The last time I saw Arthur Laurents, he sat in the row in front of me during an opening at The George Street Playhouse — a theater where he felt very much at home. He was with several people who were at least six decades his juniors. Arthur had them in stitches; he told them one story after another and they hung on every word and then exploded in laughter.

Arthur died yesterday at the age of 93, and I’m glad my last memory of him is the animated man with the sharp-edged wit holding the attention of yet another generation.

I got to know Arthur through numerous encounters at George Street, whose impresario, David Saint, was his colleague and close friend. Arthur, a writer and director, introduced a couple of his more recent plays at George Street, and he was sometimes there just as a member of the audience.

Arthur was blunt, and some folks didn’t like him on that account, but in a world in which obfuscation is the norm, some of us found that refreshing – especially when his bluntness was directed at hypocrisy or intolerance of any sort.

As a friend and I were reminding each other this morning, Arthur had a knack for making every conversation seem personal — a quality not always found in people of his stature.

Arthur was blackballed during the McCarthy era, and he remained angry at his peers who had cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee — not the least of them being Elia Kazan, who had “named names.” But Arthur picked his spots. I bumped into him at George Street one day in 2003, and I mentioned that Kazan had died not long before. “Yes,” Arthur said. “He was a great director.”

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GERTRUDE BERG

GERTRUDE BERG

We were happy last night to find that the web site http://www.archive.org has several episodes of the television series “The Goldbergs,” a program far superior to most half-hour shows today, with allowances for the technical advances that have taken place since the ’50s. This is a warm show, humorous without being silly, with a solid dramatic basis. The show starred Gertrude Berg, who also owned it and wrote it and insisted on such things as everday situations and no laugh track. The Goldberg family consisted of Molly Goldberg; her husband, Jake, who was in the wholesale garment business; her uncle, David Romaine; and her children, Rosalie and Sammy – to whom Molly always referred as “my Rosalie” and “Samalie.” The family first appeared in a long-lived radio series and also was portrayed in a Broadway play written by Berg and in a film. The episode we watched last night was the final season in what was not a continuous run. In this 1955 show, the family had just moved to the suburbs from The Bronx – mirroring what was actually going on with a lot of urban Jewish families at the time – and Molly was having a hard time adjusting to an unfamiliar neighborhood. The dialogue in this show is priceless; Berg had a good ear for how people talk. Molly and David, in particular, use a peculiar verbal shorthand one doesn’t hear often. For instance, when Molly wants to say, “Give me a minute to write that down,” she says, “Pardon me while I jot.” We’re grateful for whoever preserved these shows.

 

GERTRUDE BERG and PHILIP LOEB

GERTRUDE BERG and PHILIP LOEB

There was a shadow over “The Goldbergs.” Philip Loeb, who was cast as Jake when the television series was on CBS, was fingered as a Communist by Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan in their testimony in 1950 before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Berg was pressured to fire Loeb, and she refused, so CBS dropped the show. Loeb resigned and accepted a monetary settlement, but he committed suicide in 1955. Eight months after CBS dropped it, NBC picked the show up with another actor in the role.

We looked out the back door just now, and there behind the trees was Cosmo’s moon – bright enough to almost hurt your eyes if you stare at it. I don’t know if it was out there last night, but it would have been appropriate: We stayed up ’til midnight watching “Moonstruck” yet again. We had just watched “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which neither of us had ever seen. That was directed brilliantly by Elia Kazan, who later went before the House Unamerican Activities Committee and named names. In 1945, when Kazan made that film, we Americans hadn’t yet refined our paranoia about Reds.

We knew “Moonstruck” was scheduled to start at around 10:30 and neither of us made a move to turn off the TV or change the channel. We watch it whenever we’re aware that it’s being broadcast – and this was TCM, with no commercial interruptions and no dubbing over expletives. Of course, one can achieve the same thing by watching the movie on a DVD, and, in fact, there is a DVD of “Moonstruck” in a cabinet immediately under our TV. But that wouldn’t be the same, because we’d be watching it, but no one else would. We can do that any time – and we do, at least twice a year – but the communal experience was too much to pass up.

“Look! It’s Cosmo’s moon! … Is he down there?”

http://scifiscripts.name2host.com/msol/moonstruck.txt