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."
The only remaining virtues of "The Stripper" are Woodward's committed, empathetic performance and a terrific trademark Jerry Goldsmith score.
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.
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.)
"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.
And perhaps as a homage, Woodwards sings Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give" during the strip routine.
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.
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.
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.
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 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."
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.
~Joanne Woodward in the film "The Stripper"
~Woodward and Richard Beymer in "The Stripper"
~Natalie Wood with Inge in a scene from the film
~Ralph Meeker and Janice Rule in the play "Picnic"
~Tuesday Weld and Gary Lockwood in "Cherie," an episode of the TV series, "Bus Stop"
~Robert Preston and Dorothy Maguire in a scene from the film of "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs"
~Poster art for the stage musical "Hot September"