The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: 1949 theater and film

Table of Contents

Theater and Film

Dance competition entry in the early 1940's The forties were the heyday for movies. The Office of War declared movies an essential industry for morale and propaganda. Most plots had a fairly narrow and predictable set of morals, and if Germans or Japanese were included, they were one-dimensional villains. Examples are Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, Lifeboat, Notorious, Best Years of our Lives, Wake Island, Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal Diary, and Destination Tokyo. Citizen Kane, not fitting the template, was one of the masterpieces of the time. Leading actors were Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner. Walt Disney‘s career began to take off, with animated cartoons such as Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). During the war years, the studio produced cartoons for the government, such as Donald gets Drafted (1942), Out of the Frying Pan into the Firing Line (1942) and Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943).

The Emergency Committee of the Entertainment Industry, composed of both black and white actors, fought for better roles for blacks. Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, and Cab Calloway, among others, made small inroads. The boom years of movies faded with the advent of television in 1948.

Popular Film: George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, David Wayne; Robert Rossen’s All the King’s Men with Philadelphia-born actor (William) Broderick Crawford; William Wyler’s The Heiress with Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift; Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog with Toshiro Mifune; Carol Reed’s The Third Man with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Valli; Henry King’s Twelve O’Clock High with Gregory Peck, Gary Merrill, Ohio-born actor Dean Jagger (originally Dean Jeffries), 43; Alexander Mackendrick’s Whisky Galore! (in America, Tight Little Island) with Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, 28. Also: Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol with Ralph Richardson, Michele Morgan, Bobby Henrey; Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy with Peggy Cummins, John Dall; Lloyd Bacon’s It Happens Every Spring with Ray Milland, Canton, Jean Peters, Paul Douglas; Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary with Jennifer Jones, James Mason; Elia Kazan’s Pinky with Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned woman who passes for white; Thorold Dickinson’s Queen of Spades with Dame Edith Evans; John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with John Wayne, Joanne Dru; Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room with David Farrar, Jack Hawkins; Sam Wood’s The Stratton Story with James Stewart, June Allyson; Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night with Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell; Raoul Walsh’s White Heat with James Cagney, St. Louis-born actress Virginia Mayo; Nicholas Ray’s A Woman’s Secret with Maureen O’Hara, Gloria Graham, Melvyn Douglas.

Ingrid Bergman shocks moviegoers August 5 by announcing that she is divorcing her physician husband, Peter Lindstrom, and abandoning her movie career; Bergman has been living with Italian director Robert Rosselini and in 6 months will bear his son Robertino out of wedlock, creating a furor.

The theater, turned slightly to abstractionism. Thornton Wilder‘s The Skin of our Teeth (1942) was bizarre and difficult to understand but won the Pulitzer Prize. Tennessee Williams wrote of self-disillusionment and futility in the Glass Menagerie (1945) and Streetcar named Desire (1947). In contrast Musical Theater was reborn, with Agnes de Mille‘s technique of dancing in character in Oklahoma (1943). Carousel (1945), and Annie get your Gun (1946).

Other theater: Corruption in the Palace of Justice (Corruzione al palazzo di giustizia) by Ugo Betti 1/7 at Rome’s Teatro della Arti; Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller 2/10 at New York’s Morosco Theater, with Lee J. Cobb as salesman Willie Loman, Mildred Dunnock, Arthur Kennedy, Cameron Mitchell, 742 perfs.; Detective Story by Sidney Kingsley 3/23 at New York’s Hudson Theater, with Ralph Bellamy, Les Tremayne, Alexander Scourby, Jean Adair, Troy, N.Y.-born actress Maureen Stapleton, 23, Joseph Wiseman, New York-born ingénue Lee Grant (originally Lyova Haskell Rosenthal), 21, 581 perfs.; Romulus the Great (Romulus der Grosse) by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt, 28, 4/25 at Basel’s Stadttheater; Story of a Staircase (Historia de una escalara) by Spanish playwright Antonio Buero Vallejo, 33, 10/14 at Madrid’s Teatro Español; Cock-a-Doodle-Dandy by Sean O’Casey 12/10 at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; The Just Assassins (Les Justes) by Albert Camus 12/15 at the Théâtre Hebertot, Paris.

  • Maxwell Anderson: Lost in the Stars. Anderson adapts Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) about apartheid in South Africa into a musical, with songs by Kurt Weill.
  • Marc Blitzstein: Regina. This opera is based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Little Foxes.
  • Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, and Richard Rodgers: South Pacific. The team adapts two of James A. Michener’s stories from Tales of the South Pacific to create a classic American musical, the second to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The story of navy nurse Nellie Forbush’s relationship with a French planter who has fathered children with a native woman adds a social component to the drama that–like Oklahoma!–incorporates realistic situations and believable dialogue into a musical.
  • Sidney Kingsley: Detective Story. Kingsley‘s gritty melodrama set in a New York police precinct house concerns a disillusioned and ethically compromised detective. It would be adapted as a movie, starring Kirk Douglas, in 1951.
  • Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman, an aging salesman “riding on a smile and a shoe shine,” confronts the consequences of his career on the road in the decade’s most acclaimed play. A lacerating portrait of a man, his family, and the concept of the American Dream, Miller’s play wins the Pulitzer Prize and is widely regarded as one of the most significant accomplishments of the American theater.
  • Gertrude Stein: Last Operas and Plays. A collection of nineteen dramatic works written by Stein between 1917 and 1945.

The Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting founded at New York by actress-teacher Adler, now 48, will educate players, including Marlon Brando, in the (Stanislavski) Method system of acting.


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