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, which hides its dark secrets under a cloak of respectability. 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.
Suspecting that her husband might also be gay, Maggie seduced Skipper to prevent anything from happening between the two men. The affair drove Skipper to drink and suicide. A disgusted Big Daddy has similar suspicions. He accuses Brick of drinking to escape his guilt over not saving Skipper from suicide - because he and Skipper were more than just best friends.
Furious, Brick reveals that Big Daddy is dying. Maggie, knowing that the old man 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 falsely claims to be pregnant to win her father in-law's sympathy.
Later, Maggie throws away Brick's liquor, telling him “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. Directed by Richard Brooks, it starred Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their Broadway roles as Big Daddy and Big Mama.
Unfortunately, due to the stifling Hollywood Production Code in effect at the time, the screenplay toned down Tennessee Williams' play considerably, removing all the sexual elements of the story. Richard Brooks was not the studio's first choice to direct the film; it had been offered to George Cukor, but he turned it down in disgust after reading the bowdlerized screenplay.
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
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!