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Playwright, novelist, screenwriter, librettist, and stage director Arthur Laurents honed his writing skills on scripts for a variety of New York radio series in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1945, he wrote his first play, Home of the Brave, a war-time drama about a Jewish soldier confronting prejudice in the army. (When the play was adapted for the screen in 1949, with a screenplay by Carl Foreman, the Jewish character was changed to an African-American.)

Laurents later went to work in Hollywood and wrote the scripts for such films as The Snake Pit (1948), Caught (1949), Anastasia (1956), and Bonjour Tristesse (1958), based on the best-selling novel by Françoise Sagan. Laurents again enjoyed popular success in the 1970s with the screenplays for The Way We Were (1973), a romance set mainly during Hollywood's anti-Communist blacklisting period, and The Turning Point (1977), an insider's view of the world of ballet.

In terms of gay cultural history, perhaps the most significant Laurents script is Rope (1948), an Alfred Hitchcock-directed film about two affluent young gay men who strangle an acquaintance merely as an intellectual challenge to commit the perfect murder. As a further display of arrogance and audacity, the two men hide the body in their apartment and proceed to host a small party, entertaining their guests around the concealed corpse.

The script was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, which in turn was inspired by the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924. Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb were wealthy Chicago teenagers embroiled in a secret affair. The teens intellectualized their sexuality into a philosophical superiority and began to commit a series of crimes, escalating in seriousness to the eventual murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks. Their defense attorneys successfully used the young men's homosexuality as a sign of their insanity; Leopold and Loeb escaped a death sentence and were instead sent to prison.

Laurents's screenplay, written in the late 1940s, was hampered by an inability to speak frankly about the conceptions of homosexuality that informed both the behavior of the two young men and the public's reaction to their crime. (The same is true for the 1959 film Compulsion, with a script by Richard Murphy, which explored similar territory.)

However, by the 1990s with the release of Swoon (1992), the particulars of the Leopold and Loeb case finally could be explored unambiguously on film. Swoon, written by Hilton Als and Tom Kalin, outlines the facts of the murder case while also offering meditations on the philosophical, social, and aesthetic perceptions of homosexuality.

Capote, Vidal, and Williams

Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams, three of the most prolific and honored gay male writers of the twentieth century, each made brief forays into screenwriting.

The novelist and short story writer Truman Capote gained notoriety at the age of 24 with the publication of his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948). Capote's reputation was enhanced by the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958); he did not, however, write the script for the popular 1961 film version. The "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood (1966), based on a six-year study of the brutal murder of a rural Kansas family by two young drifters, is considered by many critics to be Capote's best work.

Capote's ventures in screenwriting began with contributions to the film Stazione Termini (Indiscretion of an American Wife, 1953), directed by the renowned Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica. Although a series of writers, including Alberto Moravia and Paul Gallico, also worked on the script, Capote received sole credit for the final screenplay. The story concerns the dissolution of a love affair between a married American woman and an Italian-American professor who spend their last hours together in Rome's Terminal Station.

Capote next worked on the script for the comic thriller Beat the Devil (1953), about a ragtag gang of criminals killing time in a small Italian seaport. The filmmakers have admitted to making up most of the script on the spot; director John Huston reportedly tore up the original screenplay on the first day of filming and flew Capote to Italy to work with him on writing new scenes each day.

Although a critical and commercial failure upon its first release, Beat the Devil has since become a cult classic and is often referred to as the first "camp" movie. The film is especially renowned for Capote's offbeat, eccentric dialogue.

Capote's final screenplay was the psychological horror film The Innocents (1961), based on the 1898 Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. The subtle and cerebral screenplay, which Capote co-wrote with William Archibald, is remarkably true to the mood and atmosphere of the James novella about a young governess who is either being haunted by malevolent spirits or slowly losing her grasp on reality.

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