THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT -- April 1998
WILDE TIMES AHEAD:It wasn't until 1960 that movies grew up enough to address the scandal that wrecked Oscar Wilde's career and sped him to the grave at age 46, but when the subject did come up, two movies charged forth with the news, both arriving in the New York marketplace in the same week: Oscar Wilde, in which Robert Morley reprised the title role he had done on Broadway in Leslie and Sewell Stokes's 1938 play, and The Trial of Oscar Wilde, in which Peter Finch played the beleaguered Irish playwright in the film version of John Fernald's play, The Stringed Lute.
Now (May 1) comes Wilde -- with Stephen Fry in the title role and Jude (Indiscretions) Law, Vanessa Redgrave and Jennifer Ehle as his lover, mother and wife respectively -- and this time the deja vu congestion occurs onstage: Redgrave's son-in-law, Liam Neeson, gets a two-day jump on the film with the Wilde he brings to Broadway's Broadhurst in David Hare's play, The Judas Kiss, while Moises Kaufman's prize-winning Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde continues to do brisk business after more than a year Off-Broadway. The inestimable Edward (Jeffrey) Hibbert is currently the Wilde man of the Minetta Lane, having inherited the role from Michael Emerson who has gone West to play Wilde in L.A. . . . Michael Viner and his actress-wife, Deborah Raffin, not only participated in producing the new Wilde film, they have also published (via their Dove Books) a sumptuous companion-piece: the original screenplay by Julian Mitchell, set off in gorgeous stills from the picture.
AH, VIDEO: New York may be getting a gander at Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! as the author intended -- onstage at the Vivian Beaumont -- but the rest of the country can check out the movie version that was adapted by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, the husband-and-wife team who scripted The Diary of Anne Frank; Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington and Wallace Beery essayed in 1935 the roles now being played by Craig T. Nelson, Debra Monk and Leo Burmester. This film is one of 19 that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be airing over a five-day period (May 11-15) saluting 15 playwrights. The series, called "Playwrights on Screen" and hosted by Robert Osborne, will explore the link between stage and screen as it manifests itself in the works of Tennessee Williams (Night of the Iguana and Sweet Bird of Youth), George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (The Man Who Came to Dinner), Ira Levin (Critic's Choice), Noel Coward (Private Lives and We Were Dancing, an adaptation of his Tonight at 8:30), Clifford Odets (Clash by Night), William Gibson (The Miracle Worker), Lillian Hellman (Watch on the Rhine and The Children's Hour), Ferenc Molnar (The Swan), George Bernard Shaw (Doctor's Dilemma and The Devil's Disciple), William Inge (The Dark at the Top of the Stairs), Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall), Neil Simon (Biloxi Blues and The Odd Couple) and Mary Chase (Harvey). . . . An interesting footnote about the screen version of Ah, Wilderness! The movie might have saved Will Rogers's life. He had been asked to play Barrymore's role -- the head of the household -- but he declined because he was embarrassed by a scene in which he had to discuss the birds and the bees with his adolescent son. The movie was in mid-production in Massachusetts when news broke that Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, perished in a plane crash in Alaska.
-- By Harry Haun