Schlesinger Library Informs HBO’s The Normal Heart

Linda Laubenstein's New York City apartment. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryLinda Laubenstein's New York City apartment. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

When the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s 1985 autobiographical play, The Normal Heart, hit the airwaves on May 25, 2014, it did so to strong acclaim from critics and audiences alike, eventually garnering six Primetime Emmy Award nominations. The film—set during the rise of the AIDS epidemic in early 1980s New York City—stars Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, and Alfred Molina.

Roberts portrays Emma Brookner, intrepid physician and polio survivor—a character based on the AIDS-research pioneer Linda J. Laubenstein, who discovered the first cases of the syndrome in New York. Housed at the Schlesinger Library, Laubenstein’s papers date from 1947 to 1993 and include photographs, videos, personal correspondence, clippings, a diary, and other autobiographical writings.

According to Diana Carey, a research librarian in visual resources, the producers consulted photographs of Laubenstein’s apartment while researching the film. And the screen adaptation has not been the only production of The Normal Heart to benefit from Laubenstein’s papers: another actor watched videos of Laubenstein while developing her character for the stage.

One could argue that it’s through the Schlesinger that The Normal Heart’s Emma Brookner found her soul.

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2014