Preston with his wife Catherine Craig
Following his incredible success on Broadway in "The Music Man," the fabulous Robert Preston went on to give his defining performance in the 1962 film version - a performance which should have earned him at least an Oscar nomination but didn't.
But the Meredith Willson musical did provide him with an awesome second act. Preston went on to do the fine work in a dazzling array of films - Sam Peckinpah's "Junior Bonner," Sidney Lumet's "Child's Play," Michael Ritchie's "Semi-Tough" Gene Saks' "Mame," Nick Castle's "The Last Starfighter" (his final film) and, of course, two Blake Edwards titles, "Victor/Victoria" and "S.O.B."
But, today, I am more interested in the two titles that bookended his performance in the movie version of "The Music Man' - the film versions of two plays, both films apparently now lost.
Delbert Mann's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (1960)
There are those who thought that the great playwright William Inge would enjoy the household-name status of Tennessee Williams, given that in the 1950s he wrote such plays as "Come Back, Little Sheba," "Picnic," "Bus Stop" and, in 1957, "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," all of which were adapted into films. His 1959 play, "A Loss of Roses," became the 1963 film, "The Stripper" and he also wrote the screenplay for Elia Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass" (1961), in which Inge played the small role of of a minister who counsels Natalie Wood.
Kazan also directed the Broadway version of "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," which opend at the Music Box Theatre on December 5, 1957, with a cast including of Teresa Wright, Pat Hingle and Eileen Heckart. Once again, we have another dysfunctional family drama about a man who, in middle age and out of work, tries to compensate for a lack of self esteem by cheating on his wife with another woman in another town.
The 1960 Warner Bros. film, directed by Delbert Mann from Harriet Frank, Jr.'s adapation, starred Preston in the Pat Hingle role, along with Dorothy McGuire (above with Preston) and Eve Arden, taking the Wright and Heckart parts, along with Angela Lansbury and a young Shirley Knight, an Oscar nominee for her performance.
Preston was great as always in this and in ... "All the Way Home."
Alex Segal's "All the Way Home" (1963)
Set in Tennessee in the early 1900's, "All the Way Home" revolves around a man's sudden, accidental death and the ramifications that it has on his family, especially his young son.
The play examines the process of mourning and the heartache that makes it almost impossible to heal.
The 1963 Paramount film version, directed by Alex Segal, starred Preston as the father, Jean Simmons as his wife (above with Preston and Michael Kearney, below with Preston), Pat Hingle as his brother and, recreating her Broadway role, the great MacMahon as Aunt Hannah. Michael Kearney played the boy, a role played on Broadway by John Megna, a child actor best known for his role as Dill in the film, "To Kill a Mockingbird." Philip H. Reisman Jr. did the adaptation for this most affecting film.
"All the Way Home" was also filmed twice for televison - first in 1971 with Fred Coe direcing Richard Kiley, Joanne Woodward and (again) Hingle in a teleplay adaptation by Mosel. The second TV version, shot in 1981 by Delbert Mann, starred William Hurt, Sally Field and Ned Beatty. Polly Holliday as Aunt Hannah. (Between Mann and Hingle, there are a lot of cross-connections shared by these two plays and films.)