Theatre: Stage to Screen to Television
By William Torbert Leonard – London 1981
ALL THE WAY HOME
Pulitzer Prize Play (1961). Best Play, New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1961).
A play in three acts by Tad Mosel, based on James Agee’s Pulitzer Prize novel, A Death in the Family (1960)
Religious, conventional, urban-born, prim Mary Lynch has married exuberant, earthy, rural-bred Jay Follet. Despite tensions created by their disparate temperaments and backgrounds, they have established a deeply happy marriage, reflected in the mutual love of their large families, each other, and their small son, Rufus. Irritated by Mary’s pristine reluctance to tell Rufus about her present pregnancy, Jay leaves to visit his dying father. On the way back to his Knoxville, Tennessee home, Jay is killed when his car crashes. Mary, to whom “God has always come easily, ” finds no comfort in her Catholicism and withdraws into her sorrow. Soon the awareness and understanding of Jay’s zest of living and the stirring of the child within her give her courage to face the future and she tells Rufus about the expected baby.
Comment and Critique
James Agee’s elegiac and touching novel A Death in the Fam¬ ily was published posthumously by McDowell, Obolensky two years after his death from a heart attack in New York City on May 16, 1955, at the age of forty-five. The novel, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1958, was adapted as a play in 1960 by Tad Mosel (George Ault Mosel, Jr.). Mosel won the Pulitzer Prize for his play in 1961, marking the first time in the forty-five-year-old history of the awards that a play adapted from a Pulitzer Prize novel was also the recipient of the award. The play opened to general critical acclaim but was ignored by the public. Three days after the opening, the closing notice went up. The author, producers, director and other personnel waived their royalties and salaries; the Shuberts reduced the theatre rental and the published announcement of the play’s closing added public support. Again the closing notice went up for Saturday April 22, 1961, but on Tuesday, April 18 the play was given the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the Best Play of the Year and, again, survived. The flux of audience absenteeism and hopeful honorariums won the beleaguered play the synonym of “The Miracle on 44th Street.” In the superlative cast assembled for the play, Colleen Dewhurst (who won the “Tony” Award as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama), Arthur Hill, Lillian Gish, Aline MacMahon, Art Smith and others, was an 81-year-old woman who played the role of Great-Great-Granmaw, Lylah Tiffany, who for eleven years supported herself by playing the accordion on the sidewalk outside of Carnegie Hall. Miss Tiffany repeated her role of the 102- year-old Great-Great-Granmaw in the film version of the play.
The 1963 screen version of the Agee-Mosel play lost much of its magic despite excellent performances from Robert Preston and Jean Simmons as the Follets.
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s December 1, 1971, telecast of All The Way Home, featuring Joanne Woodward and Richard Kiley as Mary and Jay Follet in a well-mounted, beautifully-acted production, captured much of Agee’s feeling and mood and memory of his own childhood in Knoxville of 1915.
Belasco Theatre, New York, opened November 30, 1960. 334 performances. Produced by Fred Coe (in association with Arthur Cantor); Director, Arthur Penn; Settings and lighting, David Hays; Costumes, Raymond Sovey; Assistant director, Gene Lasko Arthur Hill (Jay Follet); Colleen Dewhurst (Mary Follet); Lillian Gish (Catherine Lynch); Aline MacMahon (Aunt Hannah Lynch); Art Smith (Father Jackson); Lenka Peterson (Sally Follet); Clifton James (Ralph Follet); Edwin Wolfe (John Henry Follet); Thomas Chalmers (Joel Lynch); Tom Wheatley (Andrew Lynch); Georgia Simmons (Jessie Follet); Dorrit Kelton (Aunt Sadie Follet); Lylah Tiffany (Great-Great-Granmaw); John Megna (Rufus); Christopher Month (Jim-Wilson); Larry Provost, Jeff Conaway, Gary Morgan, Robert Ader (Boys)
Paramount Pictures, released October, 1963. Produced by David Susskind; Associate producer, Jack Grossberg; Director, Alex Segal; Assistant directors, Larry Sturhahn, Michael Hertzberg; Screenplay, Phillip Reisman, Jr.; Camera, Boris Kaufman; Music, Bernard Green; Art director, Richard Sylbert; Editor, Carl Lerner Robert Preston (Jay Follet); Jean Simmons (Mary Follet); Aline MacMahon (Aunt Hannah Lynch); Pat Hingle (Ralph Follet); Thomas Chalmers (Joel Lynch); John Cullum (Andrew Lynch); Ronnie Claire Edwards (Sally Follet) Michael Kearney (Rufus); John Henry Faulk (Walter Starr); Lylah Tiffany (Great-Great-Granmaw); Mary Perry (Grand-Aunt Sadie Follet); Georgia Simmons (Jessie Follet); Edwin Wolfe (John Henry Follet); Ferdie Hoffman (Father Jackson)
Hallmark Hall of Fame, televised December 1, 1971. NBC. 90 minutes. Produced by David Susskind; Director, Fred Coe; Television adaptation, Tad Mosel Joanne Woodward (Mary); Richard Kiley (Jay); Eileen Heckart (Aunt Hannah); Pat Hingle (Ralph); Barnard Hughes (Joel); James Woods (Andrew); Shane Nickerson (Rufus); Jane Mallett (Catherine); Betty Garde (Aunt Sadie); Kay Hawtrey (Sally); James O’Neill (John Henry); Nan Stewart (Jessie); Allen Clowes (Father Jackson)
During the summer of 1961, Marsha Hunt, Frank Overton, Anne Revere, Eugenia Rawls, William Hansen, Gene Wilder and others made a brief tour in the play.