He was always aware that most young gay men and women probably didn’t know who he was. Yet
Larry Kramer had a worldwide reputation in two important spheres: as an author of
some of the most important gay fiction and plays ever written, and as the foremost
AIDS activist and campaigner of our time. He recently talked to OutUK's
Steve Bustin about his incredible work and remarkable life.
ago at the age of 84, less than a month short of his 85th birthday.
Having started his career in the film industry, where he picked up an Oscar nomination
for his screenplay for ‘Women in Love’ in 1969, Kramer became an author, publishing
the now seminal ‘Faggots’ in 1978. The book established his reputation as a
straight-talking gay commentator, unafraid to talk frankly about sex and sexuality
during the pursuit of equal rights.
In 1981 Kramer joined with five friends to found Gay Men’s Health Crisis, in response to
the emerging AIDS epidemic among gay men, and in 1987 he founded ACT UP, the advocacy and
In 1998 he set up Treatment Data Project with a wide range of medical
companies and organisations, with the aim of collecting treatment data via the Internet
from several hundred thousand people with HIV around the world.
In parallel with his activist work, he wrote two major plays about AIDS, The Normal
Heart (1985) and The Destiny of Me (1993). The Normal Heart was performed to great
acclaim in London, but The Destiny of Me didn’t appear in London until a fringe theatre
production some years later.
Kramer is aware that it’s reputation as a ‘difficult’ play may have delayed its appearance
“I wrote The Destiny of Me as a companion play to The Normal Heart, as opposed to a prequel
or sequel, as a lot of the action in the play takes place before that of The Normal Heart,
and you don’t have to have seen one to see the other. It’s a very hard play to stage as
it has a lot of complicated technical business, especially a lot of scenes in a hospital,
and I think it frightens off directors. It was a very big success in New York, and was
runner up for a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a play that’s very dear to me, about my growing
up and my family. It’s been described as my attempt to write a gay, Jewish Long Day’s
Journey Into Night!”
The Normal Heart was produced by The Royal Court, and transferred into the West End
for a highly acclaimed run, but The Destiny of Me has never moved beyond the
fringe. “I don’t know why that is,” says Kramer. “I think once a play has opened,
run and closed somewhere, they pass into an area where they’re not noticed any more.
Also, resources are never available to a gay play or a play about AIDS. I write what
I write, as classifications about gay plays or AIDS plays don’t serve any purpose.
The Destiny of Me was considered a family play in New York, and audiences were largely
KRAMER & STREISAND
Despite huge success on the stage, and Larry’s reputation as an author, neither play
has yet been filmed, although famously Barbra Streisand held the rights to The Normal
Heart for ten years, without taking them up. Larry explains:
“Barbra, who is a friend, still wants to do Normal Heart, but when push came to
shove she was frightened, although she’ll claim she couldn’t get financing. She had
it tied up for 10 years, so it’s now a bit ‘shop-worn’. As for Destiny of Me I
don’t know. When it comes to movies, it is very definitely a discriminatory thing,
as the studios don’t want to do gay stuff or anything that’s not sweetness and
light. I’d like to see them filmed if they were done well, and I was a bit
frightened about whether Barbra would have done it well, but one hopes that
somebody strong would come along and want to appear in it or direct it.”
Kramer lived in London for 10 years during the Sixties, living in Chelsea, Belgravia and
Marylebone, and working in the film industry. How does he remember the capital at
“There was us and them” says Kramer. “It was a secret life, and all the gay pubs were
hidden. For instance, to get into The Rockingham on Shaftesbury Avenue you had to use
a back entrance in the basement. However, once in, there was a pseudo-elegant gay
world. There was a lot of way-out drag including Danny la Rue.
One was aware one
was leading a double life, as your sexuality wasn’t brought into your daytime life
or work. The film industry expected you to turn up with a woman for a premiere.
It wasn’t really unpleasant – it was just different.”
Faggots is available from Amazon.
“I went through a time that when in London I would see the newspapers and magazines, and the social change was very similar
to what happened in New York; wonderful in terms of equality but heart-breaking with rates of
infection in the young rising and rising. It’s very dispiriting to think that so many
people appear to have died in vain.”