Arthur Laurents Will Not Go Quietly

3.16.2010

By Mickey Rapkin

Would you and Tom have gotten married if it had been legal?
I would have said no until I found out -- I don't know if this figure is accurate, but someone told me there are 1,400 legal advantages to being married.

The figure people throw around is 1,049 federal and state benefits.
And so, that's a reason. Because until then I thought we had an advantage. Because not being tied legally -- the only reason you stayed together was because you wanted to.

Are you still friendly with Larry Kramer?
Not for a moment.

What happened? You'd been friends for so many years.
He's attacked me so much I'm tired of it.

And Sondheim?
We are' amicable.

Sondheim has an 80th birthday coming up. What kind of advice would you give him?
I wouldn't give him advice about anything. He wouldn't want it. In the last year I've learned an enormous amount. I've learned I've been very foolish about the whole friendship thing.

Don't you ever want to pick up the phone and call him?
What difference would it make?

I ask because you recently wrote a play, Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are, which premiered at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J. It's a play about dealing with loss -- and the comfort in keeping people around who remember.
I ran into Steve recently at a party at Hal Prince's. We had a wonderful conversation. Great. Enough. Sometimes you have a history and you can't define it in a sentence or a paragraph. There's too much. Since Tom died, I'm very aware of time. And I'm very content to be alone with a book at home. I don't want to waste time in pretend conversation.

When do you think of Tom?
Always. Shirley Knight was in Come Back, Come Back. Her husband died 10 years ago. In a swimming pool. He had an aneurism and he drowned. So I said, 'How do you deal with it?' She said, 'Well, I think of him the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. And I try not to think of him in between.' That's 10 years.

What will be in this new book you're writing? There's talk you might take back some of the things you've said over the years.
Well, take back means that they're not true. I refer to the whole business about Sam Mendes, which obscured the point I was trying to make -- about the musical being in your bones. That's important. Sam Mendes isn't. If I say I take it back, it's not true. It was true! But it was unnecessary. It was gratuitous. I shouldn't have done it.

At nearly 92, do you think about your own mortality?
I always said I'd never die. And I never thought of death. And then Tom died and I didn't care whether I did or didn't for quite awhile.

I'm sorry.
And now I'm back to thinking I won't die. I don't know. Part of it is genetic. Part of it is I have a wonderful doctor. He says to me, 'If you get a cough, call me.' He's terrific. He thinks the reason that I am how I am physically is that if you continue to be creative and alive, it affects the organs of your body. And it seems to me, I get stronger. But maybe it's because I don't care much one way or the other. It's all because of Tom.

Besides the book, what's next?
They want to do Gypsy in London. They only want Patti and me.

Will you do it?
How many times can you do it? I don't know. She wants to. And if I did, it would be for her. I can say I'm going to live forever. But if I do Gypsy again, it might cut that short.

Will there be another movie of West Side Story? The time seems ripe for a remake.
Disney wanted to do an animated version -- with cats! They sent a DVD. The black cats and the white cats. It was pure camp. They showed the Maria cat coming down the rope of an ocean liner. She was an illegal immigrant.

Did any part of you think, Let's cash out!
No. No. I still would like another movie -- because I thought the other one was so bad. And, frankly, anti'Puerto Rican. The Sharks wore makeup and had this phony accent and DayGlo costumes. But who would direct it?

Why not you?
No. I don't know enough.

Maybe Sam Mendes?
Maybe not.

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