I have an enduring fondness for Wendy Wasserstein, and I always sort of felt we’d have been kindred spirits if we ever met. According to Julie Salamon, author of Wendy and the Lost Boys, I’m not alone. Wasserstein induced this feeling of connection in quite a few people, not only colleagues but also random fans who would take her shopping after she gave a talk.
Wasserstein’s plays were often semi-autobiographical, and she wrote a lot about her life, so it’s hard to imagine what a biography would add. Plenty, it turns out. Salamon’s portrait is of a woman who came across as affable and insecure, but who managed to keep everyone compartmentalized and within limits. Growing up in a family adept at keeping secrets, Wasserstein learned to keep things under wraps… when she wanted to. The secrets were not-so-secret much of the time, often to the surprise of those who thought they were in her confidence.
Wasserstein wanted a husband and a baby, yet she also rejected conventional life. She felt superior and inferior at the same time. She bought expensive clothes that didn’t suit her. She seemed flighty and showed up for rehearsals in her pjs, but then had a keen ear for everything on the stage. She was, in short, a study in contrasts.
Salamon’s research is extensive, and she seems to have interviewed pretty much everyone Wasserstein ever met. Her narrative is clear and engaging, and she somehow debunks the feeling that we all knew Wendy Wasserstein while then making us feel like we know her even better. Sort of like Wasserstein herself used to do…