Theatre: Stage to Screen to Television
By William Torbert Leonard – London 1981
All the Way Home
James Agee’s elegiac and touching novel A Death in the Family 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 clos¬ ing 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 Mac- Mahon, 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 accordian on the sidewalk out¬ side of Carnegie Hall. Miss Tiffany repeated her role of the 102- year-old Great-Great-Granmaw in the film version of the play.
Belasco Theatre, New York, opened November 30, 1960. 334 performances. Produced by Fred Coe (in association with Arthur Can¬ tor); Director, Arthur Penn; Settings and lighting, David Hays; Cos¬ tumes, 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); Clif¬ ton 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)
ANYA, Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, opened November 29, 1965.
16 performances. Produced by Fred R. Fehlhaber; Director, George Abbott; Scenery, Robert Randolph; Costumes, Patricia Zipprodt; Lighting, Richard Casler; Dances and musical numbers, Hanya Holm; Book, (based on the play Anastasia), by George Abbott, Guy Bolton; Musical director, Harold Hastings; Orchestrations, Don Walker; Music (based on themes by Rachmaninoff), and lyrics, Robert Wright, George Forrest Constance Towers (Anya); Lillian Gish (Dowager Empress); John Michael King (Prince Paul); Ed Steffe (Petrovin); George S. Irving (Chernov); Michael Kermoyan (Bounine); Margaret Mullen (Baroness Livenbaum); Irra Petina (Katrina); Boris Aplon (Josef); Lawrence Brooks (Count Drivinitz); Adair McGowan (Count Dorn); Jack Dabdoub (Sergei); Walter Hook (Yegor); Karen Shepard (Genia, the Countess Hohenstadt); Laurie Franks (Olga); Rita Metzger (Masha); Lawrence Boyll (Sleigh Driver); Elizabeth Howell (Anouchka); Barbara Alexander (Tinka); Maggie Task (Mother); Michael Quinn (Father); Elizabeth Howell (Countess Drivinitz); Bernard Frank, Lawrence Boyll (Policemen); Howard Kahl (Police Sergeant); Patricia Hoffman (Nurse); Konstantin Pio- Ulsky (Balalaika player); Barbara Alexander, Ciya Challis, Patricia Drylie, Juliette Durand, Kip Andrews, Steven Boockvor, Randy Doney, Joseph Nelson (Dancers); Laurie Franks, Patricia Hoffman, Rita Metzger, Mia Powers, Lourette Raymon, Diane Tarleton, Maggie Task, Darrel Askey, Lawrence Boyll, Les Freed, Horace Guittard, Walter Hook, Howard Kahl, Adair McGowan, Richard Nieves, J. Vernon Oaks, Robert Sharp, John Taliaferro, Bernard Frank (Singers)
SONGS: Anya; A Song from Somewhere; Vodka, Vodka!; So Proud; Homeward; Snowflakes and Sweethearts; On That Day; Six Palaces; Hand in Hand; This Is My Kind of Love; That Prelude!; A Quiet Land; Here Tonight, Tomorrow Where?; Leben Sie Wohl; If This Is Goodbye; Little Hands; All Hail the Empress
Arsenic and Old Lace
Ford Theatre’s telecast of the play on April 11, 1949, remains the best video production with Josephine Hull and Boris Karloff reprising their stage roles. Best of Broadway’s January 5, 1955 telecast of Arsenic and Old Lace, according to Variety, was excellent, “Miss Hayes was a complete delight. Karloff and Lorre made the perfect murderous pair, relishing every line. Bean added comedy-relief of his own in fine double-take fashion.” Hallmark Hall of Fame’s experiment with the comedy in 1962 was found wanting by Variety, The wit and fantasy of the Kesselring original were swamped by several earthbound actors.” Dorothy Stickney and Mildred Natwick. as the administering spinsters, were considered too real to be fun while Tony Randall as Mortimer was excessively clownish. The American Broadcasting System produced a two-hour color-special of Arsenic and Old Lace on April 2, 1969. that Variety found “was still almost as good for laughs as it was 28 years ago. Acting was good and professional. But you’d expect that from a cast of pros headed by Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish as the murderous but well meaning little old Brewster sisters.” At the end of the telecast, eleven of& the thirteen “bodies” emerged from the cellar to take bows with the “live” cast–as had been done on the stage.
ABC Color Special, televised April 2, 1969. ABC. 2 hours. Producer, Hubbell Robinson; Television adaptation, Luther Davis; Director, Robert Scheerer
Helen Hayes (Abby Brewster); Lillian Gish (Martha Brewster); David Wayne (Teddy Brewster); Fred Gwynne (Jonathan Brewster); Bob Crane (Mortimer Brewster); Sue Lyon (Elaine Harper); Bob Dishy (Officer Sampson); Jack Gilford (Dr. Einstein); Billy De Wolfe (Mr. Witherspoon); Victor Kilian (Mr. Gibbs); Frank Campanella (Officer Klein); Bernard West (Benner)
in 1882 playing The Lady of the Camelias. Abandoned after the surge of the turn-of-the-century gold rush, Robert Edmond Jones restored the acoustically perfect theatre and in July 1932 reopened the Central City Opera House on its fiftieth anniversary with Edna and Delos Chappell’s translation of Dumas’ play. Staged by Robert Edmond Jones, Camille starred Lillian Gish. The Colorado production was transferred to Broadway on November 1, 1932, at the Morosco Theatre for fifteen performances. Robert Garland (The New York World-Telegram) found Lillian Gish played the lady of the ca- melias “in just the proper key … a charmingly artificial resurrection of a charmingly artificial play, a museum piece from the half-forgotten eighties, staged by Robert Edmond Jones, who adores such things and acted in its leading role by an anachronistic lady who seemed somehow to belong.”
Morosco Theatre, New York, opened November 1, 1932. 15 performances. Produced by Delos Chappell, Inc. ; Directed and designed by Robert Edmond Jones; Translation of play by Alexandre Dumas, Edna and Delos Chappell, Robert Edmond Jones; Music, Macklin Marrow
Lillian Gish (Marguerite Gautier); Raymond Hackett (Armand Duvall); Moffat Johnston (M. Georges Duval); Frederic Worlock (Baron de Varville); Cora Witherspoon (Prudence Duvernoy); Helen Freeman (Olympe); Robert Le Sueur (Saint-Gaudens); ’ian Van-Wolfe (Comte de Diray); Lewis Martin (Gaston Rieux); Mary Morris (Nanine); Leona Boytel (Nichette); Ian Van-Wolfe (Gustave)- Paul Stephenson (Arthur); Moffat Johnston (Doctor); Edna James (Anais); Harriett Ingersoll, Betty Upthegrove, Lillian Bronson, William James, Bartlett Robinson, Richard Kendrick (Guests Servants)
Crime and Punishment
The Rodney Ackland stage version opened in New York at the National Theatre on December 22, 1947, but survived only 64 performances. Time magazine felt Dostoievsky’s novel defied dramatization, a concept that was popular from the late eighteen-hundreds. While admiring John Gielgud’s “brilliantly mannered performance” the play was dismissed as a gloomy bore. Variety determined that Ackland’s adaptation lacked theatrical form without concept of set acts and scenes. Lillian Gish’s performance as Katerina was called “superb” and John Gielgud’s portrayal of Raskolnikoff judged as … “possibly the finest performance of his distinguished Broadway career…. ” Critic George Jean Nathan announced, “The present version by Mr. Ackland has its points, but, like all the others, is hardly satisfactory to respecters of the novel. The result is a play that, save in one or two scenes, merely skims some of the plot elements of the novel and leaves the cream of its body untouched. . .. Everything considered, I fear that the exhibit is best critically described, to borrow Dorothy Parker’s reply to the author of a drugstore murder novel who asked her to supply him with a title, as Crime and Punishment, Jr.”
National Theatre, New York, opened December 22, 1947. 64 performances. Produced by Robert Whitehead and Oliver Rea; Director, Theodore Komisarievsky; Associate director, Bea Lawrence; Setting, Paul Sherifi; Costumes, Lester Polakov; Production associate, Virginia Bolen John Gielgud (Rodion Romanitch Raskoinikofi); Dolly Haas (Sonia Marmeladoff); Lillian Gish (Katerina Ivanna); Vladimir Sokoloff (Porfiri Petrovitch); Alexander Scourby (Dmitri Prokovitch Raz¬ oumikhin); Sanford Meisner (Simon Zaharitch Marmeladoff); Alice John (Pulcheria Alexandrovna); Marian Seldes (Dounia); E. A. Krumschmidt (Casimir Stanislawowitch Looshinsky); Ben Morse (Lebeziatnikoff); Betty Lou Keim (Polya); Sherry Smith (Leda); Payton Price (Ivan); Elisabeth Neumann (Amalia); Galina Talva (Nastasia); Susan Steell (Daria); Howard Fischer (Street Vendor); Wauna Paul (Anyutka, his wife); Robert Donley (Street Vendor’s Assistant); Scott Moore (Lodger); Michael Arshansky (Ex-Soldier); Mary James (Lizavieta); Richard Purdy (Zametoff); Patrick McVey (Doctor); Harry Selby (Coachman); Robert Pastene (Priest); David Elliott (Government Clerk); Cecile Sherman (His Wife); Amy Douglass (Widow); Jeri Souvinet (Her Daughter); Eugenia Woods (Old Lady); Arthur Griffin (Old Gentleman); Richard Hayes (Fomitch); Mort Marshall (A Strange Man); Mary Diveny, Mary Stuart, Marjorie Tas, Niels Miller, Robert Pastene, Graham Ferguson, John Vicari, Theodore Tenley, James Matsagas, Wil¬ liam Beal (Lodgers, Policemen, Street Musicians, Delivery Boys, Passers-by)
His Double Life
HIS DOUBLE LIFE, Paramount Pictures, released December 1933. Produced by Arthur Hopkins; Directors, William C. de Mille, Arthur Hopkins; Screenplay, Clara Beranger, Arthur Hopkins (based on Arnold Bennett’s novel Buried Alive and his play The Great Adventure); Camera, Arthur Edeson; Editor, Arthur Ellis
Roland Young (Priam Farell); Lillian Gish (Alice Challice /Hunter); Montagu Love (Duncan Farell); Lumsden Hare (Charles Oxford); Lucy Beaumont (Mrs. Leek); Charles Richman (Mr. Witt); Philip Tonge, Oliver Smith (Leek Twins); Roland Hogue (Henry Leek); Audrey Ridgewell (Helen)
SONGS: Someday, Sometime, Somewhere; Springtime in Old Granada (James Hanley, Karl Stark)
The Late Christopher Bean
Sidney Coe Howard’s successful adaptation of the French stage play Prenez Garde La Peinture was his twelfth play, and his fifth translation of a foreign play, the others being: S.S. Tenacity (1923); Marseilles (1932) from the French; Casanova (1923), from the Spanish and Sancho Panza (1923) from the Hungarian. The role of Abby, protectress of her lover’s paintings, was played on the stage by a succession of fine actresses: Pauline Lord, Edith Evans, Charlotte Greenwood, ZaSu Pitts, Shirley Booth; on the screen by Charlotte Clasis and Marie Dressier. Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes and Thelma Ritter gave the role stature on television.
“Mr. Howard has written a funny comedy with a hilarious conclusion; and Pauline Lord, as the faithful drudge of the country doc¬ tor’s family, acts a comedy role with admirable lightness of touch and luminous beauty. “–Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times).
Philco Playhouse’s television production of The Late Christopher Bean, shown on February 6, 1949, featured Lillian Gish as Abby. “Televersion of Sidney Howard’s amicable little play engenders the same charm as the original. Miss Gish was extremely appealing, ” reported Variety. Helen Hayes appeared as the bedeviled Abby in Pulitzer Prize Playhouse’s telecast of the play on October 27, 1950, and “scored a complete triumph as the maid. ” Twentieth Century-Fox’s television production of The Late Christopher Bean was aired on November 30, 1955, and released the following year abroad as a feature film starring Thelma Ritter where it was found to survive “quite tolerably as an anecdote in this abridged version. Treatment is flat and one-dimensional although Thelma Ritter brings her usual decisive assurance to the part of Abby. “
Philco Playhouse, televised February 6, 1949. NBC. 1 hour. Produced and directed by Fred Coe Lillian Gish (Abby); Bert Lytell (Dr. Haggett); Helen Carew (Mrs. Haggett); Ellen Cobb Hill (Susan Haggett); Clarence Derwent (Rosen); Perry Wilson (Warren Creamer); Philip Coolidge (Tallant); Louis Sorin (Davenport)
Life With Father
National Road Company (1939 – May 24, 1941). Produced by Oscar Serlin; Director, Bretaigne Windust; Setting and costumes, Stewart Chaney; Music arranger, Edmund Thiele Percy Waram (Father); Lillian Gish (Vinnie); O. Z. Whitehead (Clarence); Peter Jamerson (John); James Roland (Whitney); David Jeffries (Harlan); Clara Joel (Margaret); Margaret Randall (Annie); Virgilia Chew (Cora); Georgette McKee (Mary); George Le Soir (The Rev. Dr. Lloyd); Aubrey Hynes (Delia); Shirley De Me (Nora); Charles Walton (Dr. Sommers); Gertrude Beach (Maggie)