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Laurence Luckinbill: Groundbreaking film ‘The Boys in the Band’ comes to Ridgefield

Laurence Luckinbill

Laurence Luckinbill

Actor Laurence Luckinbill of Weston made cinematic history in 1970 when he co-starred in the groundbreaking film The Boys in the Band, the first major movie studio production to deal frankly with homosexuality.

A screening of The Boys in the Band will be held at the Ridgefield Playhouse, this Sunday, June 30, at 6:30 p.m., as part of the Ridgefield Playhouse Film Society’s Lost and Found film series. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased online at ridgefieldplayhouse.org.

Following the film, there will be a Q&A with Mr. Luckinbill, hosted by Emmy award-winning journalist Ira Joe Fisher. The film’s director William Friedkin, who also directed The French Connection and The Exorcist, will appear via Skype.

The Boys in the Band is set in New York City in the 1960s and takes place over the course of an evening at the apartment of Michael, a gay man, who holds a birthday party for his friend Harold. Tensions mount as Alan, an old friend of Michael’s, who is married, unexpectedly arrives and throws a monkey wrench into the party.

The screenplay for The Boys in the Band was written by Mart Crowley based on his Off-Broadway play of the same title. In a rare move, the entire original cast from the play’s initial stage run was also cast in the film.

The play premiered in 1968 and was initially considered shocking by mainstream audiences because of its gay content. But it was a huge hit and ran for five years before going on tour.

Proud

In an interview with The Weston Forum, Mr. Luckinbill said he is proud to have been part of The Boys in the Band. “It was important because it made gay people ordinary,” he said. “At that time, it was illegal and dangerous to be gay and gay people were forced into hiding and into closets in order to have a normal life and job. I know now that the film was an attack on injustice.”

In the late 1960s, Mr. Luckinbill was a struggling actor, married, and living in Greenwich Village when he got a call from Mr. Crowley. “He wanted to give me the play to read so I brought it home and read it. He asked if I would like to be in it and I said yes. I recognized it was very controversial but it was very good, funny and touching,” Mr. Luckinbill said.

Mr. Luckinbill first met Mr. Crowley at Catholic University, where they performed together in an acting workshop. After college, they went their separate ways, and Mr. Crowley spent years in Hollywood working for Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner.

Mr. Luckinbill was cast in The Boys in the Band as Hank, the “straight gay guy,” a math teacher who leaves his wife and two children for another man. “My character is the workhorse of the play. Hank wants his lover to be his partner and to be faithful. The part rang a bell with the gay community because there were many that wanted that, too, and didn’t know if it was even proper to ask for it,” he said.

When the time came to adapt the play into a film, Mr. Crowley was offered a large sum of money from producer Ray Stark on the condition the stage cast be replaced with Hollywood stars. Mr. Crowley refused and produced the movie himself, with the original cast intact. “Mart insisted, take it or leave it. His courage was unheard of,” Mr. Luckinbill said.

Because of the controversial nature of the film, the part was a risk for Mr. Luckinbill. “People said it would wreck my career. I did lose a few films, but I also got other film offers,” he said.

Mr. Luckinbill has remained friends with Mr. Crowley, who lives in New York. He has also enjoyed a successful show career in film, TV, and on stage.

His movie credits include the role of Spock’s half-brother Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. On TV he was the star of the show The Delphi Bureau and was the narrator of the mini series Space. In 1977, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the Broadway playThe Shadow Box.

Mr. Luckingbill has also written and starred in one-man shows about Lyndon Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, and Ernest Hemingway, and enjoys performing them from time to time.

He recently celebrated his 33rd wedding anniversary to actress Lucie Arnaz. The couple has lived in Weston for the past six years but is planning to move out west to Palm Springs, Calif.

This fall, he plans on doing Clarence Darrow and Ernest Hemingway readings out west, along with a Teddy Roosevelt reading at the McCallum Theater in Palm Springs in March 2014.

As actors, the Luckinbills have worked together in television on a TV movie and a pilot for a series, and in six stage productions including two broadway national tours. Mr. Luckinbill has another project in mind for the couple. He’d like them to perform together in the play A Breeze from the Gulf, which was also written by Mart Crowley. The perfect venue for it, he said, would be Coyote StageWorks at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. “I hope Lucie and I can do this play someday,” he said.

This story was updated to correct the productions the Luckinbills have performed together.

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