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The Eulogizer: Broadway’s Arthur Laurents and soccer’s Joseph Merimovich

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Arthur Laurents, 93, Broadway and Hollywood writer

Arthur Laurents, the award-winning writer of Broadway classics such as “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” and Hollywood films including “The Way We Were,” died May 5 at 93. Broadway marquees dimmed their lights the night after news of Laurents’ death was reported.

Laurents wrote “West Side Story” for Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, creating along with Stephen Sondheim (all Jews) a modern-day musical rewrite of “Romeo & Juliet” that has become a touchstone of modern popular culture. Theater experts also rate “Gypsy,” the fictionalized story of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, as one of Broadway’s enduring classics. In recent weeks, reports confirmed by a statement on Barbra Streisand’s website indicated that Laurents was planning to work with the actress on a new movie of “Gypsy.”

“We were about to do ‘Gypsy’ together,” Streisand said. “He created people you care about because he cared about people. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he sounded so strong, as always. He was lucky to have lived a full and creative life up ’til the very end. I’ll miss working with him again."

Among Laurents’ many produced works were the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling film of murder, “Rope";  “Anastasia,” with Ingrid Bergman; and “The Turning Point," with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine. Laurents’ wrote “The Way We Were,” a 1973 romantic tear-jerker with a political subtext starring Robert Redford and Streisand, which was adapted from his own novel. Laurents directed the original Broadway production of the musical comedy “La Cage Aux Folles” in 1983.

Laurents was born Arthur Levine to a lawyer and schoolteacher in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood. According to his autobiography, “Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood,” he gave up Jewish practice after his “meaningless” bar mitzvah, which his Orthodox grandmother would not attend. Laurents said he faced anti-Semitism as a boy in Brooklyn and later changed his name to avoid harming his career.

Laurents was known for being brash and outspoken. During the preparation and run of a critically assailed revival of “West Side Story” in 2009, Laurents addressed new and old feuds with Bernstein and Robbins: “What it comes down to is that even in this age of Obama, they basically don’t want change. The Bernstein estate was the worst. They’d say things like ‘Bars 75 through 81a have been omitted, and we want them back.’ But theater music is written for theater, and if you would like to stage it, you are welcome to come in and do so. They’re just pedants. Archivists.”

Yet Laurents, having lived through the McCarthy era, was close-mouthed about being a homosexual. However, he publicly acknowledged being gay in a newspaper interview in the late 1980s after being challenged to do so by author Armistead Maupin. Laurents’ partner of more than 50 years, actor Tom Hatcher, died several years ago.

In recent years, along with his work directing revivals of his greatest triumphs, Laurents continued to write plays, many of which were produced in a New Jersey theater.

Joseph Merimovich, 86, Israeli soccer player, coach

Joseph Merimovich, who coached Israel to the Asia Cup soccer championship in 1964, died May 5 at 86.

Merimovich, who was born in Cyprus, was a star striker for Israel’s national team both before the establishment of the State of Israel and afterward. He began playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv at 16, and retired from play 18 years later with six league titles and six State Cups. He was a Maccabi and national team coach, as well. The 1964 Asian title, he said, is “still the most important silverware” Israel’s national team has won.

Merimovich, at age 18 in 1942, suggested that Maccabi Tel Aviv change its white uniforms to yellow “as a symbol of the yellow Magen Davids Jews had to wear in Europe,” which the team accepted “and never went back to white.”

“He was one of the nicest and warmest Israeli soccer figures of all times,” wrote Israeli journalist Uzi Dann. ”Everyone loved him, including opposing coaches and players, journalists and fans. It couldn’t be any other way. He radiated warmth and kindness, like a favorite uncle or dear grandfather.”

 

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