12/29/05 - arthur laurents determined

In today's encore - Arthur Laurents, acclaimed playwright and screenwriter of such works as West Side Story, Gypsy and The Turning Point, comments on two of his lessons in writing one as a student at Cornell University and the second immediately after:

"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 I 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. ... 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. [He said] 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."


Arthur Laurents


Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood




Copyright 2000 by Arthur Laurents


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