I first met Larry Kramer in London in the late 1960s, when he was working for United Artists and writing the screenplay for Women in Love. He came to a screening I had for my Beatles movie, Let It Be, and then over for dinner a few evenings later with my girlfriend and me. He took his dessert into the TV room, saying he was sure she and I would be happy on our own but there was a Barbra Streisand special he didn’t want to miss.

Over the years I’d run into Larry occasionally and had always liked him and thought him intelligent and funny.

In the autumn of 1984, I was in Toronto to direct “Master Harold” … and the Boys for Showtime when the telephone rang in my hotel room.


“It’s Larry Kramer, Michael.”

Then straight to the point.

“I’ve written a play and I’d like you to read it.”

I’d had some success a year or so earlier directing Agnes of God on Broadway.

“What’s it about?”

AIDS. It’s about AIDS.”

I did not know what that was.

He did not say that his play had been turned down by every director he’d sent it to.

A few days later a thick package arrived containing a work of almost 150 pages. Diffuse, way too long, but at its core burned fire, and I saw that Larry did not want to use a small-caliber firearm at his targets but, rather, a blunderbuss aimed from short range at The New York Times, the governments of New York City (Mayor Ed Koch) and of the United States (President Reagan), and their real—or, worse, feigned—ignorance and indifference to what was going on in the community of homosexual men.

We met a month or so later in a downtown coffee shop.

“So, how’s it going?”

“It’s not. No one wants to do it. Maybe Joe Papp at the Public. But he doesn’t want you.”

“Why? We’ve never met.”

“I don’t know,” Larry said. “Maybe because you have a hyphen in your name.”

Then he spoke about what was going on. Two friends of his had already died. And then, loudly, “And no one’s doing anything about it.” Heads turned in the coffee shop, occupied mainly, I’d say, by gay men.

Larry turned toward them and shouted, “And no one’s doing anything about it!”

Many gay men in that time thought Larry was an argumentative scold. The Scourge of Christopher Street.

Larry was engaged in many battles. The main one was to somehow get his play The Normal Heart on.

He did not say that his play had been turned down by every director he’d sent it to.

I went to meet Joe Papp two days later and talked about being fat as a little boy and unable to read till I was nine. Not, on the face of it, ideal credentials to direct a play about plague and death. Joe said, “Maybe.” Maybe because there was no one else.

And that’s how it began. And even though the subject was one of calamity, doing the play with Larry and Joe and the actors was a joy of loud confrontation and collaboration.

There was not only one Larry but a multitude of Larrys. Some were instinctive, affectionate, kind, courteous. But now there was the Extra Larry—enraged, vicious, rude, ruthless, sometimes duplicitous.

The world being what it was, Larry had decided that that was the only way he could win. The Robespierre of Lafayette Street. The ends justified any means.

I loved the challenge of: Which Larry will we get today? We would joke and decide that day’s rehearsal had been a good one, and then, that evening, would be the phone call. Why did so-and-so not know his lines yet? Why had I blocked that scene the way I did? And why was everything taking so long?

Brad Davis, who created the Ned Weeks (Larry) character, and Larry would often nearly come to blows when Larry would arrive with re-writes and line changes just before curtain time.

I’d met Mike Nichols when we were in early rehearsal, and he said he’d read the play and disliked it, especially the “sentimental” wedding scene at the end. Why was I doing it? I liked and admired Mike and wondered why a man of such talent and boldness would have that reaction but felt like a marsupial who needed to defend what was in my pouch.

“Well, I think there may be something important to it, maybe valuable in a way.”

At the end of the play, when Ned’s lover, Felix (the wonderful Don Moffett), is dying in hospital, a doctor has empowered herself to marry them.

I said to Larry, “Look. This is a great and very powerful emotional scene. But men marrying each other is a dream you have. Given the world is as it is, how can it ever happen?”

“Let me have my dreams,” Larry said. “And see if the world ever catches up.”

Larry Kramer and David Webster were married in July 2013.

Oh, so much more.

Larry is dead now. We were e-mailing till only a few weeks ago.

We loved each other, with the bond of men who’d been in a foxhole together.

He lives, though.

My dear turbulent heroic friend.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg is a director of film, television, and theater, and the author of a memoir. He is currently finishing a second one, centered around The Normal Heart