Larry Kert's career on Broadway revealed how changeable fortunes could be in the third quarter of the 20th century to performers who were unabashedly gay. A graduate of Hollywood High School, Kert spent his teenage years working in ancillary roles in dozens of films in the late 1940s. A dancer at heart, he gravitated toward the edgier choreography and productions happening on Broadway, rather than MGM-style.
In 1950 he removed to New York and began a hit-or-miss career of dancing and modeling, grabbing replacement roles, supper club gigs, or chorus slots in shows. He received credit for his appearances in "John Murray Anderson's Almanac" of 1954 and Sammy Davis, Jr.'s "Mr. Wonderful."
Lightning struck in 1959 when he landed the lead role of Tony for "West Side Story." This would remain the highpoint of his career. While he did manage to secure the role of Cliff in "Caberet" when its creator fell ill, and enjoyed a long run, no other project with which he became affiliated, save one, amounted to anything significant. He signed on to several legendary failures--"La Strada" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
His greatest advocate on Broadway was Stephen Sondheim who had secured him for "West Side Story" and brought him in as a replacement for Dean Jones in "Company" (1970) when it became clear Jones was not working out in the leading role. His vocalizing departed from the operetta tenor tradition favored by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and tended clearly to the vulnerable musical tenor style that emerged in the 1950s. He recorded several cast albums after retiring from live performance. He died from AIDS in 1991, aged sixty-one. David S. Shields/ALS