This Day In Literary History
On December 4th, 1916, the legendary English writer W. Somerset Maugham departed on a ship to Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa. During the voyage, he became friendly with his fellow passengers.
Two of them, a missionary and a prostitute, would inspire him to write his classic short story, Rain, which would appear in his 1923 short story collection, The Trembling of a Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands.
Rain, originally titled Miss Thompson, told the story of the downfall of a severely repressed, devoutly religious missionary who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of a young prostitute. He's so repressed that he won't make love to his own wife.
After their boat docks in Samoa, fiery Scottish missionary Reverend Alfred Davidson and his wife find themselves trapped by the island's heavy seasonal rains. They lodge at a seedy rooming house and general store.
To the Davidsons' dismay, the occupant of the room below them turns out to be Sadie Thompson, a fast young American woman who was a passenger on their ship. The Davidsons can hear the sounds of Sadie's phonograph, her laughter, and the sailors that she entertains.
When Reverend Davidson learns that Sadie is a prostitute, he becomes determined to save her soul and make a good Christian woman out of her. But Sadie is a tough cookie and wants none of that.
Davidson becomes Sadie's unwanted "avenging angel." As he tries to save her from sin, his repressed passion threatens to explode. He ends up killing himself, and the story ends with the disturbing implication that he raped Sadie before committing suicide.
The year of its publication, Rain was adapted as a play by John Colton and Clemence Randolph. A hit on the London stage, it opened in New York the following season, becoming one of Broadway's biggest hits of the 1920s.
In 1927, silent film megastar Gloria Swanson bought the film rights to Rain, determined to play Sadie Thompson. She soon found herself up against Hollywood Production Code Administration head censor Will Hays, who forbade any negative depiction of religion on screen.
Swanson got around Hays by making changes to her original cut of Rain. The missionary Reverend Davidson became Mr. Atkinson, a religious layperson. All she had to do was change the character's name and description on the silent film's title cards.
The name of the picture was changed to Sadie Thompson to avoid any references to Rain. This was done to appease studio bosses who had pledged not to adapt "salacious" books and plays for the screen.
The silent film's title cards had been changed, but Will Hays was so concerned about eliminating all references to Rain that he hired lip readers to screen Sadie Thompson.
They must have been asleep at the switch, because they missed seeing Gloria Swanson mouth the line "You'd yank wings off butterflies and claim you were saving their soul, you psalm singing son of a bitch!"
Sadie Thompson became a huge hit, earning record-setting revenues at the box office, thanks to Swanson's performance in the lead role, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Lionel Barrymore delivered a typically brilliant performance as Atkinson. When the film was restored in 1984, the original title cards were used, and Atkinson became Reverend Alfred Davidson again.
Due to the degradation of the original film elements, the last reel was lost forever, so the restorers had to use stills and new title cards to prepare an ending for the movie.
Quote Of The Day
"What mean and cruel things men can do for the love of God." - W. Somerset Maugham
Today's video features a complete reading of W. Somerset Maugham's classic short story Rain. Enjoy!