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Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

4.3 16
by Julie Salamon
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the first woman playwright to win a Tony Award, Wendy Wasserstein was a Broadway luminary. But with her high-pitched giggle and unkempt curls, she projected an image of warmth and familiarity. Everyone knew Wendy Wasserstein. Or thought they did. In Wendy and the Lost Boys, Salamon delicately pieces together the many fractured


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the first woman playwright to win a Tony Award, Wendy Wasserstein was a Broadway luminary. But with her high-pitched giggle and unkempt curls, she projected an image of warmth and familiarity. Everyone knew Wendy Wasserstein. Or thought they did. In Wendy and the Lost Boys, Salamon delicately pieces together the many fractured narratives of Wendy’s life—the stories (often contradictory) that she shared amongst friends and family, the half truths of her plays and essays, the confessions and camouflage present even in her own journal writing--to reveal Wendy’s most expertly crafted character: herself.

Born in Brooklyn on October 18, 1950 to Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Wendy was the youngest of Lola and Morris Wasserstein’s five children. Her mother had big dreams for her children, and they didn’t disappoint: Sandra, Wendy’s glamorous sister, became a high-ranking corporate executive at a time when Fortune 500 companies were an impenetrable boys club. Their brother Bruce became a billionaire superstar of the investment banking world. Yet behind the family’s remarkable success was a fiercely guarded world of private tragedies.

Wendy perfected the family art of secrecy while cultivating a densely populated inner circle. Her long time friends included theater elite such as playwright Christopher Durang, Lincoln Center Artistic Director André Bishop, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, the many women of the theater for whom she served as both mentor and ally, and countless others. Yet almost no one knew that Wendy was pregnant when, at age forty-eight, she was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital to deliver Lucy Jane three months premature. The paternity of her daughter remains a mystery. At the time of Wendy’s tragically early death less than six years later, very few were aware that she was gravely ill. The cherished confidante to so many, Wendy privately endured her greatest heartbreaks alone.

At once a moving portrait of an uncommon woman, and a nuanced study of the generation she came to represent, Wendy and The Lost Boys uncovers the magic of Wendy’s work. A daughter of the 1950s, an artist that came of age during the freewheeling 1970s, a power woman in 1980s New York, and a single mother at the turn of the century, Wendy’s very life spoke to the tensions of an era of great change, for women in particular. Salamon brings each distinct moment to vibrant life, always returning to Wendy’s works—The Heidi Chronicles and others—to show her in the free space of the theater. Here Wendy spoke in the most intimate of terms about everything that matters most: family and love, dreams and devastation. And that is the Wendy of Neverland, the Wendy who will never grow old.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Salamon’s] fresh reporting . . . gives the book a live, romping air, very much keeping with its subject . . . Wendy and the Lost Boys reads more like a novel than a biography.” 

“Excellent…Salamon’s voice is like that of a Wasserstein character, a late-night girlfriend who tells you the truth, but confidentially, and sideways.” — THE NEW YORKER

“Top-notch…a penetrating biography. The book, less a literary reckoning with Wasserstein’s legacy than a frank character study, is superbly paced. [T]he work unfolds with an alacrity that had me fearing the end not just because it was such a tartly compelling read but because it's still so hard to accept a theatrical world without Wasserstein around to make it seem so much more magical.”  — THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

“Intriguing” — PEOPLE Magazine

“Engaging new biographyTHE ECONOMIST

Julie Salamon is a helluva journalist and her Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein is a helluva story.” — NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

“Perceptive and empathetic, but also gently unsparing—a superbly nuanced portrait”       — KIRKUS (starred review)

Francine Prose
…spin[s] a colorful narrative of failure and fame, disappointment and satisfaction, while hitting all the right marks…
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Salamon (Hospital) brings full circle the life of Wendy Wasserstein (1950–2006) in this insightful biography of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright. Despite the autobiographical nature of her work, Wasserstein, as Salamon underscores, was a fiercely private person, doling out personal details to a select few in her large social circle. The youngest child of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Wasserstein was raised in Brooklyn and urged from an early age to succeed, as her four older siblings had, in her career and in parenthood. She graduated from Mount Holyoke and got graduate degrees from City College and Yale School of Drama. Her play Uncommon Women and Others put Wasserstein on the New York theater radar in 1977. Her professional and personal life became increasingly busier, with the production of The Heidi Chronicles (1988) and The Sisters Rosensweig (1992). Salamon highlights Wasserstein's close relationships with the men she called her "husbands," men (primarily gay) to whom she was often attracted, and how these friendships changed when she asked some to donate sperm when she decided to have a child (Lucy Jane was born in 1999, most likely through an anonymous donor). Salamon's thoroughly researched account of a too-short life brings readers as close as anyone to such a private and complex woman. (Aug.)
Writing an authorized biography gave Salamon access not only to Wasserstein's papers but also to her family and friends. That allowed her to paint a sympathetic yet layered portrait of a warm woman who was able to elevate and belittle herself in the same sentence, who was both driven and never quite certain where she wanted to go. Salamon does what Wasserstein often couldn't in her work: she fully realizes the "Wendy character."
Emma Brockes
In her best-known book, "The Devil's Candy," Ms. Salamon pulled apart the movie business in meticulous detail, and here too her fresh reporting (some 300 people were interviewed, and the book was written with cooperation from key members of the Wasserstein family) gives the book a live, romping air, very much keeping with its subject.
New York Times
The best biographies revivify their subjects while immersing you in their world. Wendy and the Lost Boys puts Wasserstein's most complex character — the driven, social, secretive, confessional, comic, endearing, restless, generous, cookie-fueled, weight-conscious woman that she was — center stage, under bright lights. It's a riveting production.
Ann Levin
Now, in the first major biography of the playwright since she died of cancer in 2006 at age 55, veteran journalist Julie Salamon presents a thorough and engaging account of a complex, driven woman.
The Associated Press
The Forward
Uncommon Women and Others was Wendy Wasserstein's first major play. And Julie Salamon's well-researched, engrossing new biography, "Wendy and the Lost Boys," makes it clear that Wasserstein was no commonplace woman herself.
The Seattle Times
In her compelling, revealing and insightful new biography "Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein" (Penguin Press; $29.95), Julie Salamon explores this gifted and complex woman, whose works mirrored the concerns of many women of her generation (Salamon will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co. on Sept. 19).
Miami Herald
Wendy and the Lost Boys falls short of providing a satisfactory answer. It reveals a great deal about Wasserstein, yet she remains something of an elusive figure. Nevertheless, the book is entertaining and accessible. Salamon's journalistic style lends itself to quick reading. Time would have passed more unnoticeably, however, if she had not contextualized so much. The world might have been spared this jejune sentence: "New York City, 1971, was Fear City, dirty and dangerous." And what reason was there to mention, in the next breath, the publication of The Godfather, whose "cynical vision of capitalism and crime meshed with the country's sense of unease"?
Chicago Sun Times
In her compulsively readable book, Salamon deftly nails the many contradictions in Wasserstein's character, though she makes somewhat too great a fuss about her cult of secrecy, harking back to a long family history of such things. What she seems to forget is that even in the 1950s, when Wasserstein was growing up in a large Jewish family in Brooklyn, much was kept buried or private — a concept quite foreign to our current existence.
Laurie Winer
Salamon writes in a straightforward, journalistic style, and she seems to have gained the trust of all the key living players in Wasserstein's life. She resists the urge to over-analyze her subject and lets the story speak for itself. The result is a detailed picture of a complicated person. It is no fault of the author's that one finishes the book feeling a bit like one of Wasserstein's friends — that this was a woman who left mysteries about why she left mysteries.
Washington Post
Charles McNulty
Salamon, a former film critic and cultural reporter whose book "The Devil's Candy" has become a classic exposé of the movie business, brings a wide repertoire of skills to the challenge of exploring a subject whose appearance of openness turned out to be an ideal disguise for furtiveness. A dogged reporter who interviewed nearly 300 people, Salamon maintains a stringent critical perspective that is rare in a biographer granted access to private letters, diaries and the confidences of bereaved family members, loyal assistants and staunch friends.
Los Angeles Times
Library Journal
Salamon (Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids) richly details the life of Wendy Wasserstein (1950–2006) in this first authorized biography. In it are all the big names of New York theater from the 1960s–70s, but don't read this book if it's gossip you're after. Read it because Wasserstein's life was full of drama and because her characters just begin to approach the truth of her story, one that deserves its own dramatization (let's start with how her Auntie Mame-type mother married her brother-in-law after the death of her husband). Certainly Wasserstein is important because she was the first woman playwright to win a Tony (later adding a Pulitzer Prize for The Heidi Chronicles to her accomplishments). But she was also the first playwright of her generation to give voice to women at a time when everything was changing. VERDICT You will laugh and you will, most assuredly, cry. Enthusiastically recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 1/31/11.]—Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Moorhead
Kirkus Reviews

From veteran nonfiction author Salamon (Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God and Diversity on Steroids,2008, etc.), the authorized biography of the playwright who brought the dreams and disappointments of her generation of women to the American stage.

Though she was the first female playwright to win a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize (forThe Heidi Chroniclesin 1989), Wendy Wasserstein (1950–2006) never entirely escaped the judgment of her overbearing mother Lola, whose comment about the Pulitzer was, "I'd be just as happy if she'd marry a lawyer." That wasn't going to happen: Wasserstein's most intimate relationships were with gay men such as playwrights Christopher Durang and Terrence McNally, nonprofit theatrical impresario André Bishop and costume designer William Ivey Long. She jokingly referred to them as her "husbands" and enlisted McNally and Long in her attempts to conceive a child, but it was characteristic of Wasserstein's seemingly open but profoundly private nature that when she did finally give birth to daughter Lucy in 1999, no one knew precisely how she had arranged it. She was similarly secretive about the leukemia that killed her at age 55. Her conflicts and contradictions were as extraordinary as she was, yet plays likeUncommon Women and Others, Isn't It Romantic, The Sisters Rosensweig,and most of allThe Heidi Chroniclesvoiced the experiences of her peers, women who expected to have careers as well as families and painfully discovered that having it all wasn't going to be easy—or maybe even possible. Salamon does a capable job of covering Wasserstein's professional life, including her grad-student days among the legendary mid-'70s Yale Drama crowd that also featured Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. The author's real interest, however—and where the book excels—is in elucidating Wasserstein's complex personality and the creative, unconventional life she fashioned for herself, balancing fraught but committed family ties with a busy social life teeming with devoted friends who in the end shared drama critic Frank Rich's assessment that they "had somehow failed to see Wendy whole." That was, Salamon suggests, because she didn't want them to.

Perceptive and empathetic, but also gently unsparing—a superbly nuanced portrait.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Julie Salamon is the author of Hospital, about Maimonides Hospital, as well as The New York Times bestseller The Christmas Tree; the true-crime book Facing the Wind; the novel White Lies; the film classic The Devil’s Candy; a family memoir, The Net of Dreams; and Rambam’s Ladder. Previously a reporter and critic with The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and The New Republic.

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