. No one had ever said that before and he was definite. I wanted to run out of the room before he continued because I knew there had to be a caveat. As indeed there was. My problem was that I was too facile. Too often, I made transitions in a scene through words, not as they should be made, through emotions. Emotions precede thought, emotions determine thought; plays are emotion. The single best lesson I have ever been given.
Along with Ned's wife Virginia, Bill and Ned adopted me. I adored Virginia. She had a deep voice with laughter underneath. She wore sweater sets, pearls, and a headband. She read constantly, anything, box tops, flyers, Trollope in paperback; she sat in corners from which she tossed out off-the-wall comments; she chuckled at everybody's jokes. We all drank millions of very-dry-Beefeater-martinis-straight-up and smoked Chesterfields and Camels around the red-checkered tablecloths at the old Billy's Steakhouse on First Avenue. Sunday brunch was at Willy's -- Bill became Willy when you became his friend -- where he made huevos rancheros with Bloody Marys before and during, and Irish coffee after. I had never been so happy as I was as a member of their wedding. I was twenty-two.
|Chapter 1||Beginnings: Home of the Brave||3|
|Chapter 2||Hollywood University: Mrs. Selznick, Messrs. Litvak, Hitchcock, Cukor and Ophuls||64|
|Chapter 3||Master Class: With Harold and Stella, Shirley and Kate, Steve and Dick||156|
|Chapter 4||Change of Direction: I Can Get It for You Wholesale with Stark and Merrick vs. Streisand||220|
|Chapter 5||The Hunting Season: The Way We Were and the Way They Were||249|
|Chapter 6||Informing Revisited: Jolson Sings Again and Other Betrayals||300|
|Chapter 7||The Moon Comes Out: West Side Story, Gypsy, and Tom||325|
Posted May 27, 2003
Rarely have I ever read any book about anyone that is more entertaining and fun than this one. Arthur Laurents does a masterful job of telling about his remarkable Broadway career and makes the story a wonderful ride. There are backstage sagas that will hold any Broadway-loving reader spellbound. Thanks for writing this, Mr. Laurents, and all the best to you!
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