In the 1980s, Larry Kramer wrote The Normal Heart, a sort-of semi-autobiographical play about the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, the gay Jewish founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group.
After a successful 1985 off-Broadway production at The Public Theater, the play was revived in Los Angeles and London and again off-Broadway in 2004. But it isn’t the play that’s causing the ruckus. it’s the movie. And it’s spawned a war of words between Barbra Streisand and Larry Kramer.
They both want to see The Normal Heart onscreen, but the fact that it’s taken some twenty-five years is, well, the fault of the other one. Streisand blames Kramer; Larry blames Babs.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Streisand calls Kramer “brilliant, courageous, stubborn, and self-destructive.” He replies: “She never put her money where her mouth is.”
Streisand first optioned the play after seeing it back in 1985, and spent some ten years trying to get the film made. She worked with Larry Kramer, and other screenwriters, to get the story just right. Streisand would direct the film, and play the supporting role of Dr. Emma Brookner.
The movie never happened. And Streisand calls Kramer out for the failure, saying he would not allow any adjustments to the script, even ones she felt were necessary to make the film more “cinematic”: “I was using the best of [the play]. But there are certain things you do for film. Larry only wanted to use his screenplay. I couldn’t have my hands tied artistically.”
Larry Kramer, of course, offers a different take. He says the Streisand rewrites made her supporting character the star, and went so far as to minimize the roles of the gay characters: “She cut Ned’s part so much that when she offered the movie to a major star who had played the part on stage, he said, ‘I can’t play this. The character has no motivation anymore.’ She subsumed all of the motivations into her part, as the doctor.”
Barbra is not amused, tearing off a letter to Entertainment Weekly, saying, “Larry’s claim that I wanted to expand the role of the doctor to make her the star and marginalize the gay characters is nonsense.” She also posted something called a “truth alert” on her official website, claiming that Kramer is “rewriting history.”
She also says Kramer was motivated by money, and a lot of it. According to her, he ALLEGEDLY rejected a deal from HBO to turn the play into a TV project after major studios balked at its subject matter: “Larry wouldn’t accept their highest offer of $250,000. He wanted a million dollars. [He] held out for the money. I didn’t. Why not advance your cause? Why keep this movie unseen for all these years?”
Larry Kramer says he never heard anything about an HBO offer. He maintains that Streisand left the project to work on other movies.
And in the 1990s, when Streisand’s option ran out, and the rights reverted back to Kramer, she says she never stopped supporting the project, even after Kramer called her a “hypocrite” for not making the film on his ACT UP website.
Streisand says, “When he printed that diatribe on the web, I was very hurt by it, because it’s not true. I started to write [a response] but then decided not to do it. It was wonderful to read some of the comments from the gay community about this. They fought the battle for me. It was really lovely for all these people to come to my defense.”
But there’s a glimmer of hope, for a film adaptation at any rate. Streisand says she would consider playing Brookner in Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s planned adaptation starring Mark Ruffalo, although it would be difficult for her to let go of her creative vision for the movie. “If I could direct it today, I would direct it today. Because it’s been very hard for me to find a piece that I feel as passionate about. I mean, I love this play.”
Hmmmm, who to believe, who to believe. The demanding diva, or Barbra Streisand? Sad to say, these are two massive egos who probably couldn’t let go of the power, so their collaboration went by the wayside. Not that I think a Ryan Murphy Normal Heart wouldn’t be wonderful, but a Streisand-Kramer film would have been spectacular.