Steven Spielberg’s new version of West Side Story has just arrived in cinemas. I hope the director had a better on-set experience than the original cast, says Richard Morrison in The Times. I met the four men behind the 1961 movie-musical and was stunned by the egos. There was Leonard Bernstein, the classical composer; Arthur Laurents, the hard-bitten leftie screenwriter; Stephen Sondheim, the twentysomething lyricist; and Jerome Robbins, the talented but dictatorial director. They were all Jewish and secretly gay, and they all hated each other.
Robbins was the root of the problem. In the early 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism, he was called to testify before the Senate’s House Committee on Un-American Activities because he had once been a member of the Communist party. They asked him to denounce others and threatened to expose his homosexuality if he refused. Robbins caved in, ratting out 10 people as communists, and they were all duly blacklisted. Bernstein and Laurents were among them.