April 23, 2009
I learned the other night that Arthur Laurents, who wrote the books for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” is a graduate of Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. That’s one more notch in the belt of a school that has been serving students in Brooklyn since 1786. I learned of it while reading the playbill at the George Street Playhouse, where Arthur’s latest work, “New Year’s Eve,” is having its world premiere. Arthur is 91, which may say something about the good old Brooklyn stock.
Erasmus Hall first came to my attention in the 1960s when my childhood friend Joe Cantalupo was enrolled there. He was in the same class as Barbra Streisand, and when she first became a public figure, Joe showed me her picture in the Erasmus Hall yearbook. Streisand’s latest project is a musical program scheduled for Saturday night on CBS.
Erasmus Hall has an impressive roster of graduates. To name a few: performers Beverly Sills, Susan Hayward, Jeff Chandler, Lainie Kazan, Bernie Kopell, Stephanie Mills, Donny Most, Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Talmadge, Eli Wallach, Shirley Booth and Mae West; playwright Betty Comden; former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio; Yankees pitcher Waite Hoyt; comedian Marty Ingels; sportswriter Roger Kahn; and authors Bernard Malamud and Mickey Spillane.
Among those who just passed through were singer Neil Diamond, actor Gabe Kaplan, quirky chess champion Bobby Fischer, and Moe Howard, one of the Three Stooges.
Besides the remarkable legacy of this high school, its roster of alumni speaks to the contributions Brooklyn has made to American culture. There’s something palpably inspiring about the place, something you can feel if you get a chance to hang out there or are fortunate enough to live there.