Saturday, January 19, 2019

why?

Well now, it wasn't a rumor after all.

Steven Spielberg's decade-old promise - threat? - to remake "West Side Story" is actually coming to fruition. Which has me somewhat conflicted.

On the one hand, the 1961 adaptation of the musical is almost unanimously considered iconic. On the other hand, for me, it's an imperfect film, largely because of Ernest Lehman's script, which hews way too closely to Arthur Laurents' clunky book for the original stage version.

Critic Sam Adams put it best a few years back in his critique of WSS (in one of its DVD incarnations) for Philadelphia's long-gone City Paper: "Being stuck with Laurents' dialogue probably cost Lehman the screenplay Oscar, the only one for which (the film) was nominated and didn't win."

The score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is magnificent - that's inarguable - and the choreography by Jerome Robbins remains revolutionary, but everything in-between, yes particularly the dialogue, is painful. So matters looked hopeful when Spielberg tagged Broadway's Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") in 2014 to do a new adaptation.

Good move. I'm hoping Kushner does a major script overhaul.
And last October, Spielberg signed Ansel Elgort to play Tony, the male lead. Another good move. Tony has always been a problem character in "West Side Story," largely because of the way it's been written (i.e., a teenage gang member who suddenly behaves like an alter boy), but also because an adult male is usually cast in the role. Elgort looks the right age and he has the perfect bearing for the role, rough-hewn yet sensitive.

Plus Elgort is musically accomplished. He can sing and dance. So far, so good. But I wish that I could be just a tad more excited about the idea because, suddenly, the production is moving at a brisk pace, with filming slated to begin this summer. In recent weeks, the supporting characters have been cast - and Spielberg has found his female lead. Rachel Zegler, an unknown 17-year-old Colombian-American, will play his Maria.

I'm not alone in my ambivalent feelings about WSS. In a piece published in The Hollywood Reporter on January 15, writer Seth Abramovitch describes what sounds like a contentious visit to the University of Puerto Rico that Spielberg and Kushner made on December 14, meeting with about 60 students and faculty, including Isel Rodriguez, a professor of theater history and acting, as well as with movie critic Mario Alegre.

While Spielberg and Kushner discussed the goal of "authenticity," Alegre and Rodriguez were more concerned with the material's unflattering stereotypes of the Puerto Rican characters and particularly the negative jokes about Puerto Rico in "America," the musical's show-stopper which compares Puerto Rico ("you ugly island") unfavorably to America:

"Puerto Rico ... My heart's devotion ... Let it sink back in the ocean."

"Always the hurricanes blowing ... always the population growing ... And the money owing ... And the babies crying ... And the bullets flying." 

Not good.

And the 1961 film exacerbated matters by fiddling with the lyric. On stage, the chorus sang, "Puerto Rico, island of tropical breezes." For some bizarre reason, the movie changed it to "Puerto Rico, island of tropic diseases."

Abramovitch writes that when told that the song is problematic, Kushner "put part of the blame on the Jewish roots of the show's creators," explaining that they used "the Jewish immigrant experience, the notion that you look back where you came from and go 'yech.' I'm sure it sounded better in Yiddish."

So what will Spielberg do? It's unlikely that the song will be cut. Audiences love it. Perhaps Sondheim will rewrite it. Perhaps Sondheim should have joined Spielberg and Kushner at the campus discussion and given his take on the matter. Yes, perhaps. Personally, if I had the opportunity, I'd ask Sondheim why the Puerto Ricans don't have their own number, given that the Caucasian gang has "Jet Song." It always seemed asymmetrical. But beyond that, it strikes me as odd that a show that wears its social conscience on its sleeve doesn't include a companion song for The Sharks.

Anyway, borrowing an observation voiced by a friend, I'm surprised that anyone would attempt to remake "West Side Story," especially for a contemporary audience which has been conditioned to be offended by the smallest perceived slight. What people fail to see is that, despite its grit and aforementioned social conscience, WSS is not realistic in any sense.

The authenticity that Spielberg envisions for the remake - and which he probably will successfully achieve - will be in conflict with the essential artificiality of the piece. (Gang members doing pirouettes!) The hallmark of 1961 version is its artiness, epitomized by Saul Bass's pop-art graphics for the overture and the graffiti and street signs that he used for the film's closing credits. In many ways, the film was avant guard for 1961 and intensely cinematic. I can't see how Spielberg can improve upon it.

And, frankly, I don't know why he wants to. Why do filmmakers, who should know better, elect to remake only successful films and mostly classics?  Why not tackle a movie that had a good idea but just didn't work? And if Spielberg simply wants to make a musical, there are many terrific stage productions that have never been adapted for the screen.

If he wants a challenge, film one of these:

~"Take Me Along," produced in 1959 by David Merrick and directed by Peter Glenville, comes immediately to mind. A musical adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness" (with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill), it starred Jackie Gleason, Walter Pigeon, Eileen Herlie, Una Merkle, Robert Morse, Zeme North, Susan Lockey and Arlene Golonka. It was a monster hit in its time, along the lines of the recent Bette Midler/"Hello, Dolly!" revival. 

It should be noted here that, years before, MGM filmed its own musical version of "Ah, Wilderness" - the 1948 "Summer Holiday," directed by Rouben Mamoulian and with original songs by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane. Mickey Rooney starred in the role played in "Take Me Along" by Robert Morse, Walter Huston (in the Walter Pidgeon role) as his father and Frank Morgan as the affable drunk, Uncle Sid (the Gleason role).

~"The Most Happy Fella," a major hit in 1956, was also composer Frank Loesser's most ambitious undertaking - a three-act musical adaptation of the Sidney Howard play, "They Knew What They Wanted," about the "love affair" between a middle-aged Italian immigrant, who operates a vineyard in Napa, and a younger woman who has agreed to be his mail-order bride (even though she is eventually sexually attracted to the vineyard's young foreman).

The material is highly cinematic and screamed to be filmed.

 Loesser came up with a commanding hybrid here - a musical comedy with the contours of an opera. There are about 40 songs in the show, not including the overture, the two entre'acts and a few reprises.  It took four years for Loesser to complete.  He not only composed all the songs but he also wrote the script, a huge undertaking which involved omitting the political, labor, and religious material originally in Howard's play. Joseph Anthony directed the production, which was so intimidating that Columbia released two original cast albums of the show's score - one a three-record set that included the entire libretto and one a single recording of selected songs.

~"Fiorello," a marvelous show, was staged in 1959 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for its authors - Jerome Weidman and George Abbott (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics).  It won the Pulitzer Prize and opened the same year as "Gypsy" - and was just as popular. And yet it has never been filmed. There was such excitement about this show that Capitol recorded the cast album six days after "Fiorello" opened.
 And yet is was never filmed.

Directed by Abbott (with choreography by Peter Gennaro), "Fiorello" introduced Tom Bosley as the legendary New York City major Fiorello H. LaGuardia, a reform Republican who challenged the Tammany Hall political machine.

 ~"She Loves Me," a genuine charmer, is another Harnick-Bock musical that opened on Broadway in 1963 as an era was coming to a close.  This irrisistible musical confection was one of many adaptations of a Hungarian play titled "Parfumerie," by Miklós László. It was predated by the films "The Shop Around the Corner" (a straight comedy by Ernst Lubitsch) and "In the Good Old Summer Time" (also a musical, by Robert Z. Leonard) and succeeded by "You've Got Mail" (another straight comedy by Nora Ephron).

"She Loves Me" was directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Carol Haney and its cast was led by Barbara Cook (a few years after she played Marian the Librarian in "The Music Man") and Daniel Massey, son of Raymond and anticipated at the time as the next big thing (given his role as Noël Coward opposite  Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence in "Star!").

And in support ... Barbara Baxley and Jack Cassidy.

Enter Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews who wanted to film "She Loves Me" in the early 1980s, after having scored a big success with "Victor/Victoria." Andrews was perfect for the Cook role and the plan was for it to be an MGM film, which makes sense as Metro always fancied itself the movie-musical factory and that's where both "The Shop Around the Corner" and "In the Good Old Summer Time" were made. Obviously, nothing happened.

~"Follies." Yes, if Spielberg or anyone wants to tackle a Stephen Sondheim show, this is the one. I had seen the original - in another lifetime - at the Winter Garden Theater in New York and remember it as an unusually singular, once-in-a-lifetime musical experience. James Goldman's book for the show ostensibly deals with the reunion of former showgirls from decades earlier who performed for Dimitri Weissmann at his eponymous theater which, in 1971, is in the throes of being razed. There are dozens of characters but "Follies" is interested largely in only two of the women, the unpretentious Sally and the imperious Phyllis, their respective husbands, Buddy and Ben, and - here's where the show gets tricky - their former selves as young people.
File:Pfollies.jpeg
There is no "plot," per se, as Sondheim himself has been quick to point out, just two pseudo-storylines of bits and pieces running parallel to each other. As the older Sally, Phyllis, Buddy and Ben circle each other, making bitter accusations, their younger selves shadow them, like ghosts, and often, the young and the old characters intermingle. It's quite intricate in its dealings with  mismatched, unfulfilled partners.

In the late 1970s, rumors circulated that Twentieth Century-Fox wanted to film "Follies" with Doris Day as Phyllis and Debbie Reynolds as Sally, terrific, spot-on casting of those two roles. One can only imagine what the film would have been like, but it was never made. The idea was referenced in a gossip column - where else? - but nothing came of it.  Too good to be true. Another missed opportunity, an unfortunate one.

Note in Passings: It's great that, with Zegler,  Spielberg has cast an age-appropriate actress in the role of Maria, but there are so many young Latina actresses working these days, that I'm surprised he did go with someone with experience. Two who come to mind immediately are Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada who were so awesome as sisters on Tanya Saracho's Starz series, "Vida." Barrera would have made a terrific Maria and Prada is just the right age as the older Anita. Also, there's Sasha Calle, the vibrant young actress who plays Lola Rosales on CBS's "The Young and the Restless."

All are most promising actresses.

Finally, while "West Side Story" swept the Oscars in 1961, the original stage production of it didn't snag the Tony for best musical of the 1957 Broadway season, as most people assume. The Tony that year went to Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." 

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

  ~images~
(from top)

 ~Steven Spielberg

~Ansel Elgort, Spielberg's Tony

~Rachel Zegler, Spielberg's Maria

~Assorted scenes from the 1961 film of "West Side Story"
~Photography: United Artists 1961©
 
~Poster art for "Take Me Along," "The Most Happy Fella" and "Fiorello"

~Dustjacket for the Original Broadway cast recording of "She Loves Me"

~Poster Art for "Follies"

~Mishel Prada (left) and Melissa Barrera, stars of "Vida"
~Photography: Vanity Fair 2018© 

~Sasha Calle of "The Young and the Restless"
~Photography: CBS 2018©

Monday, January 14, 2019

misunderstood

It was inevitable. I couldn't help myself.

I'd be at a critics' function or at a party or in a screening room where other reviewers were huddled in a circle savaging a certain film. One of the least attractive qualities of American movie critics is their penchant for forming a lynch mob in response to a shared contempt for a certain film.

It isn't pretty.

Anyway, when it came my turn to weigh in on the reviled movie, I'd inevitably invoke four little words - "Well, I like it." I lost a lot of credibility when I did that but I felt emboldened, empowered. It was cathartic.

Four of the most popular (or unpopular) victims of what I call "critics' wrath" are Sam Mendes' "American Beauty" (1999), Rob Marshall's "Chicago" (2002), Paul Haggis' "Crash" (2004) and Shawn Levy's "This Is Where I Leave You" (2014). Reviewers went after each of those titles as if they were protecting moviegoers from something the approximate size of a world war. Their response, particularly towards something as trivial as "This Is Where I Leave You," was a tad excessive, to put it mildly.

But throughout the decades, there have been some truly amazing films that have been hastily panned, simply because critics didn't understand what they were reviewing. Critics regularly complain about the lack of originality and daring in films, but when they're confronted with just that, they seem to freak out and go in for the kill. A case in point:

Arthur Penn's "Bonnie & Clyde" (1967).

With the exception of Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, Penn's film was dismissed and degraded by major critics - chief among them Bosley Crowther of The New York Times and Joe Morgenstern of Newsweek. Morgenstern, who at 86 is still reviewing films, retracted his pan in the next issue of Newsweek. Crowther, who died in 1981 at age 75, stood firm.

Among the major film achievements that have been dismissed and derided are Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and "Marnie," Charles Chaplin's "A Countess from Hong Kong," John Huston's "The Misfits," Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love," Howard Hawks' "Monkey Business," Elaine May's "Ishtar," John Boorman's "Exorcist II: The Heretic," Francis Ford Coppola's "One from the Heart," Darren Aronofsky’s "mother!," Robert Wise's "Star!," Steven Spielberg's "1941" and, most notably, Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "Cleopatra."

All "hated" films, which is bizarre when one considers the execrable junk that critics sit through week after week and, sometimes, actually endorse.

These are films that took risks, something that one could hardly say about any recent Oscar winner. Quick! I challenge you to name the last three Best Picture winners. You probably can't because, after the celebration dies down, most Oscar winners prove to be not very memorable.

Then there's Robert Zemeckis' "Welcome to Marwen," a title that deserves a place on the august list above. It's an auspicious, in many ways difficult work that, for me, brought some excitement to an otherwise lackluster holiday movie season. It came, it was apathetically shrugged off by the critics or subjected to snarky comments, and it went away, now forgotten.

Given that this site is devoted largely to movies that have been unpopular and mostly misunderstood, "Welcome to Marwen" fits right in - and one of the qualities that I like and admire about the film is just how inscrutable it is, defying easy pigeon-holing. It's elusive and not exactly "audience-friendly" - or, at least, it's audience-friendly in an entirely different way.

Or maybe not.

It marches to its own beat. Which probably also made it a tough sell for Universal. Its trailer which played in theaters for months before it opened failed to capture just how special it is. "Welcome to Marwen" was made to look like a sappy TV movie about a grown man who plays with dolls.

In short, it looked off-putting.

The film is about Mark Hogancamp, an illustrator whose work and tragic situation are also the subjects of Jeff Malmberg's 2010 documentary, "Marwencol."  Hogancamp was viciously attacked outside a bar by five men after he joked (while drunk) about his preference for women's shoes.They called him the usual ugly names and beat and kicked him until his past disappeared from his brain. He was left with no memory.

Or only bits and pieces of it.

Hogie (as he is known by his friends) starts a new life engulfed in fantasy. He obsessive constructed a tiny, fictional Belgian village both outside and inside his home in Kingston, New York, where he populated it with the aforementioned dolls - brave Barbies and evil Kens - as well as accessories associated with World War II. It's all quite detailed. These figures and their "lives" helped him cope with the reality of his situation and gave him the strength to appear at the sentencing of his assailants.

The ever-inventive Zemeckis made the risky decision to use magic realism to tell Hogancamp's story, breathlessly mixing the otherwise naturalistic, straightforward narrative with elements of unconventional fantasy.

Steve Carell plays Hogancamp as both a wounded man and, via some incredible CGI, as a vainglorious doll - a daring soldier. He is surrounded both in real life and in his fantasy world by women who care about him - and fight for him. While the movie could have simply been an inspiration piece about a broken man's valiant and unusual attempts to heal himself, it is much more a celebration of women and the strength of their nurturing.

And Zemeckis doesn't use the fantasy sequences sparingly either. His film is equal parts of realism and fantastic imagery. And Carell and company play their roles alternately as human beings and as plastic facsimiles.

Speaking of Carell, he had a wealth of opportunities during the holiday season, appearing in no less than three films - "Beautiful Boy," "Vice" and "Welcome to Marwen" - and doing incredible work in each, never repeating himself. Is there any role that this man can't play? He's a great actor.

As for the film itself, it works both as a major achievement and as an acquired taste, an uneasy combination that has historically put past similar films on the periphery for a while (ok, for decades) but that also has made them ripe for rediscovery, reassessment and belated praise. I've a hunch that this is what "Welcome to Marwen" will experience. It should.

Note in Passing: And a shout-out for Leslie Mann, who delivers a nuanced performance, her best to date, as Hogancamp's neighbor - the one woman whom he (mistakenly) believes is his salvation.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

~images~
(from top) 

 ~Kim Novak in "Vertigo"
~Photography: Universal 1958© 

~Poster art for "Welcome to Marwen"
~Universal 2018©

~Doll versions of Leslie Mann and Steve Carell dance in "Welcome to Marwen"
~photography: Universal 2018©

Thursday, January 10, 2019

cinema obscura: schaffner's "the stripper" / stage → movie: william inge plays on film

"There was a time in the mid-20th century, when Inge (1913-1973) was spoken of in the same breath as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Thoreau’s much-quoted words about 'lives of quiet desperation' were regularly and mistily invoked to describe the ordinary people of waning hopes in Inge’s plays, which were regularly translated to film."

Inge, of course, is playwright William Inge, and the quote is an excerpt from Ben Brantley's New York Times review of a revival of Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba" when it opened at the Biltmore Theater on January 25, 2008. Inge has been on my mind of late after my friend Marvin sent me a box of old videotapes including "The Stripper," a Joanne Woodward film based on an Inge play of another title, "A Loss of Roses."

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner from a screenplay by Meade Roberts and released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1963, "The Stripper" plays as the sad remnant of a once-good film (or perhaps play, in this case) that was saddled with a new exploitative title. Not good. The film was shot by Ellsworth Fredricks in CinemaScope and black-&-white (always a striking combo), but the Key Video of the film that Marvin sent me is blurry and presented in an inferior pan-and-scan. The dust jacket, meanwhile, contains two color (!) stills from the film - of a scene that all too obviously never made the final cut. At least, it's not on the video.

The only remaining virtues of "The Stripper" are Woodward's committed, empathetic performance and a terrific trademark Jerry Goldsmith score.

The play, "A Loss of Roses," was written by Inge in the late 1950s and one senses that he was running out of ideas, given that its plot is essentially a role-reversed version of his most popular play. Inge's "Picnic" details the arrival in a small town of an attractive drifter, named Hal, no longer as young as he thinks he is, and his interactions with its denizens, particularly one young woman, Madge.

In "A Loss of Roses," it's an aging young woman named Lila, now a showgirl in a touring act, who shows up in her hometown and has a reunion with her former neighbors, particularly with one young man. (Back in the day, she was his babysitter, no less.) Watching "The Stripper," I could sense Inge tracing over "Picnic." The play, which opened December 7, 1959, at the Eugene O'Neill Theater, closed after only 25 performances and remains the single Broadway appearance of Warren Beatty who was its male lead and who received a Tony nomination for his performance.

In a rare dramatic performance, legendary dancer Carol Haney starred as Lila and the play's cast also included Betty Field, Robert Webber and Michael J. Pollard who, of course, would appear with Beatty in Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde." Daniel Mann directed.

Betty Field (an Inge favorite) essentially essayed the same part she played in the film of "Picnic." Claire Trevor took over the role in "The Stripper," whose cast includes Richard Beymer (in the Beatty role), Carol Lynley, Louis Nye - and Webber and Pollard, both recreating their stage roles. (Incidentally, it's been rumored that Natalie Wood, given her connection at the time to Beatty, Beymer and Inge, once considered playing the Lynley role - but only as a cameo.)

"The Stripper" went through several title changes but apparently "A Loss of Roses" (those words referenced in an affecting monologue that was retained for the film) was never under serious consideration. Why not?

"A Woman in Summer," "A Woman of July" and "Celebration" were all considered before Fox went with "The Stripper," a title which makes no narrative sense, given that Lila isn't forced to do a strip routine until one of the final scenes in the movie. But it made business sense: "The Stripper" was filmed while "Gypsy," which was a huge hit for Warner Bros., was playing in theaters. The powers no doubt thought that it was wise to capitalize on that film's success. Also, one of the characters in "The Stripper" is played by ...  Gypsy Rose Lee.

Fox snapped up the film rights to "A Loss of Roses," despite its brief Broadway run, as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe. The actress had a good working relationship with Inge, having starred in Fox's film version of his "Bus Stop," and there were thoughts of a profitable reunion.

But the problems on the ill-fated "Something's Got to Give" and, of course, Monroe's death in 1962 ended that idea. Joanne Woodward stepped in and it's curious that her appearance in "The Stripper" approximates the way Monroe looks in the few surviving scenes from "Something's Got to Give."

And perhaps as a homage, Woodwards sings Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give" during the strip routine.
Warren Beatty was 22 when he starred in "A Loss of Roses," the beginning of a crucial collaboration with Inge, who also wrote the scripts for Beatty's 1961 screen debut, Elia Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass" (which was an original screenplay) and his 1962 film for John Frankenheimer, "All Fall Down"(adapted from a novel by James Leo Herlidhy

Incidentally, Inge can be seen briefly in "Splendor in the Grass" as Reverend Whitman who counsels Natalie Wood. (Brantley aptly described Inge as "sad-eyed" in the film.)

The handful of plays - and the films based on them - that Inge wrote prior to "A Loss of Roses" stand out with their shared acute observations of the panic, terror and passion that invest the so-called "ordinary lives" that he recorded with such empathy and gentleness. Today, an imaginary William Inge Film Festival, including screen originals and material inspired by his plays but starting with these four Inge staples from the 1950s and '60s:

"Come Back, Little Sheba

The plot: Doc isn't a real doctor, but he wanted to be one. He dropped out of medical school to marry his pregnant girlfriend, Lola, who lost the baby. Now, he's a bitter middle-aged alcoholic, while Lola uses her pet dog, Sheba, as a love substitute. The dormancy of their relationship is challenged when a young woman rents a room in their home.

The Broadway production: Opened on February 15, 1950 at the Booth Theater and ran for 190 performances. The cast included Shirley Booth as Lola and Sidney Blackmer as Doc. Directed by Daniel Mann.

The film version: Released by Paramount Pictures on February 13, 1953. Booth recreated her stage role opposite Burt Lancaster as Doc. Also directed by Mann, from a screenplay by Ketti Frings. A TV version, directed by Silvio Narizzano ("Georgy Girl"), aired in 1977 and starred Joanne Woodward and Laurence Olivier. Inge himself wrote the teleplay.

"Picnic"

The plot: A handsome drifter unsettles the women of a small Kansas town during a labor-day weekend.

The Broadway production: Opened on February 19, 1953 (a few days after the opening of the film version of "Come Back, Little Sheba") at the Music Box Theater and ran for 477 performances. Joshua Logan directed a cast that included Ralph Meeker, Janice Rule, Arthur O'Connell, Eileen Heckart, Kim Stanley, Paul Newman, Ruth McDevitt, Reta Shaw and Elizabeth Wilson.

The film version: Released by Columbia Pictures on February 16, 1956. William Holden, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Betty Field, Susan Strasberg and Cliff Robertson starred and, from the play, O'Connell, Wilson and Shaw recreated their roles. Also directed by Logan, from a screenplay by Daniel Taradash.

"Bus Stop"

The Plot: A hell-raising cowboy meets a saloon singer on a bus, falls in love with her immediately and plans to haul her off to his ranch in Montana, whether she wants to go or not.

The Broadway production: Opened on March 2, 1955 at the Music Box Theater and ran for 478 performances. Albert Salmi played the cowboy Bo Decker and Kim Stanley starred as the chanteuse, Cheri. The cast included Elaine Stritch, Crahan Denton, Lou Polan, Patrick McVey and Phyllis Love. Harold Clurman directed.

The film version: Released by Twentieth Century-Fox on August 31, 1956. Marilyn Monroe stars as Cheri and Don Murray made his film debut as Bo. The cast included Hope Lange (also in her debut), Betty Field, Arthur O'Connell, Eileen Heckart and Robert Bray. Joshua Logan directed, from a screenplay by George Axelrod.

A TV version of "Bus Stop," televised in 1982 was directed by Peter H. Hunt and starred Margot Kidder as Cherie and Tim Matheson. Joyce Van Oatten, Pat Hingle and Barry Corbin co-starred. Inge wrote the teleplay,

The material was adapted into a TV series in 1961 and all but one of the episodes had anything to do with the play or film. The one exception was an episode titled "Cherie," which condensed the material and starred the excellent Tuesday Weld and Gary Lockwood in the leads. Don Siegel directed from a script by Robert Blees.

"The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" 

The plot: A family drama about a husband who may be unfaithful, a wife who plans to move in with her sister, their painfully shy daughter and a son lost in a world of clippings about movie stars.

The Broadway production: Opened on December 5, 1957 at the Music Box Theatre and ran for 468 performance. The cast included Eileen Heckart, Pat Hingle, Theresa Wright, Judith Robinson, Timmy Everett, Frank Overton and Evans Evans (Mrs. John Frankenheimer). Elia Kazan directed.

The film version: Released by Warner Bros. on October 8, 1960. The movie starred Dorothy McGuire, Robert Preston, Angela Lansbury, Eve Arden, Shirley Knight, Ken Lynch, Lee Kingsolving, Penny Parker and Richard Eyre. Overton recreated his stage role. Delbert Mann directed from a screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr.. (The movie, not available on home entertainment, is almost impossible to see these days.)

Most of William Inge on screen is directly linked to his stage work. But, as mentioned, he wrote the screenplay for Beatty's "All Fall Down," as well as another interesting film - Universal's "Bus Riley's Back in Town," filmed in 1965 by Harvey Hart with a cast including Michael Parks, Ann-Margret, Kim Darby, Janet Margolin and Mimsy Farmer. It is Inge's last produced screenplay. Although his fingerprints are all over it - it is clearly his work - Inge was unhappy enough with it to have his name removed. (Reportedly, his script was restructured by the producers to showcase Ann-Margret.)

The release print carries his nom de plume, Walter Gage.

There was also a 1981 TV version of "Splendor in the Grass," directed by Richard C. Sarafian and starring Melissa Gilbert in the Natalie Wood role. a 1981 TV version of "Splendor in the Grass." John Herzfeld wrote the script.

Inge would write a four more plays before his death, including "Where's Daddy?" (1966), with Beau Bridges, and "The Last Pad" (1972), with Nick Nolte, with whom he would have similar mentor-protégé relationship that he had with Warren Beatty. "The Last Pad" had its premiere in Phoenix, Arizona under its original title "The Disposal." When it played in Los Angeles, Nolte won multiple awards for his performance which introduced him to the Hollywood, jump-starting his film career.

The play opened a few days following Inge's death. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on June 10, 1973. He was 60.

William Motter Inge was gay, but closeted, and addressed his homosexuality openly only in the plays "Where's Daddy?" and "The Last Pad."

More on "Picnic": "Picnic" was, inarguably, Inge's greatest triumph. He won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for it and the play experienced somewhat of a history beyond its success on Broadway and film. It was actually a revision of an earlier, unproduced version titled "Summer Brave." The main difference between the two versions is the ending - the female lead, Madge, decides to stay in her hometown rather than follow drifter Hal.

"Summer Brave" was subsequently staged after Inge's death. It opened October 26, 1975 at the ANTA Theater and played for 18 performances. Director Michael Montel's leads were played by Jill Eikenberry and Ernest Thompson who would switch careers at some point, becoming a playwright. Thompson wrote "On Golden Pond."  

Picnic" also experienced another incarnation. In 1965, Joshua Logan directed a musical version titled "Hot September," with a book by Paul Osborn, music by Kenneth Jacobson and Lyrics by Rhoda Roberts. It opened September 14, 1965 at the Shubert Theater in Boston and closed there October 9, 1965, canceling the scheduled Broadway opening.

There have been several revivals of the play since its 1953 opening on Broadway, the most notable being a 1994 production, starring Kyle Chandler as Hal and Ashley Judd as Madge, and a 2013 version, with Sebastian Stan ("I, Tonya") as Hal and Maggie Grace as Madge. And let's not forget the two TV versions - one in 1986, starring Gregory Harrison and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and another in 200, directed by Ivan Passer, starring Josh Brolin and Gretchen Mol.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

~images~
(from top)

 ~William Inge in profiles

~Joanne Woodward in the film "The Stripper"
~Photography: Twentieth Century-Fox. 1963© 

~Playbill for the play "A Loss of Roses" (Warren Beatty, Carol Haney and Betty Field)

 ~Warren Beatty and Carol Haney in the play "A Loss of Roses"
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1959©

 ~Woodward and Richard Beymer in "The Stripper"
~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox. 1963©

~Marilyn Monroe in "Something's Got to Give"
~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox. 1962©

~Beatty with Inge on the set of "Splendor in the Grass"
~Natalie Wood with Inge in a scene from the film
~Photography: Warner Bros. 1962© 

~Playbill for the play "Come Back, Little Sheba" (Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer)

~Ralph Meeker and Janice Rule in the play "Picnic"
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1953©

 ~Kim Stanley and Albert Salmi in the play "Bust Stop"
~photography: Friedman-Abeles 1955©

 ~Tuesday Weld and Gary Lockwood in "Cherie," an episode of the TV series, "Bus Stop"
~Photography:Twentieth Century-Fox. 1960©

~Playbill from the play "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (Pat Hingle with Theresa Wright, and Eileen Heckart)

~Robert Preston and Dorothy Maguire in a scene from the film of "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1960©

 ~Poster art for the stage musical "Hot September"