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Spielberg Eyes Bernstein Biopic for Upcoming Project

Monday Mar 12, 2018
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein  

Steven Spielberg held a top-secret table read of a new project last Wednesday in Hollywood in which all the participants needed to sign non-disclosure agreements. Variety reported on Friday that "the project is an untitled biopic of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein."

Coincidently Spielberg is also working on a new version of "West Side Story," Bernstein's iconic 1957 musical turned into the multi-Oscar winning 1961 film, with Tony Kushner. The pair had worked previously on "Munich" and "Lincoln."

While no one knows what script was used at the reading, it was not the one written by Josh Singer ("Spotlight") that is being developed at Paramount with Martin Scorsese at its helm.

While there is a considerable buzz about the reading, don't expect the Bernstein biopic in the immediate future. "Insiders say that no matter how well the table read went, "Indiana Jones 5" will be Spielberg's next film. His follow-up to the next Indy is still undecided," the Variety report continued. "This table read was viewed as a third option, as the director is also weighing the "West Side Story" remake.

"While Amblin had no comment, a source close to Spielberg said he frequently does read-throughs, and it doesn't mean the director is committing to anything."

How this project will impact the "West Side Story" remake remains to be seen. "Sources say this new undisclosed project does not suggest Spielberg is abandoning 'West Side Story,' and that the director has done this kind of shuffling several times before deciding what film he'll tackle next," writes Variety. "At various points, Spielberg's name has been linked to a remake of "Harvey" and a drama about the Chicago 7 trial, and 'Lincoln' went through several incarnations before ultimately being made with Daniel Day-Lewis."

This year marks the centenary of Bernstein's birth, which is being celebrated by musical institutions throughout the world. The conductor, composer and music educator died in October, 1990 at the age of 72. Of his four Broadway musicals, "On the Town" and "West Side Story" were filmed, though the former with much of his score excised.

Though gay, Bernstein married actress Felicia Montealegre in 1951. The couple stayed married until her death in 1978. In a book of letters published after his death, it was revealed that she knew of his homosexuality very early in their marriage and loved him anyway. "You are a homosexual and may never change-you don't admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?" she wrote him.

"I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar," she continued. "(I happen to love you very much-this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the "status quo" which exists now-at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us-let's try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!"

In 1976 the couple separated when Bernstein moved in with a young musician, Tom Cothran. Angrily, Ms. Montealegre told him he would "die a bitter and lonely old man." Soon after, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Bernstein moved back in and cared for her until her death in 1978. His biographer Humphrey Burton wrote that Bernstein felt terrible guilt about his wife's death.


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