Larry Kramer (b. 1935)

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Larry Kramer (born June 25, 1935) is an American playwright, author, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist. He began his career rewriting scripts while working for Columbia Pictures, which led him to London where he worked with United Artists. There he wrote the screenplay for Women in Love in 1969, earning an Academy Award nomination for his efforts. Kramer introduced a controversial and confrontational style in his 1978 novel Faggots, which earned mixed reviews but emphatic denunciations from the gay community for his portrayal of shallow, promiscuous gay relationships in the 1970s.

Kramer witnessed the spread of the disease that became known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) among his friends in 1980, and co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which has become the largest private organization to assist people living with AIDS in the world. Not content with the social services GMHC provided, Kramer expressed his frustration with bureaucratic paralysis and the apathy of gay men to the AIDS crisis by writing a play titled The Normal Heart which was produced at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985. His political activism extended to the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987, a direct action protest organization widely credited with changing public health policy and widespread perception of people living with AIDS (PWAs) and awareness of HIV and AIDS-related diseases. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Destiny of Me (1992), and has been a two-time recipient of the Obie Award. Kramer currently lives in Manhattan and Connecticut.

Early life

Kramer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a second child, that his parents did not want. The family soon moved to Maryland where Kramer attended school, although they found themselves with a much lower income than the families of Kramer’s high school peers. His father pressed him to marry a woman with money, and insisted he become a member of Pi Tau Pi, a Jewish fraternity. Kramer had become sexually involved with a male friend in junior high school, but he dated girls in high school.

He enrolled at Yale University in 1953, but didn’t adjust well. He was lonely and his grades were poorer than those to which he was accustomed. He tried to kill himself by overdosing on aspirin because he thought he was the “only gay student on campus”. The experience left him determined to explore his sexuality and set him on the path to fighting “for gay people’s worth”. The next semester, he had an affair with his German professor — his first requited romantic relationship with a man. When the professor was scheduled to study in Europe, he invited Kramer, but Kramer decided not to go. Yale had been a family tradition: his father, older brother Arthur, and two uncles were alumni. Kramer instead enjoyed the Varsity Glee Club while at Yale. He graduated in 1957 with a degree in English.

Early writings

According to Kramer, every drama he has written derives from a desire to understand love’s nature and its obstacles. Kramer became involved with movie production at 23 years old by taking a job as a Teletype operator at Columbia Pictures, and agreed to the position only because the machine was across the hall from the president’s office. Eventually, he won a position in the story department reworking scripts. His first writing credit was as a dialogue writer for Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a teen sex comedy. He followed that with the 1969 Oscar-nominated screenplay Women in Love, an adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s novel. He next penned what Kramer calls “the only thing in my life I’m ashamed of,” the 1973 musical remake of Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, a notorious critical and commercial failure whose screenplay was based very closely on Capra’s film. Kramer has said that his well-negotiated fee for this work, skillfully invested by his brother, made him financially self-sufficient.

Kramer then began to integrate homosexual themes into his work, and tried writing for the stage. He wrote Sissies’ Scrapbook in 1973 (later rewritten and retitled as Four Friends), a dramatic play about four friends, one of whom is gay, and their dysfunctional relationships. Kramer called it a play about “cowardice and the inability of some men to grow up, leave the emotional bondage of male collegiate camaraderie, and assume adult responsibilities”. The play was first produced in a theater set up in an old YMCA gymnasium on 53rd Street and Eighth Avenue called the Playwrights Horizon. Live theater moved him to believing that writing for the stage was what he wanted to do. Although the play was given a somewhat favorable review by the New York Times, it was closed by the producer and Kramer was so distraught that he decided never to write for the stage again, later stating, “You must be a masochist to work in the theater and a sadist to succeed on its stages.”

Kramer next wrote A Minor Dark Age, though it failed to be produced. Frank Rich, in the foreword to a Grove Press collection of Kramer’s less-known works, wrote that “dreamlike quality of the writing is haunting” in Dark Age, and that its themes, such as the exploration of the difference between sex and passion, “are staples of his entire output” that would portend his future work, including the 1978 novel Faggots.

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