Thursday, December 03, 2009

Today in History

It was on this day in 1947 that Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway. Williams (books by this author) wrote the play while he was living in an apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and he wrote and rewrote the script many times, and he kept changing the title. It was called The Moth, The Poker Night, and Blanche's Chair on the Moon. But finally he settled on A Streetcar Named Desire. It is the story of Blanche DuBois, who goes to live with her sister Stella and Stella's husband, Stanley Kowalski.

The Broadway play starred Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and Marlon Brando as Stanley. Brando was only 23 years old — he had been acting on Broadway for a couple of years, but this role made him a star. The play was shocking when it came out in 1947 — it was new to show sexuality and sexual violence onstage.

And the play went on to become a sensation. Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for it, and Jessica Tandy won a Tony for her performance. It was made into a movie with almost all the original cast except Tandy, who was replaced by Vivien Leigh.

The Catholic Legion of Decency, though, was not a fan of A Streetcar Named Desire. They were especially opposed to the rape scene and the revelation that Blanche's ex-husband was bisexual, and they said that they would publicly denounce the film version if Williams didn't change it. So he made the parts about Blanche's husband's sexuality less explicit, and he refused to take out the rape scene, but he changed the film version so that Stella leaves Stanley, which she does not in the play.

Every spring in New Orleans, there is a Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, which next year will take place on March 24–28. The Festival features panels, readings, music, acting competitions, writing workshops, and the final and most famous event of this particular literary festival: the "Stella shouting contest," also known as the "Stell-off." In this competition, participants get a chance to imitate Marlon Brando in his famous scene where he passionately yells "Stelllllaaaaa!" from beneath his wife's window, begging her to return to him after he has beaten her. A few women participate in the shouting contest, some of them shouting "Stanley" instead of "Stella," but mostly the contestant are men. They have to bellow "Stella" (or "Stanley") three times, and there are points for how loud the shouting is but also for how angsty and passionate, how true to Marlon Brando. Many men outfit themselves in a white tank top like Brando wore in the play.

image lifted from here

text lifted from The Writer's Almanac

1 comment:

Trisha said...

Ah, Tennessee Williams... how my college years were affected by his words. :)