I Never Sang for My Father (1968)

I Never Sang for My Father  
  • Longacre Theatre, (1/25/1968 – 5/11/1968)
  • First Preview: Jan 24, 1968 Total Previews: 1
  • Opening Date: Jan 25, 1968
  • Closing Date: May 11, 1968 Total Performances: 124
Category: Play, Drama, Original, Broadway
Setting: New York City and a town in Westchester County. The Present and the Past.
never sang for my father playbill 2
  • Lillian Gish – Margaret Garrison
  • Hal Holbrook – Gene Garrison
  • Alan Webb – Tom Garrison
  • Teresa Wright – Alice
  • Laurinda Barrett – Nurse
  • Matt Crowley – Marvin Scott
  • Allan Frank – Reverend Pell
  • Daniel Keyes – Dr. Mayberry
  • Sloane Shelton – Mary
  • James A. Spearman – Waiter
  • Earl Sydnor – Porter
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Theatre Owned / Operated by The Shubert Organization
Produced by Gilbert Cates; Produced in association with Doris Vidor
Written by Robert Anderson
Directed by Alan Schneider
Scenic Design by Jo Mielziner; Lighting Design by Jo Mielziner; Costume Design by Theoni V. Aldredge; Assistant to Theoni Aldredge: Harry Curtis; Assistant to Mr. Mielziner: John T. Jensen, Jr. and Leor C. Warner
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 1
Born in New York in 1917, Robert Woodruff Anderson graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University before serving in the U.S. Navy. He afterward wrote radio and television scripts, taught playwriting, and endured the death of a wife before writing some of his best-known works. I Never Sang for My Father was originally conceived as a film script, and, after a brief Broadway run, it made its screen debut in 1970. At heart a drama about survival, I Never Sang for My Father pits father against son in the struggle to live independently in the face of death and aging. Reflected in the relationship are conflicting influences of the two characters’ times.
It was first staged in January 1968 at the National Theater in New York City, with Alan Schneider directing. There were no sets and lighting was “the chief means for setting the stage.”
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a1
Margaret: Of course you know your father will object to your going away.
Gene: He already has. He said it would kill you.
Margaret: How sad. Why can’t he say it would kill him? But – he doesn’t think it would hold you or mean anything to you.
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a2
Alice: Didn’t you see yourself there when he started to rage? You shrank.
Gene: I shrank at the ugliness of what was happening.
Alice: You’re staying because you can’t stand his wrath the day you say “Dad, I’m leaving.” He’s cowed you.
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a3
Gene: Order what you want. Don’t go reading down the prices first.
Tom: But I think it’s ridiculous to pay, look, three seventy – five for curried shrimp … If you’ll let me pay –
Gene(annoyed): No! Now come on.
Tom: Look, I appreciate it Gene, but on what you make…
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a4
Tom: I have long gotten the impression that my only function in this family is to supply the money to –
Gene(anguished): Dad!
Tom: – to supply the funds for your education, for your –
Gene: Dad, stop it!
……………………………………….
The main character, Gene Garrison, was played by Hal Holbrook with Alan Webb as his 80-year-old father Tom, a retired businessman and once small town mayor. Former silent screen star Lillian Gish starred as Gene’s 78-year-old mother Margaret. The play’s eight other roles include a porter and a waiter, a waitress identified as Mary, the minister Dr. Sam Pell, the family physician Dr. Mayberry and his nurse Miss Halsey, a 65-year-old Rotarian named Marvin Scott, and Gene’s sister Alice (Teresa Wright), who married a Jew and has been all but disowned by her father.
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a2 detail
Among the cast, only Gene is able to address the audience through the fourth wall, and he does so sparingly, mainly to provide background information or to announce a change in scene. There isn’t much plot to speak of; it’s all about relationships. Gene meets his parents at Pennsylvania Station upon their return to New York from wintering in Florida. He ferries them to their home in Westchester County and treats them to dinner at a restaurant they like called Schrafft’s. Not long after that, Margaret suffers a heart attack, is hospitalized and subsequently dies, ending Act One.
In Act Two, there’s a conversation with the doctor, the arrangements at the funeral home, Alice’s return and a service conducted at the cemetery. Gene gets more and more upset, as his father seems to focus on himself rather than Margaret, so recently deceased, or his family. Alice believes Gene needs to cut the cord connecting him in the negative bond that exists with his father, but Gene balks, feeling some filial duty and still hopeful of regaining a loving father-son relationship.
lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 3a
But that’s not going to happen. When Alice tries to explain that she and Gene think Tom needs a housekeeper fulltime to look after him, the old man virtually explodes in rage. Full of pride and unwilling to face his own inadequacies, he thinks it is sufficient for Gene to drop by once or twice a week and look in on him. He has fended for himself since he was eight and he can continue to do so at eighty. Never mind that Gene lost his ow wife just a year ago and wants to remarry with a doctor in California. The two men are a continent apart in their personal desires.
  • Photo gallery (above) – Lillian Gish, Alan Webb and Hal Holbrook in a scene from the Broadway production of the play I Never Sang For My Father
The play gets way too familiar in the second act, portraying the tug-o-war between father and son that must have existed since Adam and Cain/Able. It dives into dark emotional waters and never resurfaces, ending with a sad gasp. After I finished reading the script, I began second-guessing whether I really wanted to see the film or not. Was I willing to watch such a depressing story acted out on the screen?
“Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship, which struggles on the survivor’s mind, toward some resolution, which it may never find.” ~ Gene Garrison
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lillian gish hal holbrook i never sang for my father by r. anderson w playbill 5a

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Dorothy Gish died in 1968 from bronchial pneumonia at the age of 70 at a clinic in Rapallo, Italy, where she had been a patient for two years, with sister Lillian at her side. Dorothy Gish was entombed in Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City in the columbarium in the undercroft of the church.

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