I went to not one but two fun events last night, both gay. Very gay. In the original, good sense, not the gay-as-lame way. (My, how they've taken such a good word like "gay" and made it mean something bad...)
Me with Arthur Laurents.
First, I went to the Strand for a Q&A session and book signing with Arthur Laurents, the librettist, author and director (most recently of the outstanding Patti LuPone Gypsy and the successful and IMHO mostly spectacular revival of West Side Story) whose new book Mainly On Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story, and Other Musicals is just out.
My evening's autograph collection (read on for Uncovered).
At 90 years of age, Laurents seems to be as intellectually fit as ever, and physically capable of moving around better than most people 30 years younger. He was called a "garden gnome" by New York's Jesse Green (in a pointedly negative profile of which Laurents said last night, "He's gay, I would ask about his children. He pretended to be my friend. He did a very good job of it. He has to live with himself.") but I think he looks spectacular for his age, and seems to be holding up just fine in spite of the article and in spite of not being nominated for a Tony for directing West Side Story in a year when the director of Rock of Ages got a nod.
The audience was rapt as Laurents's book editor—her dramatic white mane reminded me of a female version of Albert Einstein's—questioned him on his early experiences with anti-Semitism, his development as a writer and later director, his first meeting with Jerome Robbins and his upcoming plays New Year's Eve and Come Back, Come Back Wherever You Are.
Laurents at home.
I found his blunt assessment of Ethel Merman hilarious—"She didn't have any idea how to act. She thought Rose was a good mother."—but he was also generous in his praise of Karen Olivo, who just won the Tony for her role in West Side Story. He's no fan of the Sam Mendes/Bernadette Peters Gypsy (nor was I, blech), but that's not news. But it was interesting hearing a 90-year-old man talk about the importance of sex and the lack of importance of monogamy. He's been inside Farley Granger, so when he talks about sex, it's worth a listen.
Cute couple jointly devours Mainly On Directing.
After, he could only take three questions, so wouldn't you know one of them came from an idiot asking where to find Alfred Hitchcock's cameo in Rope?
Then we lined up for autographs and he cheerfully posed for a photo with me, teasing that he charged five cents for such things. I told him I loved his book Original Story By (I did) and he thanked me and shook my hand.
Well, if he's a fire-breathing dragon he wasn't showing it much; or perhaps it's because I was no threat to his treasure. Either way, it was a thrill. Nice or nasty, he's a brilliant man and, yes, a legend—and not just in his own mind.
On the outside looking in.
Next, I cabbed to the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation for the book-launch party celebrating Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes by Reed Massengill with a foreword by Victor Skrebneski (Universe, $45).
Along with the book, there was also an exhibition of some of the original images to toast; the tome includes shots by Al Urban, Frederick Kovert, Earle Forbes, Don Whitman, George Platt Lynes, Plato, John Shreeve Barrington, Antonio Arabia, Vulcan and Robert Galster, and the exhibit was filled with already-sold items.
The man on the right has an excellent point.
The party was lots of fun and peopled by some extremely attractive men—and they weren't beefcake models or even their descendants. One even had a camera around his neck...a photographer like that would never have to ask his subjects to smile or tell them where to look. There were plenty of shooters there, including Charles Hovland and Stanley Stellar, who kindly took a couple of pictures of me with Massengill (our first time meeting in spite of his long association with the late Lon of New York, whom I once interviewed) and Vulcan (still in good health in his eighties).
Meeting Vulcan (see his work below) and Reed.
The book is delicious. By that I mean it savors every one of its many rare images, presenting them as the works of art they were never originally meant to be, and yet which they had to eventually be called owing to the care and passion of their creators.
An example of a quintessential Vulcan body meld.
Beauties, old and new, at Uncovered's opening.
It's also fascinating to read because it details the arcs of these men's careers. Their work could quite easily have disappeared from existence since it might have been considered pornographic or at the very least embarrassing by those who have inherited it. That it has survived and is now preserved in book form is miraculous.
An original Don Whitman.
This stuff—including Arthur Laurents—is a part of gay history, and of history, period. And as Laurents said of the new production of West Side Story, it's all about love—love of work, love of art and love of men, of each other.