Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Notes For March 24th, 2010

This Day In Writing History

On March 24th, 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the famous play by legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams, opened on Broadway. The play focused on a Southern family in crisis - the affluent Pollitt family, whose exterior cloak of respectability hides the lies they live. The extended family has gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt, the richest cotton grower in the Mississippi Delta.

The family knows that Big Daddy is dying of cancer and won't live to see another birthday, but have conspired to keep him (and his wife Big Mama) from finding out about his terminal condition. All of Big Daddy's kin ingratiate themselves to him, hoping to receive the lion's share of his huge estate when he dies - all of them except indifferent son Brick Pollitt, who, along with his wife Maggie (the Cat), are having serious marital problems.

Brick is an aging, injured, detached alcoholic ex-football hero who neglects his wife and spends most of his time drinking and railing against mendacity. A desperate Maggie reveals to Brick that she had an affair with his best friend Skipper, even though she knew that Skipper was secretly gay. This affair is what drove Skipper to drink and suicide. A disgusted Big Daddy accuses Brick of drinking to escape his guilt over not trying to save Skipper - because he was also secretly gay.

Furious, Brick reveals that Big Daddy is dying. Maggie, knowing that Big Daddy never made out a will, panics and fears that he'll disinherit Brick. She escaped a miserable childhood of grinding poverty and despair when she married into the rich Pollitt family, and the prospect of being poor again terrifies her. So, she lies and says that she's pregnant.

Maggie throws away Brick's liquor and says “We can make that lie come true. And then I'll bring you liquor, and we'll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into!”

The original Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Ben Gazzara as Brick, Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie, and legendary folksinger-actor Burl Ives as Big Daddy. Gazzara's understudy was a young actor named Cliff Robertson, who would go on to become a star of stage, screen, and television. But when Gazzara left the play, Jack Lord replaced him.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize - his second. He won his first Pulitzer for his famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1958, three years after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on Broadway, a feature film adaptation was released. Starring Paul Newman as Brick, Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, and with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their Broadway roles as Big Daddy and Big Mama, the film was directed by Richard Brooks.

Unfortunately, due to the stifling Hollywood Production Code in effect at the time, the screenplay toned down Tennessee Williams' play considerably and completely removed the homosexual elements of the story. The bowdlerized screenplay caused George Cukor to turn down an offer to direct the film. As for Tennessee Williams' reaction, he hated the movie so much that he told people on line for the premiere not to see it, saying "This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!"

Quote Of The Day

"Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory." - Tennessee Williams

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a clip from a performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - the scene in Act 1 where Maggie confronts Brick. Enjoy!

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